November 11, 2011

The Lost Art of Bartering, Part 2

This post is the third in a series of posts:

In Part 1, I asked readers to participate with their own thoughts and experiences, and Part 2 shares these with you, as well as some links I found on the subject.

As might be expected, folks have various comfort levels with the barter system. Some still prefer money, but some pretty amazing trades are being worked out. I'll first share with you what folks are trading, some of the problems readers experience, and then will pass on the advice of the successfully experienced. (You can read the comments in full, i.e. not dissected, at  "The Lost Art of Bartering, Part 1").

Trades folks have bartered
"My husband and I, farmers for 18 years, barter and trade often with several of our neighbors. Meat for mechanical work, honey for truck borrowing....Last year we traded enough of our raw milk over several months to get two full size commercial freezers to keep meat in our farm store." Donna OShaughnessy, Midlife Farmwife
"I'm not in a position to barter other than with what I call "being neighborly". I give produce to my neighbors, they watch my dogs. They borrow our truck to haul something, I call them to help me lift heavy things that need moved." Tami, 500 Dollar Tomato
"A local sustainable farmer needs help getting potatoes in... so I help get in his potatoes and get a 50 pound sack of potatoes for my work. It's a lovely way to help one another!" Sharon, Fitzgerald's Family Farm
"We have a yard man that comes around to many homes in our area. He walks or rides a bike and uses our mower and other tools, he works hard and does what we need him to do. We give him what we feel it is worth to us...he has no set price and is grateful for the work.... We pay him money, because that's what he needs and we need work.  Sherri B., Little House in Paradise
"We are currently in a trade arrangement with friends and our goat... A friend with a herd of dairy goats (keeps ours), gives us 1-2 gallons of milk per week and she gets the rest of the milk for her shareholders... "  Carol J. Alexander, Everything Home with Carol
"I did it just last month in a city walmart. I found some broken fishing rods laying there, picked them up, went to customer service and asked for a manager. We decided that a dollar was good & I paid... Together the parts made one great rod :)"  Peaceful, Peaceful New Start
"One memory of the past few years, was a neighbor that had a piano for sale. It was out of reach (price wise) yet would have been perfect for our musically inclined daughter. So, my husband negotiated some lawn work in exchange for it. He's also bartered his skills or other things in exchange for things we needed or wanted."  Ellie, Suburban Townhouse, Country Cottage
"We're not much on dickering, but both my husband and I are self-employed with what are considered "real" businesses (a large animal veterinary clinic and fine arts/graphics design) and we have traded out in lieu of being paid cash for work."  Michelle, Boulderneigh
"Bartering is such a part of my life - usually services for services.... I can sew just about anything and these skills have gotten me repairs on my house and vehicles over the years, things I can't do"  Benita, Basically Benita
"I traded some chickens and a couple of dozen eggs for a second refrigerator to store my surplus eggs in, and shortly thereafter the frig went out on me and I needed to repair it. Well, the repair man said he wanted eggs as part payment for his services. He said he had just received a couple of jars of plum jam from another customer and he liked getting the home grown food instead of being paid in all money! Then, this year, I traded 55 pounds of organic Red Cloud potatoes to a neighbor who owns an earthworm business for a couple of bags of earthworm castings."  Joyce P., Swamp Creek Farm
"My neighbor and I have an agreement that he will plow my driveway and I will supply him with venison, eggs, and cider in return"  Jeff
"....Turns out she also has a couple of sheep, although she's very new to them, and would talk to her husband about trading the two pigs for my last terminal ewe lamb. ..... I ended up picking up three pigs" Sittin.n.Spinning, from her post "Porcine Paradise"

Problems people have: I've tried to categorize these as best I can.

