Simply Swapping Favors and the Barter System

Photo by Michael Ging

There was a time when, especially in rural America, most “commerce” was done not by exchanging cash money for goods you wanted but by trading something you had and could spare for something you needed.  Many rural General Stores were simply barter centers where families who had chickens would bring eggs and trade them for butter and milk brought in by another family or for flour ground by the mill up the road.

These stores would have cloth, pots, pans and farming implements brought in from the more industrialized East, thereby being able to supply most of the needs the local families had.  Cash transactions were accepted of course, but a large part of their trade was done through barter.

Rural life is still a lot like that.  Swapping favors is one way we can help one another get things done without depleting our bank accounts.  This goes beyond rallying around a friend who has something heavy to move because we know when we need help he will return the favor.  For instance, I have the equipment and skills to do high end woodworking, Tim has a truck and trailer.  Tim has often delivered my furniture pieces going “out East” for me, and I have built him furniture.  

Some Bartering Has Gone High Tech

Barbara Ling, a 13 year marketing veteran and very funny person who shares her home with two mooses (meese?) has been tutoring me on marketing techniques; things I can use both in selling my furniture and in building a readership on this blog.  I often take the opportunity to repay some of her kindness by helping to make you aware of her oh-so awesome new web site and services she provides.

Mike is a certified network engineer and Mike and I have, for more years than I care to admit, traded computer advice for woodworking advice as well as being generally supportive by listening to one anothers rants and celebrating successes.

Another fellow, Tristan has been helping me tweak this web site to help it perform better and I… well… I guess I haven’t done diddly for Tristan yet.  So that’s a barter debt.

I’ve made new writer friends on-line with whom I trade favors by critiquing each others’ work or offering advice when we get stuck on an issue.  In one case I was able to swap my help in formatting a manuscript for cover art from someone much more skilled in that than I.  Swapping favors is still a form of bartering.

Bartering: Goods, Services, Advice

So, bartering can be swapping home-made lye soap for a sack of flour, or me building a set of custom end tables in exchange for a new washing machine from Buddy’s Appliances, it can be swapping expert advice, or it can be just helping out by talking one another up.

And, in this day and age, the friends and “neighbors” who make up a community don’t have to be within any physical location.  Tim lives up the road from me, Mike is in Alabama, Tristan is in Utah, Barbara is in New Jersey.  This makes it a bit tough for everyone to get together for a barbecue, but does not preclude being friends and helping one another.

With the American economy as tight as it is right now, I’m seeing more of the old barter system being brought back into play to get around cash shortages and still supply your family’s needs.  If you’d like to check out some barter deals you can poke around in web sites like these, or your local newspaper classifieds section.

There are many more, but that will give you an idea.  Some are paid membership sites, some are free, some allow you to deal directly with other users, some use “credits” earned by selling your stuff to “buy” something else through their site.  As always, check the terms and don’t assume anything.

As for me, I like doing my horse-trading for physical goods with local folks, and here in the mountains a lot of local folks are willing to do a little bartering.  Now, if we could just get ‘ol Wal-Mart on board with the idea!

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24 thoughts on “Simply Swapping Favors and the Barter System”

  1. Love love LOVE how you write about the barter system for the high tech world! I never ever thought of it that way, but you’re so right.

    And I’m glad to have been able to help you out! That’s what online friends are for.

    1. 🙂 Thank you Barbara, and I can hardly wait for the champagne bottle to smash across the bow of your new flagship!

  2. I live on a Kibbutz in the Jordan valley, we homeschool and have an organic food cooperative, 25 families are involved in sharing and building.
    Now we are getting known throughout Israel and many people want to bale out of the ratrace and come here, we have eco architects and alt. energy experts as well as tons of other talent.
    It can be done.

  3. Bartering works really well as long as one of the parties doesn’t have bills outside of that relationship that require cash. I’ve traded services with people here and there, and it’s pretty nice when one’s needs can be best served that way.

