Barter is a great way to stretch your budget. Trading what you have for what you need, whether it's food, goods or services, can save you a lot of money. Whatever you have a surplus of, chances are someone else needs it. Do you get some sort of free perk from work that you don't need so much of? Do you have a larger crop of fruit or vegetables than you need? Do you have a skill such as cutting hair or doing taxes? Chances are someone else needs that very thing, and has something you could use.
To some extent, I've always traded very informally with friends and neighbors. I'll loan you my vacuum cleaner if I can borrow your bread machine. My tree is full of lemons, and you have a bunch of bell peppers ripe, so let's swap. That type of thing. Lately, I've been trying to expand this concept to trading with strangers, via online forums such as Craigslist and Freecycle.
Freecycle is a very loose form of trading, since you offer things you don't want to others for free, and then you can respond when others offer something, or you can request what you need. You don't necessarily give and receive things all at one time, so it's not really an immediate trade. If you keep participating regularly, though, you will eventually do both. Join your local Freecycle group at freecyle.org today!
Craigslist has a barter category, where I have posted ads, and responded to the ads of others. I haven't had a huge response so far, but I have arranged a couple of trades with some really nice people. My goal is to eventually have a network of contacts with whom I trade regularly. One tip I can offer in regard to Craigslist: you have to delete and re-post your ad every couple of days, because they get so many postings that your ad quickly works its way to the bottom of the list, where it's not seen by anyone. Go to Craigslist.org today and check it out. Most cities in the US and lots of other countries are represented there now.
Another place I plan to look for trading partners in the near future is on community bulletin boards. These bulletin boards can often be found in coffee shops such as Starbucks, many apartment and condo communities, community colleges, some grocery stores and libraries. I plan on typing up a simple tear-off ad using a template like this one:
and posting it on local bulletin boards. I will list what I want to trade, what I might like to receive in return, and some simple contact information on the tear-off tabs, such as my name and email address. I'll let you know what kind of response I get!
Obviously, with any of these methods of making trading contacts, you'll want to be careful not to give out too much personal information. Just your name or initials, and an email address, preferably a junk email address that you give out when you don't want to give out your personal email address. When you arrange to meet with someone, agree to meet in a public place, in the daytime, at least for the first contact. Never give out your home address. I personally have never had any problems with anyone I have dealt with from Craiglist or Freecyle, but it pays to be cautious.
As you start to build a network of barter contacts from various sources, you will not only save money and help yourself and others, but you will help to foster a sense of community. In tough economic times like these, it's more important than ever.
Oh, and keep in mind that if you start trading services, the IRS views barter income as income for tax purposes, so go to their website and familiarize yourself with the rules before tax time rolls around.
As always, I would love to hear about your barter experiences, both good and bad, so please leave a comment!