I calculate the cost of everything based on how many hours of our lives it takes to earn that amount of money. To me, the truck we considered buying was 6 months of my husband’s work, over and above the time that is already spent at work. So when people ask why I eschew debt or don’t like to spend money, it is because I see it as indentured servitude. Just ask me about our student loans.
As a culture, we spend most of our time and energy earning money to pay someone else to do things for us. We pay other people to grow our food, make our bread, service our lawns, teach our children, tend our homes, and with whatever is left, entertain us. All this specialization has allowed us to excel in many ways. Do whatever you are best at and pay people to do everything else. If all works according to the economic model, you are paying people to do what they do best and you are getting paid to do what you do best and all of society wins. At least, that’s the theory. Life doesn’t always obey the models or work according to theory. Infact, what I see around me is over-specialization to the exclusion of life’s fundamentals.
We all know those people who have focused so acutely on a something (hooray for DNA mapping!) that they no longer really function in other areas (hello doctor with no social skills).
What if you could cut out all the middlemen and, even just sometimes, trade what you have to offer directly for what you want?
Welcome to bartering, the shadow economy of the practical. Okay, it isn’t exactly a shadow economy since it is legal and doesn’t involve money. Bartering is currency-free trading.
There is something fundamentally satisfying in trading something you have created, or even your labor, directly for something you want. I think it gives us the ability to ascribe a value to whatever we have attained that is more tangible and less muddied by outside market forces.
It goes something like this: I make pickles, Tess raises laying hens, Tasha makes bread. I get my eggs from Tess and my bread from Tasha in exchange for my pickles. Or, if you’d rather, I help someone fence their mud lot in exchange for them taking care of the farm overnight so we can leave town. I work on your truck and you mow my pasture. Beautiful, right? I love it. Bartering gives alternative value to the things I have to offer. I can go up to the market and sell my canned goods and veggies and then go to the people who have what I want and buy it from them, or I can just trade with them in the first place.
As long as both parties have something the other wants/needs, bartering is an option. The better you know someone, the more you will know what to offer or what to request. Sometimes no one wants your pickles but they may need someone to teach their son how to ride a horse.
It can be awkward when you aren’t sure what is equitable but just like in any commerce, the value is what someone is willing to pay so make an offer and don’t bother getting insulted by counter offers. Be honest. If it isn’t a good trade for you and it isn’t worth the goodwill, it’s okay to politely decline. If you are trading regularly, it will all come out in the wash (as long as you aren’t a pushover.)
This system is especially appealing to people who thrive on relationships or who have limited ability to make money, which covers a lot of people. In fact, most of the people with whom I barter are other at home parents. John may not be able to earn what he is worth while he is at home with the kids but maybe he can trade his other skills for what the family needs on his own schedule. Katy may not earn much writing but perhaps she gets free goods for copy with a local business (ehem). It is a great community builder.
Kids are natural barterers, which is great because it is an easier concept for them to grasp than our currency based system full of ATMs and direct deposit.
How to get started:
Know what you have to offer, be it skills, time, muscles, homemade goods or things you are no longer using.
Locate what you would like and who makes, grows or does it.
Reach out politely and honestly.
Don’t try to turn good deeds into barters. If you’d help a neighbor, don’t decide to try and get something in return.
We have seen a resurgence of bartering in my area in the last few years, a silver a lining to the depressed economics of the area. Although partly due to strained finances, it is also the result of increased networking, a renewed interest in regional and genuine food and a healthy desire to live, to some degree, outside of the mainstream.
Who doesn’t love that?
Happy eating, Katy