Flight Lessons, Cross Promotion, and Other Barter Agreements

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Illustration by Fotolia/Steve Young
A Texas mechanic who wanted to become a pilot bartered his skills for flight lessons.

Years ago, 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 barter agreements and skill-and-labor exchanges,” said Bill. “You’re on!” MOTHER EARTH NEWS replied.

Flight Lessons

I’ve discovered that trading my mechanical skills for things I need and want is extremely gratifying. However, fulfilling my dream of learning to fly — something I had never before been able to afford to do — has been my best swap ever.

It all started last year, you see, when our local airport offered free ground-school classes. I enrolled in the program, and before long I’d struck up a friendship with the instructor. So, when I discovered that he was an aircraft mechanic, I suggested that we barter my shop assistance for flying lessons. He liked the idea so much that we immediately worked out a trade.

Now I’m well on my way to realizing my dream because I’m accumulating flying time in exchange for occasional labor in my instructor’s workshop.


Business Cross Promotion

Even though a friend and I were confident that our consulting firms — each providing a different sort of expertise — offered valuable services to local businesses, we were having trouble selling our ideas to potential clients. Then we discovered that we were each much more successful at promoting the other’s enterprise than at publicizing our own!

This is how our trade works: I call on prospective customers, convince them that they could benefit from my friend’s service, and set up interviews for him. He, in turn, does the same for me. On occasion, we also help each other with projects that involve our individual specialties.

Self-employment provides a lot of opportunities for barter, but ours is the most unusual — and successful — “corporate swap” we’ve seen yet!


Bartered Magazine Subscription

We’ve adopted bartering as a way oflife out here in the boondocks, where we’re exchanging our caretaking skills for the use ofa house and a few acres of land. Being far removed from civilization has its disadvantages, though; the members of my family are all avid readers, and we often have a hard time getting to a library.

However, since I’m a freelance cartoonist, I thought that I might be able to swap my drawings for magazines. So I picked out some publications that interested us and offered cartoons to each of the periodicals in exchange for a subscription. We now receive a number of magazines and trade journals of our choice because — so far — my deal has never been turned down!

Furthermore, thanks to the success of those original swaps I’m now getting additional orders for freelance cartoon work. The extra cash from that is helping us purchase non-barterable items.


Trading Children

My husband and I love to go backpacking, but the birth of our baby daughter made us wonder whether we should take a summer’s moratorium on wilderness outings. After all, we weren’t sure that we really wanted to pack diapers, blankets, baby food, and our delicate child into the backcountry.

However, I discussed the problem with my sister, who lives close by, and we came up with an arrangement that would benefit everyone involved. She and her husband don’t enjoy the out-of-doors as we do, you see, but their athletic 14-year-old son had always listened to our tales of hiking and camping with unconcealed excitement. So we decided a “kid swap” was in order: We’d take their son backpacking while they cared for our baby girl!

After a relaxing five-day trip into the wilderness, we returned with a tanned and enthusiastic teenager whom we’d gotten to know and love, and picked up our happy, well-cared-for little girl, who had delighted her temporary parents!


Engraving Apprenticeship

When my spouse and I opened our own business, we knew we should have a sign for our store. We found the custom-made variety to be extremely expensive, however, and we were anxious to keep the costs of all our initial purchases to a minimum. As it happened, though, our business was located next to a signmaker’s shop, and I discovered that he was weeks behind in filling his orders. Well, although I knew nothing about engraving, I was interested in learning … and, I suppose, the thought of a possible barter gave me courage. In short, I offered to do engraving work for our business neighbor for a month, part time, in exchange for his making a sign for us. Evidently the artist thought the swap was a good one. He took me up on it immediately and gave me training not only in engraving, but in all the other aspects of his profession that interested me.

As it turned out, he liked my work so much that he’s kept me on, at a nice wage and with flexible hours. Furthermore, I got to make the very sign I’d bartered for! That custom-made “shingle”, and a custom-made job, resulted in one rewarding trade.


Ham Radio Exchange

My husband Mike and I are turning our hobbies — ham radio and cooking — into tools for barter. Our first swap came about when a welder friend, who was planning a year-long sailing trip, turned to amateur radio in his search for a means of on-board communication. Mike tutored him in the basics of Morse code and taught him the technical theory required for the F.C.C. exam. As a result, our buddy now has his license, and we have a shovel and poker for our woodstove and a monogrammed boot scraper for our front porch.

Another acquaintance had an unused 60′ tower rusting on his property. Well, as you’ve probably guessed, my husband is giving him “ham” lessons in exchange for the tower, which will serve as a mount for our radio antenna.

I’ve gotten into the act, too! I occasionally cook dinner for these same friends, and in return get an evening out while they care for our son. As you can see, we’re becoming confirmed “horse-traders”!


Garden Space

I’m always on the lookout for ways to stretch our limited finances, and keeping a home vegetable garden is by far the easiest way I know to extend a food allowance. This year, though, deciding where to put my growing spot presented a problem because I was limited to using the small back yard of our new city house. I feared that the delicate seedlings wouldn’t stand a chance when competing with my children and their active friends, yet I hated to deprive the youngsters of their play area.

However, as the signs of spring appeared (and my green thumb began itching in earnest), I noticed that my next-door neighbor hadn’t touched her garden plot. So one morning I went over, introduced myself with a batch of warm muffins, and proposed an idea.

So far our deal has worked beautifully. My neighbor — an elderly widow who lives alone — enjoys visiting while I tend “her” garden, and, as an added bonus, I can let my year-old daughter roam at will in the fenced yard. (Most of the time, though, the toddler runs to sit in “Grandma’s” lap while I’m busy digging.) Our household eats organically grown, inexpensive food, my boys have our whole back yard to play in, and (perhaps best of all) my neighbor has become part of a family again.