Successful Swaps: How to Barter

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Some readers of MOTHER EARTH NEWS share their experiences with bartering. Without money on the table, the found that life can be a little bit more fun!

Exchanging Products for Services

I’ve never been much of a “horse trader,” but I recently took an unpracticed plunge into bartering . . . and now I’m hooked! Here’s the story of my first (but not last) swap: My mouth is a shining example of modern dental artistry. From the days of baby teeth to the present time, I’ve spent what has seemed like a godly portion of my spare hours slouched in an elevated reclining chair while a pair of hands tinkered with my pearly whites.

Well, the day finally dawned when my front chompers just couldn’t accommodate another filling and I was faced with either having what was left of those biters removed and an artificial plate put in, or investing in some expensive caps to protect my teeth. Furthermore — to add to my dilemma — I simply didn’t have enough ready cash to pay for either option.

After pondering my pocketbook problem for a spell, though, I came up with what I thought would be a perfect swap. I’d heard that the doctor’s wife had a fondness for fine jewelry . . . and I owned a lovely diamond ring that had once belonged to my mother.

Armed with a jeweler’s appraisal, I hesitantly presented my trading terms: one diamond ring in exchange for four porcelain caps.

The dentist accepted the bargain with pleasure and I ended up swapping that unused piece of jewelry for a serviceable (and downright attractive) smile! — P.C., Colorado

Trading Fresh Food for Other Services

We’ve discovered that there’s still “gold” up in the hills . . . only our treasure is the red, round and juicy variety! Tomatoes sell for $1.50 a pound (even during the summer months) here in Alaska, making the salad fixings pretty danged valuable!

Now most gardeners tend a few tomato plants while the warm weather lasts, but — because the growing season is so short in these parts — the vines usually don’t thrive unless they’re given the protection of a greenhouse. Well, my husband and I have a 20-by-20-foot home-built hothouse that’s devoted almost entirely to producing the tasty red fruit . . . and that indoor garden provides us with many more tomatoes than we can possibly consume fresh or put up for winter use.

The surplus doesn’t go to waste, though. We sell a small quantity at the local farmers’ market, but we much prefer to swap our extra produce with friends and neighbors . . . and it makes for some mighty good trading. To date, the juicy red lovelies have brought us rabbits (and rabbit cages), haircuts, babysitting, assorted tools and all of our staple food items. We’ve even used the surplus fruit to pay for our share of gasoline on a trip into town! And, of course, tomatoes are always our contribution to the local potluck suppers.

Furthermore, about this time of year some folks’ cravings for our fresh red treasure get pretty fierce. In fact, just a week or so ago a friend called to say, “I have another rabbit cage that you might like . . . How soon do you figure I can get some tomatoes?” — J.S., Alaska

Bartering Chair for Heat

Last fall I completed my homestead’s log cabin, a stalwart structure that sports a huge rock fireplace at one end. During the first few balmy months of living in my new abode, I was cozy and content, but with the onset of winter I quickly learned that the fireplace was my dwelling’s only warm spot. Its open flames just weren’t enough to heat my 20-by-30-foot home.

I was intimidated by the $300-and-up prices of conventional wood-stoves, however I happened to visit a friend and enter into my first swap!

My buddy had the wood-burner that I needed (a stove made from an old electric water heater). Because of local regulations, though, he couldn’t install the homemade heater in his urban house and was happy to trade it for something he could use: a set of dining room chairs.

Well, it just so happened that I’d recently learned how to build willow chairs. Now, my log home is snug and warm from wall to wall, and I can enjoy working on indoor chores in any part of the house . . . all for the cost of a few nails and a couple of hours’ worth of labor! — D.B., Alabama

Swapping Services for Needed Goods

My wife and I have been using a form of barter that seems to be getting more and more popular: We swap our services for needed goods. In fact, the very house we live in resulted from such a labor-for-item arrangement. My spouse feeds, grooms, and generally takes care of our landlord’s 17 Arabian horses in exchange for “free” rent and utilities. And a similar swap landed me a .243 Remington rifle as payment for installing some barn-wood paneling in the householder’s living room.

We benefit from other bartering deals, too. Although I had no time to hunt last year, we were still able to enjoy some game meat, thanks to an old refrigerator that I converted into a smoker. A fellow sportsman had more deer than his freezer could hold, so I smoked the surplus venison for him and kept a portion of it for my labor. (You can bet that everyone involved in that tasty trade came away well satisfied!)

If you find yourself with more time than money (and who doesn’t, these days?), try trading your skills for needed wares. — T.S., Washington

Receiving Products for Services

Over the past few years I’ve pursued my cartooning and calligraphy talents for fun, and — on occasion — I’ve used those crafts to put a bit of cash in my pockets. But, I recently found that my scratching and sketching had barter potential, too!

When some friends opened a restaurant in a nearby town, they asked me to design and illustrate the menu. Then later — after the artwork was completed — I found that the fledgling entrepreneurs were short on ready cash (thanks to all the unexpected expenses that go hand in hand with starting a new business), and were unable to pay me for my efforts. So, since my family likes to go out to dinner more often than our budget can afford, I suggested that my friends “pay” me with free meals. I simply gave the food fixers a bill for my services . . . then whenever our family enjoyed a fancy dinner at their eatery, our evening’s repast was deducted from that total.

We just recently polished off the last entree needed to balance the books, but you can be sure that our experience has merely whetted our appetite for more bartering deals! — R. H., Oregon