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Bartering: Treat Yourself with an Exchange

Fay Johnson

By Paula Derrow

Think you can’t afford a professional organizer? Or a nutritionist? Or a haircut from a high-end salon? I thought the same thing, especially when I was laid off from my job and had to transition to a freelance. Out went the little luxuries – In went the worrying. But a year-and-a-half into my new budget-conscious life, I’ve found that I can avail myself of some of those extras without blowing a hole in my bank account. One way I’ve managed to do that is to jump into the new (or rather, not-so-new) bartering economy, the practice of trading goods and services without exchanging money, and one that has existed for as long as two people each have something the other wants. According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association, there was $8.5 million of this kind of trading done in 2013 alone.

Lest you’re imagining housewives trading sugar for flour, or farmers trading fertilizer for help with the harvest, you might be surprised to know that there are online organizations, like bartercard.com  that encourage bartering among businesses. One of the benefits is that for small organizations, it's a great way to get rid of excess stock in exchange for a product or service they need.

I’ve found that bartering allows me to treat myself without guilt. It's also a great way to help other fledgling entrepreneurs build their client list, gain experience, and get something they need for their business. Here is one example – I live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, where closet space is at a premium. When my professional organizer friend, Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers, mentioned that she needed an editor’s eye to look over a proposal she was working on, I suggested that we barter: “You help me find some extra space in my walk-in closet; I’ll edit your proposal.” According to Home Advisors, the average organizing project costs upward of $500. Lisa came to my apartment and spent a few hours helping me figure out what to throw out, where to put the stuff I wanted to keep, and even brought her nifty label maker to mark my shelves (“batteries”; “light bulbs”; “home goods”) so I could remember what went where. In return, I spent a few hours going over her proposal with my red pen. We both got what we wanted, and felt a little more bonded to boot.

I’ve also done a barter with my sister-in-law, a yoga instructor, who came to my apartment and designed a custom yoga workout for me; in return, I helped her write up some marketing copy to publicize a new class she was teaching in a local gym. Given that she was a relatively new instructor, she was also glad to have another name on her client list.

I was able to find individuals to exchange services with without reaching beyond my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. If you're unsure what types of services your friends may be positioned to offer, you can always utilize social media or sites like swapright.com. Just keep in mind that when you’re doing a friendly barter, it’s smart to be clear about expectations. This post by Forbes magazine writer Demetra Kouremetes offers some good tips on how to make sure a barter doesn’t go sour. 

I personally haven’t completely given up on the cash economy, after all, I need to pay my mortgage and buy groceries, but there is a wealth of experiences and opportunities that can be gained from a littler personal life bartering.


photo by Sarah Gerber