The Village Family Service Center

The Art of Bartering in the Modern Age

Date: 
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Man holding a layered baked good topped with berries.

By Alicia Kellebrew
NFCC Certified Financial Professional

The Village Financial Resource Center

I have been accused of being somewhat of a “throwback.” I can’t help but see a lot of value in the way our parents, grandparents, and beyond used to do things and feel that some of those old practices could serve us well in the present age. By far, my favorite one of those is the barter system.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term barter as “to exchange things (such as products or services) for other things instead of for money.” Back in the times before established currency forms, people would mostly trade a good or service that they specialized in for another that they didn’t specialize in (but needed). Unfortunately, somewhere along the line this fell out of popularity especially in modern times. I, for one, would love to see it make a comeback in a HUGE way. In fact, there are many facets in my life where I use the barter system, and while initially it may be met with some weird looks or comments, everyone is usually happy with the end result.

So what are some of the most common goods I barter with? Well, the commodity that I find to be the most popular is homemade baked goods. Baking is something that I enjoy, and it's a good way to get out of my own head for a while. But, of course, having too many baked goods on hand can be pretty dangerous! So trading extra baked goods for things I need help with really works out nicely.

I started developing my bartering skills in college. When I first started at UND I couldn’t afford a car so I had to take the city bus to and from work. Even though it meant I had to leave an hour before I had to be anywhere, I really didn’t mind because the fare was drastically reduced for students. The only snag was that the bus didn’t run on Sundays, and I would always work a full day. So in order to convince my friends to drop me off and pick me up, I would offer to bake them a dozen of whatever their favorite baked treat was. Fortunately for me, baking is another somewhat lost art form in our times. So that offer was usually met with enthusiastic agreement.

Although baked goods are my primary form of bartering “currency,” there are many other things a person could use such as babysitting services, dog walking, house cleaning, errand running, snow shoveling/leaf raking, car or home maintenance/repairs, prepping or cooking meals, hair cutting/styling, crafting, etc. The key is to stick with something that you have a knack for and to find someone who has a knack for something else and politely propose a swap. After all, none of us is good at everything.

A few other situations where I have engineered barters include trading babysitting services for dinner that night while watching the parents' extended cable package, swapping a craft lesson for a baking lesson, or even a customized handmade jewelry set for tutoring in college.

This could also work nicely if you are planning a wedding or any other party. If you have talented friends (and who doesn’t?), you could ask them to provide a good or service as their gift (instead of a purchased item). Examples could include help with invitations, flowers, photography, cooking/baking, etc.

Bottom line: It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box and propose a swap. The worst thing that can happen is the other person will turn down your offer, and the best thing that can happen is you find a lifelong bartering partner and friend – all without having to open up your wallet. Sounds like a win-win to me.


About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.