This post is the second in a series:
I was wandering around an antique and junque shop. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just at everything in general, when I spotted a set of Blue Willow dessert plates. Now, this is my pattern, the one I love. The price was marked $8, not bad for 5 plates I thought. I looked over at the woman behind the desk and said,
"I'll give you $5 for them."
I stood there, absolutely shocked at what had just come out of my mouth, because I have always been the sort of person who pays the asking price. As she turned to look at me, her eyes lit up and with a hint of a smile, she said,
Nowadays we almost always expect to pay the asking price, yet if you've ever resold anything at a garage sale, you've likely had at least one person make a counteroffer, or ask if that was your rock bottom price. The first time this happened to me, it caught me off guard, because I assumed everyone else would simply pay the asking price as well. About the only times we expect counteroffers is in buying houses and cars; we expect some negotiation before agreeing on the final price. Yet at one time, negotiating or dickering, as it was called, was common practice.
Each time he tossed something on the (saddle) he yelled, "Fifty!" And each time I tossed something better on the (other saddle) I went up fifty cents or a dollar on my offer.
.... He came up where I was beside the double-rigger, examined everything I'd put on it, and said, "Sixty-five. Final!"....
"Well," I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you $85 for both outfits together...." Half an hour later we made our deal.
Ralph Moody, Shaking The Nickle Bush
After he'd watched Father work for awhile, he said, "You seem a pretty handy sort of fellow... I wish I could get you to come and help me get fixed up. I'd give you three dollars a day for your time, or trade work with you, or trade something I might have that you wanted."
Ralph Moody, Little Britches
Ma and Laura and Mary ate bread and molasses in the wagon, and the horses ate corn from nose-bags, while inside the store Pa traded his furs for things they would need on the journey.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie
Then one afternoon Pa came merrily whistling up the creek road... As soon as he saw them he shouted, "Good news!" They had a neighbor, only two miles away on the other side of the creek. Pa had met him in the woods. They were going to trade work and that would make it easier for everyone.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie
"Here's a piece of luck!" Pa said to Ma. Those men were cowboys. They wanted Pa to help them keep the cattle out of the ravines among the the bluffs of the creek bottoms. Pa would not charge them any money, but he told them he would take a piece of beef.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie
For a long time they talked and argued. Shining tinware and piles of rags were all over the porch. For every pile of rags that Nick Brown added to the big pile, Mother asked for more tinware than he wanted to trade her. They were both having a good time, joking and laughing and trading. At last Mr. Brown said:
"Well, Ma'am, I'll trade you the milk-pans and pails, the colander and the skimmer, and the three baking-pans, but not the dishpan and that's my final offer. "
"Very well, Mr. Brown," Mother said, unexpectedly. She had got exactly what she wanted.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy
Even today there are, in some parts of the South, old timers who still refer to shopping as "trading." They will tell you they trade at such and such a store. Of course now they trade money for goods, but it points back to their own lives "back in the day." In other parts of the world, negotiating, more often called bartering, is still common practice. Many markets in other parts of the world still practice it, which American tourists often fail to understand, to their sad disadvantage.
As fiat money (money that only has value because the government says so, i.e paper currency) loses value and trades for less, many of us become concerned about meeting our families' needs. As we contemplate what to do, we likely consider bartering. My Houston Friend made a very thought provoking comment about it on my "Contemplations on Value & Money" post. She wrote:
"We entered the barter world about 6 months ago. I needed some work on the farm and had friends with teenage boys. I agreed to pay 2 dozen eggs per hour for each teenage boy. It gave them a chance to work and they rec'd something tangible to provide for their families. I fell in love with barter.I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert, but I am willing to research and share what I learn. My starting point was those excerpts from books, written by folks for whom it was a part of everyday life. From the examples (and I only used a few), here are my observations:
However, it is getting harder to barter as we go deeper. Primarily with friends. The production on my homestead is my work (versus a day job) and has value. At times I give things away b/c I want to, other times I want to barter instead of using money. When you start bartering, it is harder for each side to accept genuine gifts b/c you don't know if you should give something in return. What is barter and what is sharing with friends? Whereas at a merchant, give $ and you are done. I've tried to be clear about what is a gift and what is barter, but I feel I start sounding too business with friends. It is weird and I don't like it.
I prefer to be done when completing a transaction. When I barter with people we're not close to, then I feel the transaction is complete and much easier. When I barter with friends, I am so worried I've short-changed them or they have the same concerns about me. It is just not easy to be done.
This is an area in our society that needs to be developed. It is not widely accepted b/c small farm items are not seen as commodities by many unless they have a sticker from another country.
But our fruits do have value. After my friend comes home from outside work it would be considered rude of me to walk over and ask for $100 that he earned that day. It is really no different when someone asks me to share my farm production just b/c I have it, without offering anything in return.
This is a delicate dance and relationships can be strained when you get serious about bartering on a routine basis."
- Barter was a commonly accepted means of obtaining services and goods as recently as 100 years ago
- Both parties agreed on the system, i.e. bartering
- Each person had their own idea of what the trade was worth to themselves, not in terms of monetary value, but how badly they needed/wanted what was offered in exchange
- Profit was not a motive, i.e. financial and/or material gain beyond the perceived value of the service or goods
- Instant gratification was not a factor
- Neither was entitlement
- Nobody made a deal they didn't want
- Both parties walked away satisfied
I mention the last two, because we had another experience with bartering, which had unexpected results. We were trying to buy a vehicle from a new acquaintance, and Dan made a ridiculously low offer. We were expecting a counteroffer, but instead there was a very long pause, and then his offer was accepted. We were both surprised but grateful. Unfortunately, the seller later regretted the outcome because he held a grudge against Dan for as long as we had contact with them. This was puzzling because with vehicles especially, negotiating is expected. On our end, we knew our limit based on how much money we had. If it didn't work out, that would have been okay too. While we don't know what the seller was thinking when he agreed, the lesson learned is that in a bartering system, there is no place for being noble or indecisive. The true success of the deal depends upon both parties being satisfied with the outcome from their personal perspectives. Each party must respect the other person enough to accept their decisions. If nothing satisfactory can be agreed upon, that's just as okay as if an acceptable deal is made.
Many of us have a goal of self-sufficiency, but in reality, the true agrarian lifestyle requires a community of like-minded folks. (See my earlier post, "Mindset: Key To Successful Homesteading?" ) The problem throughout history however, is that there are always those who want to profit beyond their needs. Nowadays, our modern profit economics mindset makes us think this is supposed to be normal. From the examples we see this is not true. However, I mention it because it would seem to be one of the pitfalls in bartering a deal. Other pitfalls we need to be aware of is that not everyone is honest in their dealings and representation of what they have to offer. Others, just love to play mind games. They love to get "get one over" on somebody else for the sense of power it gives them. I don't have any answers for these, they are just things we need to be aware of.
I should also mention that the government wants a cut from these transactions as well. You'll have to research this for your own particular locations and situations, because like other tax laws, these are complicated, confusing, and continually changing. The bottom line seems to focus on "gain" and its monetary equivalent. What is interesting to me, is that the books I quoted from, were written about the time period of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is evident from them, that the money valuation mindset was not entrenched in society as it is today. Our modern mindset is just that, modern, and was not the way life was conducted until urban migration.
A long post, but hopefully one of interest? I called it "Part 1," but at this point, "Part 2" is up to you. Please share your own experiences, thoughts, and opinions in the comments. If there's enough of them, I will try to compile them later for a follow-up. This is something we may all have to learn together.
This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop #34.
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