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How can you get chic clothing, the latest electronic gadgets, and trendy furniture, all without spending a dime?
One way to get free stuff is by trading reviews for merch at Amazon.
Or, you can barter.
You might have big dreams. A luxury Caribbean vacation. A beautiful new deck to turn your old house into a summer palace. A new car.
Maybe you’re not in the best financial shape. Or, don’t want to throw away money on luxuries and nonessentials. You want to be frugal. But you don’t want to feel deprived.
But money isn’t the only way to get goods and services. By using the power of barter, you can have the things you want. And do it without spending a dime!
When you barter, you trade time or goods for what others have. Of course, to make the barter work, you have to find someone who has the services you need. They’re going to need your services too.
Welcome to the world of bartering, where trading what you have can get you everything you need. This is a cultural revolution that’ll change the way you do everything.
If you’re R. Crumb, you trade your sketchbooks for a sunny villa in France.
Bartering in the Digital Age
Technology makes it so much easier to bring people together in a virtual marketplace. It’s now simpler than ever to find someone who wants what you’ve got, in exchange for what they’ve got.
There are communities for all types of niche interests on the Internet. Bartering is no exception. So, people who are geographically scattered but who want to make trades are now able to come together as one.
On a host of new websites that have given bartering a digital makeover, you can find wheelers and dealers who want to swap every conceivable item or service under the sun.
It’s playground trading on these sites.
How Children Barter
Children make trades with each other all the time. Suzy gives Johnny a Twinkie and a half of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In return, Johnny gives Suzy a Ding-Dong and a package of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos.
When we were kids, everything was negotiable. Everyone was checking out everyone else’s lunches, making offers and trying to end up with the tastiest offerings.
We stopped bartering as adults because until recently, there was a stigma attached to it.
We, like the Ferengi of Star Trek: The Next Generation, put a price tag on nearly everything. But we forget how much we can save by using a little creative negotiation.
Adults are just a little more sophisticated about their bargaining than children.
It would be wonderful if, in addition to meeting virtually, people start to connect in real time at local venues. Just like in the olden days.
Bartering goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years. In colonial days, early entrepreneurs traded glass beads for corn, and guns for shell beads.
On remote Barter Island off the coast of Alaska, Inupiat from Alaska and Inuit from Canada traded with each other. The Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA began in 1933 with a simple idea: instead of tossing tomatoes tat actors they didn’t like, they used them to get into shows.
Thus, the idea of the bartering theater was born, and the price of your ticket was vegetables from your garden.
The Pilgrims bartered with the Native Americans to get much-needed staples. Chief Massasoit, a Wampanoag, and Squanto, a Patuxet Indian, gave the Pilgrims food in exchange for weapons and tools.
During the height of the industrial revolution, people left their farms en masse, and swapping fell into disfavor.
As the standard of living of the average American improved, opportunity costs increased, and workers’ time became more valuable. But during harsh economic times, the populace returned to the practice.
Today, in tough economic times, barter as a skill is more popular than ever as people figure out creative ways to get what they want without using money.
These days, fashion aficionados use bartering as a way to appear more well-to-do than they actually are, at trendy parties where they trade clothing that no longer hold the cache it once did.
Bartering for Services
What are your skills? There’s an excellent chance you can offer those skills as payment.
Are you good at website design or videography? Maybe you could hire a copywriter to write web copy for you, and in exchange, offer to film her wedding.
You’re both getting something of value without having to lay out any cash. Sometimes you pay the guy. Other times you can negotiate a great trade that leaves all parties happy.
Trading one physical item for another is a given. But savvy bargain hunters know you can trade skills, too.
For example, you do SEO optimization for my landscaping website, and in exchange, I’ll cut your hair. Thousands of barterers all over the planet do deals like this every day.
Want your grass cut for free? Eager to go to a tanning salon gratis? Barter with your skills! Offer your services as an electrician, graphic designer, or whatever skills you have in your professional repertoire.
You could even negotiate an agreement that’s more than a one-time deal. For example, if you’re a social marketing strategist, you could trade monthly social media work for monthly lawn work.
Though getting things for free is the idea, you might not always be successful, particularly if you’re targeting an expensive product or service. Instead, use your bartering expertise to get great discounts.
Chain Stores Vs. Mom and Pop Shops
Local businesses are particularly useful targets for a little bartering. Chain stores often have corporate regulations to follow, but local companies have more latitude.
Bartering for Business
When you don’t have money to grow a business, what can you do?
Trade for the things you need! Bartering is a useful tool for cash-strapped business owners.