Familiarity with the process & personal comfort level:
"I find it very difficult to barter, which is probably due to not being used to this. I was raised to shop in a supermarket - and because they are rarely manned by the owner, there's no way to barter anyway!"  Bettina, Woolly Bits
"... on a trip  .....  we meet a lovely couple and when we got talking I said that I barter back home on the farm, they thought that was amazing as they were from countries that barter was natural but since moving to Canada, had never seen it." Farmgal, Just another Day on the Farm
"I once wrote a post called Let's Make a Deal to try to persuade women (because most men don't seem to have as much trouble with it) to ask for a deal and be willing to try it."   Paula, Weeding For Godot
How to fairly assign value
"...and in exchange for the goods I make - I usually felt short-changed here, which is why I don't do it anymore..... around me (Ireland) the only place where people still barter is in bric-a-brac etc. - probably because it's fun and they don't necessarily "need" the product?" Bettina, Woolly Bits
"I think it's "easier" to deal with money. It's less personal and bartering can be VERY personal. I might look at your eggs and think omelette but you look at those egss and see the baby chicks you raised, that became the hens that laid the eggs. You see the daily waterings and feed and hawks...: Tami, 500 Dollar Tomato
"I think it all boils down to placing a value on something that means something to you. Part of making a deal is the willingness to walk away because it doesn't speak to the value you've already placed on it.... if money becomes worthless, then other things will be assigned worth, and they'll be traded instead." Paula, Weeding For Godot
"Last time we were in the big city, we passed a raggety man standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign that said, "I will work 2 hours for a meal." Maybe it was just the way it hit me, but I didn't like the barter thinking I would come up short on that one. But then, the meal I would have served him wouldn't have been pb & j on store bought bread either." Mama Pea, A Home Grown Journal
"Money is simply any common unit of account, and that is a very handy thing to have when striking deals with people.... We can negotiate with, or without, money. We can also engage in trade with, or without, money."     Jeff
"... determining the amount of food stuffs was a little bit tricky. How do we price out a fair trade amount? In the end, we priced my goods at grocery store price, and his plowing at the local commercial rate. Both of us are willing price our goods at a lower rate, but having some common measure of value allowed us to come to a fair rate of exchange where we both were able to agree that neither of us was getting ripped off."     Jeff
Concern about how it will effect relationships
"Doing things for friends is different, but in a way even more difficult, because you don't want to strain a friendship by asking for maybe too much" Bettina, Woolly Bits
"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." My Houston Friend 
Personalizing the transaction
"My husband likes to TRY to get a deal when we're shopping but he usually comes in with an offer so low that the seller becomes insulted. I've managed to save the deal with offers that are much more agreeable. However, normally I'm happy to pay the asking price."  Renee, Forgotten Blog
"When I "negotiate" at the FM for produce, the "distributors" will deal on price, the actual farmers rarely do. It's too personal for them." Tami, 500 Dollar Tomato
"We barter alittle on my little place but I find it easier at times to sell my eggs and hens/roosters because it is the end of the transaction. With my friends I have tried the bartering "my time" by helping out at their place and they will come and help out at my place. With some friends this works out but with others...their coming to my place never happens." Connie, C and C Antiques and Animals - What a Life!

