Readers in 1980 contributed a number of stories detailing how they succeeded in bartering services and goods, including scissor sharpening for steak and fire wood for legal fees.
Bill Wodraska shared some of his thoughts regarding one of mankind's better ideas — barter — and offered up an interesting suggestion: "I'd like to see a continuing feature on bartering services and goods," said Bill. "You're on!" MOTHER EARTH NEWS replied.
My wife and I recently completed a swap (our first, but by no means our last) that may provide helpful inspiration to other folks who are just starting the lengthy—and costly—process of acquiring a homestead.
We used practically all of our hard-earned savings to purchase 18 beautiful woodland acres up here in the Pine Tree State (on which we plan to build a passive solar home and finally begin to live our dream of a country lifestyle), and we hadn't figured in the added cost of the lawyer's fee! So when a booming bill arrived in the mail a few weeks after the deal's closing, my wife and I (and our wallets) were caught totally by surprise. It was apparent that legal fees had been affected by inflation ... and this one had grown right out of the reach of our budget!
There was nothing for it but to approach the lawyer about our shortage of funds. In the course of the conversation we discovered that the attorney was heating his home with wood and—like a true Mainer—was willing to barter! A more natural swap couldn't have been made: For a couple of weekends spent outside in the clear autumn weather, renewing the inner spirit (and exercising my chain saw), I paid the lawyer close to $300 worth of good-quality hardwood. And we had intended to clear a portion of the land anyway—to provide space for a house and garden—so the trade actually speeded up the work on our soon-to-be-finished home!
Necessity can be the "mother of swapping" as well as the mother of invention! I own a scissor-sharpening service, you see, and about 95% of my work is accomplished using one machine. So, unfortunately, when that honing apparatus is out of whack, I'm out of a job! A couple of months ago, though—with the help of a little "horse trading "—I was able to have the whetting device repaired ... and gain some new customers in the process. Here's my swap:
I was out traveling on my usual business circuit when the sharpener broke down. Generally I can get the device in running order again by myself, but this time the faulty contraption outwitted my mechanical know-how. I had to seek the help of a motor repair shop.
In no time at all the good folks at the fix-it place diagnosed the honer's ailment and gave me an estimate of the repair cost. (Needless to say, the parts and labor involved added up to a sizable bill.) However, while those readjustments were in progress, I strolled about the shop and noticed various shears, snips, and other items all in need of some filing attention. Since I didn't want to dish out my already meager funds to cover the cost of the repairs on my machine, I proposed an exchange. The mechanics agreed, and now they have sharp tools to work with, while I'm back in business again without having spent any cash on the fixin' process!
The deal with the motor shop was my most memorable barter, but—in addition—I often swap my knife-sharpening skills for a meal out on the town. Just last night, in fact, I feasted on prime rib in one of the finest restaurants in Fort Lauderdale!
In short, trading is the best way to do business that I've found yet!
My husband and I traipsed clear across the country and back, and we can assure you that barter is thriving from coast to coast!
We were first introduced to the age-old custom of tradin' at a spring arts fair in Washington state. As we strolled among the colorful booths, a delicate piece of stained glass in one of the displays captured a ray of sunlight and caught my eye. As is too often the case, we weren't "bucks up" enough at the time to afford such a luxury. However, the artist must have been admiring our handiwork, because just as we were leaving the booth she suggested a swap (to which we enthusiastically agreed) of her artwork for one of my handwoven baskets!
From then on, barter opportunities followed us throughout the entire cross-country trek. In the mountains of Idaho, for example, our campsite had no running water ... so we simply swapped shower privileges (at a nearby house) for an occasional home-cooked meal.
Now we've come back to New York state, and although the journey has ended, the trading continues! I've recently exchanged a dress for homemade jam, crockery from a potter friend for samples of my weaving, and dulcimer lessons for anything from herbs to eggs!
But here's my favorite trade: A buddy of mine—who sorely hankered for a harmonica—had an abalone shell which I'd been eyeing. She refused when I suggested that we swap goods however, protesting that the mouth harp was worth much more money than was the old mollusk shell. Finally, I convinced my friend that I coveted that abalone artifact just as much as she wanted my harmonica ... and we made an even trade.
That's what swapping is all about ... trading the personal value of one item for the personal value of another.
Last summer my wife, our two boys, and I made our long-planned-for move to the country. The renowned Oregon winter has somewhat delayed the construction of our homestead, but as I cast a reflective eye about the place the other day, I was surprised at the amount of work—and barter—that we actually have accomplished.
Our first trade occurred when we needed to install a septic system for our planned dwelling. As luck would have it, my brother and his business partner (both of whom are skilled excavators) just happened to own several vehicles sorely in need of body repair and new paint. In no time at all we had swapped: my auto know-how for their expertise as septic tank installers. Now, the excavating firm's company cars are no longer clunkers by any standard ... and my bill worked out to half the price that would normally have been charged for such a service. (Not to mention the fact that the "diggers" leveled my homesite as a bonus!)
When I needed lumber to begin fashioning the house, I went tradin' again. Soon I'd exchanged a secondhand refrigerator for enough 2 X 8's to construct the foundation's footing forms, and I later bargained away a banjo ... to the "tune" of 250 2 X 4 studs!
In fact, during the past year I've become so accustomed to bartering that I've often found myself trading when I hadn't even intended to strike up a deal. While helping a neighbor repair his water pump, for instance, I must have mentioned my desire to build up the soil of our organic garden ... because now I've been promised several loads of horse manure (delivered!) from my buddy's barn, as well as all the rotten hay I can pitch into the pickup!
My most recent swapped-for acquisition is a large stack of shake bolts ("purchased" by overhauling a logger friend's runabout and helping him to wire his trailer) which I'm splitting into shingles for our pumphouse roof.
Our family is rapidly discovering that the owner-built home is by far the least expensive way to get back to the land, and that barter is a surefire way to reduce the cost even more!