Whether you’re a small business owner or the undisputed master of the side hustle, the less money you have to spend to make your business work, the more you get to keep. Bartering can help you keep those extra dollars.
If you read trending business articles on LinkedIn, you might get the idea that bartering is a brand-new alternative to paying in cash. But if you spent your youth playing the Oregon Trail and bartered with your fellow settlers to acquire essential resources, you know that it’s been around forever.
If you’ve run into a little bit of a cash flow problem, quid pro quo deals can be a creative way to enhance your business operations. If you’re a photographer, you can offer your photography services in exchange for pedicures, getting your taxes done, or having your car detailed.
Not sure if another business would be willing to bargain? Well, until you ask, the answer is going to be “no.”
Reach out and see what happens. Who knows? That office cleaning service you desperately need might want photos of their employees hard at work to make their LinkedIn page shine.
Not all bartering needs to be directly related to your business. Trade for some goods and services that make you feel good too, even if they won’t fatten up your bottom line.
Things that entertain you and make you look and feel good may not be necessities, but that doesn’t mean you always have to live without them.
Don’t Get Roped into Every Deal
You know when you hear of a juicy sale, and you end up spending money you can’t afford, just because the deals were too amazing to pass up? Bartering can be like that.
To avoid this temptation, make a list of things and services you absolutely need.
Remember, you’re probably going to have to pass on paid work to fulfill your end of the bargain. So, make sure what you get in return is worth your time.
If you have services to barter, determine their value by putting a dollar amount on them. This way, your trades will be more equitable.
But don’t forget to recognize the value of other people’s goods and services. That’s why you need to ignore the cost of the raw materials of what you’re getting in exchange and figure out how much the goods or service is really worth.
Like you, your bargaining partner is providing a specialized skill or service. Its cost is what any customer would pay. Don’t minimize the value of your partner’s offer just because you want a better deal.
You always want to make sure the discount is worth the amount of work you put into it. In other words, don’t do countless hours of work for a measly $75 discount.
Just make sure you know your worth going into the deal. And don’t get roped into every opportunity that comes along!
As with every gig, you have the right to turn it down if you don’t think it’ll be worth it. Above all, keep it professional.
Don’t Keep Them Waiting
If you’re swapping services, don’t keep the other person in limbo. Nobody likes waiting. So, if you trade painting somebody’s living room for a free pedicure, get to the spa within a reasonable amount of time.
Cash in the trade while they’re still remembering how much they enjoyed whatever it was you gave them. Everyone will be so much happier. It’s okay to set restrictions on your offer, so they don’t take advantage of you.
For example, you might want to stipulate that their free house painting can’t happen during the busiest week of the summer.
Use inventory in your trades that’s slow to sell. If you sell lawn ornaments, maybe you have a gorgeous St. Francis of Assisi statue that nobody wanted to buy. Whatever it is that isn’t exactly flying off the shelves, make this the basis of future trades.
Bartering Counts as Income
You might have to report your bartering activity as income. If you live in Canada or the United States, you certainly do.
Include your bartering activity when you do your books because you’ll probably have to report it. Ask your accountant if you’re not sure.
Track your trades as close as if they were cash. Break down the time you invest, the cost of goods, and the payment received. Even if the payment was a pedicure.
You’ll need this information for your records. If you receive $100 worth of free visits to a sauna, you’ll need to report that income if you swapped your time for it.
There are websites where you can swap your unwanted items for things you would rather have. Most of these sites are free.
However, some bartering sites make you pay fees. If you use these sites, make sure the cost of the charges doesn’t outweigh the value of the deal. Or else, it won’t be worth it.
Nightmare Trading Partners
When doing your trades, keep in mind that some people can be a nightmare to deal with. Let your intuition be your guide. If a trading partner gives you a hard time about getting a swap started, don’t expect everything to be a bowl of cherries once you actually work on the deal.
For example, he might take weeks just to haggle over one tiny detail. Or send you a zillion emails about what he wants to include and what he doesn’t. Soon, you’ll feel that you got the short end of the bargaining stick, and the deal won’t be worth it anymore.
Heed any red flags carefully before you get in over your head.
Bartering in Three Easy Steps
To make haggling a piece of cake, do these three things:
- BE CLEAR WHAT YOU’RE OFFERING: Consider your skills and what people might want in an exchange. What value are you giving them?
- DON’T GET TOO UNREALISTIC: Don’t have expectations that are too high. It’s much harder to bargain your way to a luxury townhouse than it is to get your sink fixed.
- SELL YOUR IDEA AFTER YOU GET TO KNOW THEM: Explain in detail how your skills can meet their needs. The pitch will be more likely to work if you took the time to forge a relationship with them. Don’t immediately start talking about exchanging goods and services when you first meet somebody. Schmooze with the person before bringing up the idea of making a trade. They’ll be more likely to be receptive this way.