" 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" My Houston Friend 

Tips and Advice for making a successful deal
"I believe TRUST is the key reason some folks are afraid to barter, always feelful they might be cheated."  Donna OShaughnessy, Midlife Farmwife 
"I have heard many that are upset over the barter tax, but from what I understand, that it is proposed because large corporations actually have services where business trade for goods and services and are flying under the tax radar. There are several of these companies that have approached my Husbands company. They can broker large deals for companies that will otherwise be untaxed. It was never meant to be for us individuals trading milk for eggs or a barn cleaning for bread. So no need to worry...yet."  Jane, Hardwork Homestead
"I guess my point is that if we are left alone we will all figure out what something is worth to us and sometimes we will use money and other times it will be a pure form of barter. What ever we do use, the importand thing is both sides get what they need." Sherri B., Little House in Paradise
"We did draw up a contract and are flexible with each other because we are friends and fellow homesteaders."  Carol J. Alexander, Everything Home with Carol
"... some people are uncomfortable stating their position before, during, or after a negotiation, and that can be a problem. For instance, if they don't state their expectations clearly, somebody may feel cheated afterwards. Communication is really important."  barter411
"...both parties should walk away satisfied" Benita, Basically Benita
"I can think of two parties that we barter with and I think I'm safe in saying that both we and they think we're getting the better deal!" Mama Pea, A Home Grown Journal
And lastly, some bartering tips from Theresa (Camp Runamuck), via e-mail:
"I love bartering and have spent years doing it on both ends. I use to do antique shows in New England with fine linens. Anyway, I have a few rules I live by when bartering. The first is, remember that this could be someone's livelihood and always be polite. I always ask if someone has a bit of room in their price and then give my offer. They may come back with a counter, take it or say they just don't have enough to barter on the price. I've found the best deals are those in which each party walks away feeling they got a fair price. I don't like to beat people down and I don't like those that tried to beat me down. Many items under $5, I don't barter at all unless it's books or I want multiples.
"If they have a higher ticket item I want, I'll save my bartering capitol for those. And if something is a steal, take it at asking price or be honest. I found a set of pearls, good pearls, thrown in with costume jewelry at an estate sale. Simply put, I could not and would not buy them for the $6.00 and pointed out to the family that the clasp was gold and the pearls real and they would be better served by pulling it and having it appraised or selling it at jewelry place that buys estate pieces.
"Lastly go prepared. If you are looking for furniture or find a large treasure, don't ask someone to hold it while you check measurements etc. Know your needs, real or imagined. If you go to a true auction, which I have done many times, set your limit on each lot or piece you are interested in, avoid a bidding war at all costs if you can. Many times it's dealers but once in a while it may be a young couple starting out and I try to defer to them if I can. I mean I've been there. Of course if you are in love with something, then go for it. Go as high as you need to and end when you either get it, or can walk away and not feel regret. Some of my most loved items are ones I paid a lot more than I wanted but because I love them so much I have never ever regretted the purchase and most I would have gladly paid more for.
"Mostly have fun!"
Interested in more on the subject? Candace (The Weekend Homesteader), mentioned that there are some great barters on The Waltons TV show. A good excuse to watch TV!

And here are a few articles and websites of interest on the subject:

How to Barter at The Greenest Dollar
Let's Make a Deal at Weeding for Godot
Haggle: Strange Ways to Save Money - haggle how-to at Saving Advice
Master Bartering: Strange Ways to Save Money at Saving Advice
Can I Borrow Your Tools Mate? No Worries... For a Fee - Herald Sun AU
Is Bartering Better? - Better Business Bureau
'Trade You Snickers For Smarties': The Economics of Halloween Candy at The Salt

The Center for a New American Dream - for travelers


Renee Nefe said...

thanks for posting this...I found a lot of very useful information. Especially the personalization part. I so see that happening. I've been on both ends of the transaction. I see those eggs as omelets and not worth $4 a dozen when I can get some at the store for less than $2. And I worked HARD to make that hand craft, of course it's worth more than $10.

Sherri B. said...

Thank you for putting so much time and effort into this post. How interesting to see the many ways of bartering...I guess you just never know what something is worth to someone else until it is actually in the offering. xo

Unknown said...

I'm terrible at bartering...I end up giving away too much :)

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

Bartering is a good thing when people stick to their promises..I was promised Pecans in exchange for Pears, I never got them, I was promised help with my weaving and never got it..yet those same people contacted me this year in hopes of receiving Pears again..I ignored them..

Nina said...

One time when we were on holiday, we drove down this back road and there was a lady having a garage sale. We stopped and she had a lovely vintage tea cup, saucer, dessert plate in a pattern I adored. It was more than reasonably priced, considering prices at home, so I decided to just give her full asking price. The lady herself, kept bartering me down until she got to a price she was happy with, at 2/3 the asking price. It was rather funny at the time and I still find it humourous.

Lynda said...

I don't plan on bartering, it just happens! Right now I have too many eggs...I've given away dozens and in return I've received wonderful homemade tamales, enchiladas and flan. I've traded watermelon and butternut squash for raw milk, a lamb and fencing. At my farmers market I've traded eggs and mushrooms for baskets of pears, pluots, green beans, yellow squash, olive oil, an apron, whooping cough and flu shot, strawberries, garlic and fresh popped kettle corn. I volunteer to help harvest small orchards for some of the crop...that has worked out wonderfully. I have traded hay for homemade bread and cheese. Gosh...I rely a lot on trading/bartering.

Leigh said...

