Everyone loves to save money. Whether you clip coupons, wait for Black Friday to make your big purchases, or covet the sale rack, it’s always best to spend less. So why not learn a technique that can let you buy goods without spending money at all? The lost art of bartering can be your ticket to a low-cost lifestyle. Read on to learn how to barter to get what you need without breaking the bank.
The evolution of bartering
Bartering is an ancient tradition. Before the formation of currency, it was the only way to exchange goods equitably. Today, the benefits are the same: bartering is a terrific way to get something you need, by giving away something you don’t.
And with the advent of the internet, bartering is coming back into fashion. On websites like Craigslist, Nextdoor, and Facebook Marketplace, neighbors offer up goods or services in exchange for other goods and services.
How to barter
So how exactly do you barter? The first step is simple: determine what goods or services you have to offer.
What should you offer?
Say something on Facebook Marketplace caught your eye. You want it, but you can’t rationalize spending the money right now. What will you offer them instead?
Your offer could be anything you own and don’t need or any skill you possess that others lack. For example, if you’re a proficient hairstylist, you could offer a free haircut. If you’re skilled at making websites, you could offer custom web design. Or if you’re a talented seamstress, you could offer to patch or tailor a neighbor’s clothing.
What you offer doesn’t have to be a particular skill — it only needs to be valuable. If you have a peach tree growing in your backyard, you could offer up a basket of peaches. Or if you inherited a closetful of vintage clothing from a grandparent, you could offer some of them.
What if you have no trade skills, and you’re unwilling to part with your possessions? Not a problem! Even if you’re not a tradesman, you can still find services to offer, such as:
- House cleaning.
- Running errands.
- Doing someone’s taxes.
- Cutting the grass.
- Pet sitting.
In short, you can offer up anything which you deem to have equivalent value to the item or service that you’re pursuing.
How do you make your offer?
Follow these tips to become a proficient barterer.
Offer a service of equal value
Nobody wants to get duped. And offering to do someone’s taxes in exchange for babysitting for three months isn’t exactly a fair deal. When approaching someone about a barter situation, the values must be equal, whether it be a monetary value or time value. Babysitting for a Saturday night may be equal to doing taxes, depending on how extensive your taxes are.
Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Say you’re in dire need of someone’s help repairing your car. In this case, if they don’t take your original offer of equal value, then you should up the ante. Offer more of your services in exchange for their services. Offer a bundle of multiple services. Or supplement your offer with a wad of cash (as long as it’s less than you would pay for the full service, of course).
If you’re bartering online, you probably don’t know what the other person wants or needs. You also don’t yet know if they’re open to receiving goods or services instead of money. It’s wise to make your offer gently and to offer a couple of different potential forms of payment. Plus, if you’re offering a service, remember to provide credentials!
For example, if a neighbor on Nextdoor is selling fresh bread and you want a loaf, you could send them the following message:
“Hi, there! Is there any chance you’d be open to a skilled trade in place of [COST]? I’d be happy to walk your dog (here’s a link to my reviews on Rover), or to do your meal prep for the next couple of days. If there’s something else that would be more helpful to you, let me know, and I’ll let you know if I’m qualified to help! Thanks for your time, [NAME]”
Remember, the worst they can do is say no!
Where should you go to barter?
These days, there are a ton of different bartering opportunities on the web. Check out the following:
- Craigslist has a skill trade forum designed to facilitate the barter of services.
- Nextdoor is a neighborhood forum where members can post about goods and services. Check out the apps For Sale and Free section for offers!
- Facebook Marketplace is a hub for the exchange of local goods and services.
- There are also websites designed explicitly for barter, like BarterOnly and BarterUSA. For more, just search for “online bartering” on your web browser of choice!
- Join (or found) a TimeBank in your neighborhood to step into a thriving community of barterers!
Is it safe to barter?
Anytime you have to meet a stranger from the Internet in person; there is risk involved. Bartering is no different. But if you follow these tips, you can stay safe while you save.
Never meet a stranger alone. If your trade requires you to go to someone’s house, don’t be embarrassed to bring a friend along! If you’re looking for a meetup spot, pick somewhere public and highly populated.
Trust your gut. Did the person you’re bartering with the start being forceful and pushy, to the point that it set off your alarm bells? Shoot them a polite “no thanks” and try someone else. Don’t let politeness corner you into an unsafe situation!
Test an item before paying. Don’t spend a week building a stranger’s website in exchange for his TV set, only to find out that half the screen is fried. Be wary of exploitative, opportunistic offers! And if you’re bartering for a product, make sure it works before you walk away.
Don’t forget Uncle Sam. Although this isn’t applicable for small trades, if you’re bartering with very expensive goods, you will have to give the government its share. Bartered goods are considered taxable income and must be reported on your tax return. Not sure whether this applies to you? Consider consulting a tax professional.
You’re ready to get out there and make some offers! Remember to stay safe, trust your instincts, and don’t get discouraged if a few of your offers get rejected before you succeed. Bartering is a great way to keep your spending within your budget, and it can be fun, too. Just remember to give the taxman his due if you’re bartering for goods or services with a value in the quadruple digits!