Be Smarter: Barter
by David Mercer
Beginning to Barter
How to Barter
Barter Your Way to Savings
If you find that your spending tends to outpace your income or that your income doesn't allow you to enjoy some of life's luxuries, you might want to consider barter.
My first two experiences with barter should actually be called "partial barter." In the first instance, I read to a blind Italian-speaking pianist who was trying to improve his English. This was in Lugano, Switzerland, and the pianist's father ran a hotel. My pay was minimal, but was topped up with a gourmet dessert from the hotel's kitchen. Later, in Zuerich, I tutored the cousin of a friend. He was a French-speaking Swiss boy hoping to enter the academic stream of a German-language high school. I was to teach him German grammar. Once again, minimal pay was topped up with food. This time, it was a complete evening meal. In both cases, I saw an aspect of Swiss life that most foreigners miss. The experience also meant that, for one evening a week, I was not able to go out and spend money.
I am a great believer in the benefits of massage. However, massages are expensive. A friend in California belongs to a massage exchange network. That seemed like such a good idea that I took a short course that would allow me to participate in such a network, but I now live in Nova Scotia where there is no such network. Instead, I get massaged by students in the graduating class of a massage school. This is a type of barter since I allow them to practice on my body in return for a more than 50% reduction in the price of a massage.
I'm hooked on classical music, and I sometimes think that, had I not spent so much on opera, ballet and concert tickets, I would now be independently wealthy. Many cities use volunteer ushers in concert halls. These ushers get to enjoy a performance, or most of it, for free. At least one usher must wait outside until a suitable break when latecomers may be seated, but most of the ushers can hear and see the entire performance. An usher friend in Cleveland is fortunate to be able to hear the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the world's leading orchestras, in Severance Hall, one of the world's best concert halls, for free. Tickets for these performances are neither inexpensive nor readily available.
House swapping is a great way to reduce vacation costs. This can be done in two ways. You can occupy your swappers' home while they occupy yours or you can visit them and then they can visit you. Both arrangements have their advantages and disadvantages. There are agencies that arrange for inspection and take care of the organizational details if you can't find a house-swapping partner among your friends and relatives and their acquaintances.
Do you want to learn a foreign language, but don't have the money for tuition? Why not try a "teach yourself" book and get a native speaker to help you with pronunciation in return for English conversational practice.
If you stop to think about it, car pooling is really a form of barter, and a profitable one, with gas prices as high as they are. There is a bonus with this one: you are helping the environment.
Are you a keen former-gardener now living in an apartment or condo? Perhaps you have a friend with a house and yard but not a green thumb. You could arrange to create a flower bed for them or maintain their garden for the season in return for invitations to their tennis club. If you no longer own a car, you might prefer that they offer you a day in the country. Even if you would like to offer someone a service with no strings attached, don't refuse all reciprocity. It makes people feel good.
Barter can be wonderful for seniors, many of whom find themselves with more time than money. Think of the possible combinations: piano lessons for French lessons, lawn mowing for a cooked meal, hand-knit mittens for hedge-trimming, a haircut for a casserole. The priceless byproduct of barter is companionship, which is especially important for seniors who have lost loved ones.
Whatever your age, though, barter can be for you. Use your imagination, and perhaps the classified ad section of your local newspaper. Above all, have fun!
Take the Next Step
- Check out The Dollar Stretcher's recommended barter site Target Barter
- Be specific, fair, and trustworthy in your bartering.
Subscribe to our weekly "Surviving Tough Times" newsletter by sending an email to
This free html newsletter will provide ways to survive in this challenging economy. Each issue features nine articles to help you stretch your dollar!
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor: Click Here
Trending on TDS
- How are relationships affected by money?
- The emotions behind shopping
- Avoiding your parents' debts
- Selling your gold without getting ripped off
- Tips for radical cost cutting
- Video: What are contra-economics?
- Responding to frugal envy
- How to have more money than a lottery winner
- What it takes to borrow against home equity these days
- Financial infidelity: Are you a cheater?
- A cheat sheet on tipping do's and don'ts
- How TV affects your credit card spending
- How to create a budget that works for you
- Money-saving secrets of the rich and frugal