Bartering in a Tight Economy

There is nothing like the loss of a job, a cut in hours, losing a home or being unable to pay bills to get resourceful. We sell off goods we are not using, look for second jobs, buy cheaper cars, eat more fast food (cheaper but not healthier!), rewrite household budgets, and squirm to make ends meet. The trick is to do this without sacrificing our lifestyles.

There is an alternative to struggling and squirming – bartering what you have for what you need. This is part of being self-sufficient, although it might seem otherwise. Self-sufficiency does not mean doing everything yourself. It means supplying what’s possible and bartering for the rest. Trading is thousands of years old, but has gained popularity as the economy slowed over the last five or six years.


Bartering comes from a long tradition. Here’s an example as first published in 1874 of a classic bartering scenario. The tradition of bartering is of course much older.

Dollars go farther when you can trade for what you need. Money does not exchange hands – only goods and services. You may not need to rely on government services, like SNAP (food stamps in the US) or welfare, and you may not need to visit a food bank or church for basics. Many people are ashamed to seek help. By bartering for what they need, they can avoid that shame and take charge of their lives. It’s satisfying and empowering to do a little footwork to stay afloat.

Bartering also builds community by putting people in touch with each other. You will meet people from all walks of life and maybe make some new friends along the way.

How can you incorporate bartering into your life?

Bartering can get you things you need in exchange for items or skills that you have. The trade does not have to have an equal monetary value. Most commonly, it is item for item.

This past summer, I saw a lot of gardeners trading their homegrown food for eggs, honey, baked goods, massage, yard work, housecleaning and auto repair. You can’t give yourself a massage, but you need one, so why not trade something you have of value that the massage therapist does not have? This is the essence of bartering. It’s a win for both sides with items or services that are practical, and will be used and appreciated. No money is spent, but both sides get something they need.

What do you have to barter?

Some ideas of services I have come across are cleaning, organizing (closets, offices, computer files, recipe boxes), handyman skills, snow shoveling, sewing (alternations, upholstery, clothing, drapes, quilts), pet sitting, house sitting, music lessons, photography, babysitting and gardening. Years ago, I landscaped the yard of a new home in partial trade for dental work. I have three crowns and a bridge, and she has a beautiful yard!

In lieu of a yard sale, you can get rid of things you have outgrown by trading them for things or services you need. What’s in your attic? Garage? Closets? Kitchen cupboards? Book and media shelves? I’m sure you don’t have to look hard enough to find things you’re not using. Take advantage of them and trade for something useful!

What do you need?

It’s the rare occasion we can barter for gas or groceries, but I did read an account of a woman who sent baked goods to pay for a magazine subscription! Get creative. The worst businesses can do is say No.

I have seen people ask for haircuts, items for craft projects, studio space, lawn mowing, appliances, frequent flyer miles, ski gear, vehicles, house paint, manual labor, dog kennels, car parts and real estate. Whatever you need, you can always ask about doing a trade.

How do you start?

Check the barter section of craigslist under the For Sale section. Find what you need, and list what you want to move.

Check your social media haunts for local barter groups. We have a very active one where I live, and there is a separate list just for garden related exchanges.

Join a barter club. I’m torn on this. I see a barter club as a forum to trade goods and services for free. Some of these clubs charge fees to join, monthly fees and transaction fees so the administration can make money. Those ideas oppose each other in my eyes, but if it’s the best way to barter on a larger scale than locally, then go for it. Here is some information from Barter News that may help you make that decision.

Spread the word!

We are so attached to money that bartering can seem scary. Think of your item or service as cash that you are paying for what you receive. That will help you get over your trepidation. Once you realize how beneficial bartering is for you and your community, you will wonder why we ever got away from trade as an economic system.

Consider starting a barter club in your community. If you are hurting financially, you can be sure others are, too. Spread the word about the benefits of barter, and get other people involved. You will surely find some savvy traders that could make barter an alternative economy in your town.

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