Think About a Strategy
Devise some strategies before you begin. Think about why you’re swapping and what you have to offer a prospective trading partner.
One great technique is to leave your wallet at home. That way, when a trader wants to level the playing field by having you dump a wad of cash at his feet, you tell him you don’t have anything on you.
It’s a straight trade or nothing.
Look for their weak spot by chatting up the traders. If you find out that your bartering partner is desperate to get rid of the merchandise, you’ll be in an excellent position to negotiate. Then, you can trade them a slightly less valuable thing.
And for crying out loud, have a poker face. Never let a trader see how crazy you are for an item.
Be a little mysterious and don’t list every detail. Post a photo, and then leave it with a basic description, so your prospect has to call you to find out more.
You also have to know your stuff is worth. Otherwise, you can’t get a good deal.
Bring a seasoned trader with you or a smartphone you can use to check eBay to establish what the item is currently going for.
Watch out for scams too! There are plenty of shysters out there.
Relationships are the Key to Successful Deals
Relationship building is critical to bartering. When you’re dealing with strangers, there’s always a trust issue.
People with whom you’ve built trust are much more likely to trade with you. To create these connections, participate in meetups and networking groups whenever you can.
During meetups, think of creative ways of helping each other. Even when businesses seem unrelated, once you get to know people, you can always think of creative ways to work together.
Consider a house painter, dog sitter, and furniture upholsterer. The house painter needs somebody to sit with his dog while he takes an extended vacation in China. The dog sitter needs a couch reupholstered.
And the furniture upholsterer needs a deck painted. It’s just a matter of starting a dialogue and figuring out logistical details, but surely, they all can come to some sort of bartering arrangement.
Not sure how to get the conversation started? Just do it. When you get the conversational ball rolling, everything gets easy after that.
For maximum bartering potential, expand your network outside your field. If you’re a house painter and you only know other house painters, you’ll have nothing to offer that they’re going to want.
If you know people in a variety of industries, you can create more valuable connections. A fleeting meeting might be the key to a future bartering goldmine!
By bartering, you can use services you don’t have to pay any money for. But what if you have skills to trade, but no one who wants them?
Sign up for a barter exchange where deposit time spent on delivering services for others. Then, you can withdraw this time when you need services yourself.
Say you do landscaping for a steakhouse, but you’re a vegan and have no interest in eating at the establishment. The restaurant can pay you in trade dollars which you can use at another business in the barter network.
So, in exchange for doing landscaping for the steakhouse, you could use your valuable trade dollars to pay for Gardein black bean burgers at a local food co-op, pick up some pepper plants at your local nursery, or get some dance lessons.
Most barter exchanges charge fees. If you’re going to pay them, just make sure the costs don’t cut into the value of the services you use.
You might wonder why in the heck you’d barter when you could just pay for the services. Well, unless you’re a type “A” person with a million irons in the fire, you probably have a little downtime now and again.
If you own a business, there are set costs you have to pay whether or not you have work to do .So, by offering to swap time or goods that you’re not using, you can add value to your business without using cash.
For example, if you have days where you don’t do work for your landscaping clients, you could exchange your services to earn credits on those days. And, you can do this without sitting idle or discounting your price, which is what usually would happen.
All you’re doing is giving up is a little bit of your time. In exchange, you’ll earn credits that could be worth $100 or more.
Some barter exchanges will let you charge a minimum fee to cover the cost of hard goods. So, for example, if you provide plumbing services, you might charge a $20 an hour fee and a $45 an hour barter credit.
This way, you can pay for plumbing supplies while still swapping your time for the labor.
A Bartered Wedding
Weddings are expensive. But some couples don’t spend any money on their weddings. One of these couples is Jessica Norgard and Isaac Aaron Piche.
The couple thought it would be an exciting challenge to barter for every single thing they needed for their wedding. The Fresno couple dated for seven years before launching a videography business.
But since their fledgling business was only a year old, they didn’t want to divert money away from their livelihood for the wedding. So, they asked vendors if they’d be willing to provide wedding stuff in exchange for videography services.
When all was said and done, the only things they needed to use cash for were their rings and a down payment on the venue. And, it took only six months to put together the bartered wedding of their dreams.
So, if you think bartering might work for you, try approaching people with offers. Some innovative businesses are open to the idea.
It never hurts to ask around. And let your friends, colleagues, and your customers know you have services or goods you’d be willing to swap.
You may find a new way to hang onto scarce cash!