If your last bartering experience was on the Oregon Trail, it’s time to get with the program.
Your first experience in barter and trade probably came in the form of wagon axels for sets of clothing or an ox for some ammunition. But when not battling dysentery on the Oregon Trail, are trade and bartering still relevant to our economy?
More importantly, are they relevant to you?
Whether you’re the creative type, a corporate employee or have a side business, barter and trade might be more helpful – and more accessible – than you think. Below you’ll find some examples of people who are using bartering in smart ways, so you can figure out how this strategy might fit into your life, too.
The starving artist
In the movies, being an artist in a quaint New York loft may seem romantic – but in the real world, people have bills to pay. And, even scarier, they get sick.
On January 23, Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center announced a new program called the Lincoln Art Exchange. The service allows for qualified artists (musicians, singers, actors, painters – you name it) to receive credit for each hour they donate by way of performance for hospital-related events or creative programs for sick patients. Each hour of “art time” translates to $40 of medical credit that can be used for anything from routine doctor visits to surgical procedures.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Renata Marinaro of the Eastern Region for the Actors’ Fund said, on average, artists make about $24,000 a year. “They can’t afford that kind of money and they need to get their health care and this is an excellent way for them to get that health care and contribute to the community.”
Artists in the New York City area who think the program sounds like, ahem, a fair trade, can find instructions on how to apply by visiting the Lincoln Art Exchange website.
When currency isn’t green
Looking good on a budget can be tricky. Enter Casey Kaufmann, a successful stylist and makeup artist who, just last year, launched the fashion blog Strawberry Freckleface. She writes about entertainment and fashion and shares photos of her personal style, letting readers know where she finds unique items.
What started out as a hobby for Kaufman has turned into a full-fledged business. The only difference?
The currency is clothing.
“I started asking my favorite smaller businesses if they would like to do any sort of collaborating with me for added advertisement and traffic for their growing stores, and some agreed to it,” Kaufman said.
Now, Kaufman receives a regular influx of clothing and accessories from designers and shops that offer products exemplifying her personal style – and it doesn’t cost her a thing. The designers reach a new audience without advertising fees, and she can fuel her blog with the latest trends at no cost. “I like supporting smaller Etsy designers and artists because I feel as though I can really help them out,” says Kaufman. “If I love what they make, I love to give them the spotlight that they deserve. We both benefit.”
While these types of trade paint a lovely picture for ailing artisans, companies with salaried employees and comprehensive healthcare plans probably won’t find this kind of trade helpful. And when budgets get tight and Mr. CEO has to cut the open bar at the holiday party or cut Mr. Entry Level Marketing Guy’s job, does he have any options?
For this Georgia-based organization, the name says it all: The Barter Company.
TBC’s business model is simple. “TBC provides you with an alternate distribution network by using barter dollars instead of cash to handle your transactions,” the website reads. “You can charge retail value for goods and services in barter dollars instead of selling them for reduced cash rates or having them go unsold.”
For a (completely fictional) example, let’s say Mr. Local Brewer has a tight budget of his own but desperately needs advertising to bring in new customers. Mr. Local Brewer offers Mr. CEO a few kegs for the holiday party and Mr. Entry Level Marketing Guy keeps his job…and designs a pretty killer ad campaign that forces Mr. Local Brewer to change his name to “Sir Worldwide Intoxicant Architect.”
It doesn’t stop there. TBC also operates in a “pay it forward” system. Perhaps you manage a small biz that needs something from Company X – but Company X needs a service that only Company 99 provides… no problem. Someday, Company 99 may need something that’s equally difficult to find. By keeping things in a loop, you get what you need, while others find what they need.
The best part: great networking opportunities while the money stays in the business.
But what if you need services and don’t have anything but yourself to offer? Not to worry – you, and your time, are a valuable asset.
If I could save time in a bank
The Athens Times Exchange (ATX) operates similarly to The Barter Company – but with a different currency.
When someone contributes an hour of his or her time to provide a service, that hour goes into a “time bank.” While no interest is earned on this investment, the value never depreciates.
If Stella the statistics wiz tutors John for an hour, she’s got an hour. That way, when Stella breaks her leg, Ben the housekeeper can come by to do the laundry – and someday, when he needs his own break, he’ll have an hour to spend – literally and figuratively – doing or not doing – whatever he wants.
Sometimes our personal and professional lives can blend together. As much as we try to keep them apart, life is fluid. Whether you are launching a start-up and want to cut corners at home, or own a successful company and want to keep it that way – thinking outside the box can really help.
It all adds up
Craigslist has a reputation for being the place to find a missed love-connection or check out apartments for rent, but the site also has a special section where savvy-savers can advertise what they need and what they can give. Personally, I once traded three cases of Diet Coke to have a door handle fixed on my 1996 Grand Prix.
Couch surfing is also a popular trend, where residents allow travelers to crash on their couch rather than paying for an expensive hotel room. Some secondhand clothing stores, like The Black Market in Lincoln, Neb., offer store credit when customers bring in unwanted, gently used clothing.
While the pockets and pools where barter and trade are active seem small, there might be more than you think. You may even be bartering already. Whether you give your friend a ride to the airport because she fed your cat while you were on vacation, or you make your parents’ dinner because they let you live at home – trade is everywhere.
When was the last time your bartered? How can you use bartering for your own career or business growth? Let us know in the comments section.
Lacey Mason is a digital editor for wtop.com in Washington, D.C. and a former NPR intern. Visit her online portfolio or follow her on Twitter.