How to Barter: Creative Tips to Get What You Want Without Money

Published on February 8, 2016 By Lauren

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  • Mary is a single mom to two very active boys. She works two jobs just to make ends meet. When her children expressed an interest in music lessons, Mary’s first inclination was to say, “I’m sorry. That’s not in the budget.”

    When you are living on a strict budget, like Mary, extras like music lessons, a gym membership, or regular visits to the salon are very difficult to justify. There’s often no extra money to pay for those items that feel like luxuries as well as necessities like haircuts, babysitting, and even home care. However, if you could learn how to barter to reduce out of pocket costs and to pay for extras, you just might be able to experience and enjoy more in your life.

    For Mary, it took thinking outside the box to find a solution for her situation. She asked a few friends if they knew of anyone who offered lessons and might be willing to work with her. Her inquiry led to a guitar instructor who needed someone to watch his kids while he gave lessons two nights a week. Mary was able to score lessons for both her sons and earn a little extra money watching his kids two nights a week.

    I love the whole idea of bartering. It’s the oldest way to pay for things as it predates money by thousands of years.

    You have something that I want, I have something that you want – let’s make a deal!

    I love it!

    So, how do you get started bartering?

    1. Determine what you CAN offer?

    Think about what skills you have – tutoring, babysitting, sewing or knitting, assistance moving furniture, painting a room, weeding a garden, lending tools or your truck out, offering the use of your boat, camper or tent, baking – there are so many things that you can offer someone else. Maybe you have an amazing cookie recipe and would be willing to provide cookies for someone’s party. Anything you are willing or can do that someone else may not have time or be able to do is going to be a great bartering tool.

    Personally, I would love to have someone clean my house once a month. It’s not an expense I am willing to pay for at this time and I truly hate doing it (especially the kitchen and bathrooms) but I’d be willing to offer my own services in exchange for it to be completed by someone else. Teaming up with someone who offers house cleaning could be beneficial for the both of us, if I have something to offer in exchange. Maybe they’d like a meal made for them once a week? I could make an extra dinner when I am cooking and deliver it to their home. The next step for me is to find someone I could partner with.

    2. Ask questions!

    Let people know that you are looking for assistance and see if anyone has anything you can offer. If you need something on your car fixed, ask friends and family. They may know someone who can help you with it. Get the word out that you can offer something in exchange. Facebook might be a great place to start. You could let friends know when you are meeting up for dinner, tell the other moms at scouts or soccer practice, and just start asking around for others who might be willing to work something out with you.

    3. Sign up for an exchange group.

    Some cities have active groups that work together to help each other out. helps facilitate groups that can work together for the benefit of all involved. When you sign up with Timebank, you agree to help people out when you can. You will earn credits that can then be used to have someone help you. There is a great video that explains how a Time Bank is working in Long Beach, CA on their site.

    Another place to sign up is U-Exchange. On this site, people offer up their services and place their requests for goods and services that they may need. You look for something that matches what you have to offer and contact the member.

    4. Protect Yourself.

    Before you enter into a bartering agreement, it would be wise to meet with the person you will be working with (if you do not know them) and write up an agreement. Be sure that everyone is happy with the agreement before you sign up.

    Mary did just that when she found music lessons for her children. Both parties wrote an agreement out and signed it. They even included a date to revisit the plan so they could renegotiate the arrangement if either person felt it was necessary.

    Other Places to Explore

    • Swap gently used baby, kids’ and women’s clothing at
    • Craigslist – in the For Sale section there is a bartering link to check out regularly or post your own ad.
    • Trade babysitting at
    • SwapStyle is a place swapping women’s fashions including shoes, purses, clothes (maternity & kids included).
    • Local farms – many offer CSA boxes in exchange for your time picking produce at their farm and assembling other boxes for customers.
    • – allows travelers to find a place to crash in exchange for doing the same thing for travelers in their area.

    Bartering can be intimidating initially, but it just takes some talking with people to quickly discover that everyone has something to offer. What can you offer up for bartering? Have you ever barter for a good or service?


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