Saturday, October 8, 2011

When the Economy is Going to Hell, The Barterers Get Busy

I came across this article about how bartering in Greece has exploded since their economy has tanked.  Then I thought about what I could write about bartering.  Then it dawned on me that bartering is something so interwoven in my life that, it turns out, even though I don't stop and think about what I do as bartering, it is done nearly as much as working for actual cash.  The list of things I have received in trade for my skills includes dental work, food, construction labor, construction materials, karate lessons, tools, firearms, books, dental work for the spouse, dance lessons for the kids, cars, housing, airline tickets, etc.
I come by my bartering skills from my grandfather.  He was a horse trader (literally) from way back, and bartering--trading for good and services--was something he did as naturally as breathing.  He was a welder by trade but fully half of the items he acquired (guns, tools, horses, guitars, furniture, et al) were via trade.  It didn't seem so unusual to us kids because in the country, that is just how things got done (bought) since cash was often scarce but hard workers were plentiful.
Here's how to get started with your own bartering:
Once you have a skill/item/service you can provide (and that can be everything from unskilled labor to highly skilled legal/medical/dental work), you are ready to get busy bartering.  All it takes is to talk with others and/or pay attention to conversations (mostly your own but also those of strangers) and when you hear someone has a need, simply ask if you can help them out.  The conversation may go like this:
--Stranger #1: "My parents just got into town and they expect me to unload their moving van."
--Stranger #2: "That sounds like hard work dude...wish I could help you out but I am busy all weekend (week, month)."
--Stranger #1: "Yep, I'm sure that's gonna throw my back out for the rest of the month but I can't afford to pay someone to do it--tough economy you know--so I guess I'll have to do it myself."
--You: "Excuse me but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation...small coffee shop you know...but I would be happy to trade you my labor unloading your truck if you are interested."
--Stranger #1: "Sounds great but I don't have anything to trade."
--You: "What kind of work do you do?"
--Stranger #1: "I'm just a paper pusher, I work for the tax firm down the street."
--You: "Well I could definitely use some help.  My taxes are due next month and I haven't even got started on them.  They aren't complicated and I would be happy to unload your truck if you want to do my taxes."
--Stranger #1: :Deal!"
It works the same way when you see someone who has a skill/service/item you need.  You simply mention that you would like (a deck built, your car fixed, an apple pie) then mention that while you don't have much money, you can do (whatever you can do, of commensurate value) and ask if the person would like to trade you.  Since more and more people are struggling these days--people who have skills/services/items often don't have so many clients coming in these days and people who need said skills/services/items don't have very much money--a bartering arrangement looks better to all parties.
So your next assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go forth and barter.  Even if the deal is only worth 50 cents, at least you have taken a small step towards jumping into the game of bartering.  And if you need inspiration, check out this book about a guy who started by trading a red paperclip and ended up with a house (and a lot of adventures along the way).

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