    1. Quite true Mitch, these days bartering has a less prominent role than it once did. It takes a WHOLE lot of eggs to make a mortgage payment, even if the banker would take them!

  4. Sweet post, Allan! Man, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your posts lately. Keep up the awesome work!

    And thanks for the mention 🙂 And you DID do something for me! You bought that ebook that gave me a commission as an affiliate! That’s a pretty fair trade if you ask me.

    Have you ever heard of a book called One Red Paperclip? I haven’t read it, but it’s on my list. It’s about this guy who trades things on Craigslist. His goal is to start out with a red paperclip and see what he can eventually end up with. Well, he trades his paperclip for a pen for a doorknob for a camping stove and so on until he wound up with a house!!! Very, very cool.

    I’ve never really bartered anything online, but it’s something I’d definitely like to look into. Thanks for providing that list of sites. I’m off to check them out right now!

    1. That does sound like an interesting book Tristan, I’ll have to look for it. He starts with a paper clip and ends up with a house? That’s amazing! He must have been *very* good at writing sales copy! Oh yeah… the e-book. I suppose because of the way that was done that does count; a little anyway. About all I’ve ever bartered on line was to swap one book or DVD for another. Thanks for dropping in, Tristan, and for your encouraging words.

  5. There’s a bright side to most bad situations, and if this economy can get people talking and working together, that’s a good thing. Excellent post, Allan. Thanks for getting me thinking again about an old idea that will never be out of date.

  6. Pingback: Minimalist Blog Roundup: Simple Living Edition « Minimalist Packrat
  7. Hi Allen,
    I have just found your blog today via a comment on my blog and I love this article. I think the old barter system is a great way to transact in a community and I wish there was more of it. I think I am going to have to try to encourage it in the estate where I live and hope that is spreads. Thank you for a good read and I will be back on a regular basis.

    1. Thank you Coleen, I’m glad you found it useful. And best of luck on that venture; I think you and your… estate-mates??… will find bartering a great experience.

  8. Bartering / swapping seems common among writers. Sometimes we see it up at the observatory — someone doing something nice for us because we give so much of our time to keep the facility open for the public.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Mary. Obviously your patrons place value on the service you perform and want to reciprocate. It may not be swapping eggs for flour, but in this day and age our “staples of life” are different than they were in the pioneer days.

  9. Bartering is a great idea! In one of the forums I am on, one of the things that I try to get people to see is it doesn’t always have to take money to get things you need. Thinking “outside the box” can be a great way to do something with little to no cash.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. If I’m not mistaken they use this in Africa, since their money doesn’t have much value there it would make sense to make use of the barter system. Thank you for the links, Allan. Good job on the article.

  11. Allan,

    Lately, I’ve been using the barter system to promote my books. I’ve done some interviews in exchange for a copy of the book. I think I got the better deal in terms of publicity, but then my blogging buddies were basically extending a hand of friendship more than anything else. I’ve let people know too that if they have something to promote, I’m willing to loan them my blog.

  12. Interesting to come accross this article portraying bartering as ‘favor swapping’… I may be wrong but I have a hunch that many people are would be interested in swapping and bartering on a much larger scale and the whole concept is waiting to go mainstream. With this in mind, I’m about to launch a platform called Favabank (currently UK only) which promotes bartering as favor exchange and brings with it a social element which hopefully will appeal to those used to using mainstream applications such as Facebook. Not to sure if links are permitted here but Googling ‘Favabank’ should bring up the site.

    All the best…

    1. Your name turns into a link, John, when the comment is posted and leads back to the URL you entered. I clicked through to Social Bartering with Favabank, no problem. Best of luck to you!

  13. Great article. I’d like to add one more website, completely free, where you can exchange favors:

    Compared to other website, you can do a favor in exchange for FavorPoints that you can use with anyone else to receive a different favor.

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