Renee, glad you liked it. It seems to me that's it's a good idea not focus on what one has, but what one wants. I mean, we always tend to see everything we put in to an item or product, but likely the person we're trying to barter with feels the same way. :)

You're welcome Sherri, It was very interesting, I thought. Sure does make one re-evaluate the concept of "value" doesn't it?

Tanya, me too! And for the same reason!

Ginny, don't ignore them, tell them why! It's possible they forgot, or something else came up. Or at least they'll know it wasn't a freebie and that you are serious about the items you barter.

Nina, how funny. Sounds like she didn't expect that in the first place. I reckon if that was her bottom price to begin with, she would have stood firm if you made a counteroffer.

Lynda, sounds like it works beautifully for you! Those are the kinds of success stories I love to hear.

Paula said...

Thanks for the plug, Leigh!

And guess what? Ironically, my captcha phrase is "dupes".

jean said...

Being new at beekeeping, we have an experienced beekeeper that comes and helps us out with what we don't know, yet. In exchange, we give him beeswax from our hives when harvesting and no money.

Leigh said...

Paula, you're welcome ;)

Pilgrimscottage, another excellent example. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have an accountant friend who was on a recent IRS audit with a business. The IRS agent quizzed the business if they had any unreported barter. My friend has not seen this at the individual level, however I expect it to emerge once people start doing more non-cash trades.

Regarding value, I've started setting my barter value at market price. Many times when you buy something from a friend you get a friend price. Personally, I hate the friend price system. If you're selling, you feel like you've given a partial gift and if you're buying you feel like you have paid value and didn't get a gift. For friends, I've decided to use market value or give as a gift.

On the flip side, when I barter I expect to pay full market value on both sides. I barter with my chiropractor for supplements. I trade him chicken and eggs for pricey supplements. I told him my proposal of us both charging full retail so we'd have a fair exchange. I could buy these on the internet for less than our trade price, but then again he might be able to find cheaper eggs. So I don't mind paying full retail in a transaction where we're trading items instead of money.

A third sticky part of the transaction, is it legal? I used to be an attorney and left the profession for family/goat farming, so this subject has great interest to me:

For example, I could trade raw goat milk all day long. It is illegal to sell raw milk w/o a license. Even though I'm not receiving money, under the law if I receive any non-money consideration for the milk, it is a trade and not a gift. So I've just become a criminal. If you trade the deer meat or beef from your freezer that has the stamp: Not For Resale - beware that trading is legally a resale. If junior gets food poisoning and they claim it is your meat, you could be in trouble. And your insurance policy might not cover illegal activities.

I have a friend who used to be a licensed hair cutter, but dropped her license to take care of her family. If she trades a hair cut for my eggs, she may be breaking the law for cutting hair w/o a license. It is just crazy.

I think the laws have become so onerous that we will unknowingly break them when we enter the barter world. Bartering avoids sales tax and makes it easier to operate w/o required licensing and permits. I expect to see more crack-downs in the news as the gov't scrambles for more tax dollars and control over the population.

Your Houston Friend

Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking said...

This is a really great post!! I love to barter!!

Leigh said...

As usual, my Houston Friend, some very meaty points for our consideration! It seems that market value is about the fairest way to value a trade, especially for folks who aren't as familiar with the process. The satisfaction that comes with a successful trade is essential.

I too, expect to see more crackdowns on bartering, along with everything else that enables us to have at least some semblance of independence from the system.

Alicia thanks!

jj said...

One thing I saw referred to here, but not really openly addressed, is the gift economy.

For instance, several of my farming neighbors gave us (not traded or bartered) grain for feeding our chickens - it was small amounts of grain that were not useful to them, but they did not want to throw out. We gave them jam, or pickles, or carrots, or home-baked bread in return, because we wanted to thank them for their generosity.

There was no negotiation, but everyone has something they want or could use, and did not have before, and everyone is happy.

That sort of economy, of course, is based in different wants or needs, and is dependent on a sense of community, but it gets things done just as surely as a formal trade...

Leigh said...

JJ, thank you for your comment. Interesting that you should use the words "gift" with "economy" together, because the concept of the latter is assumed to encompass labor, manufacturing, resources, distribution, exchange of and consumption of goods. A gift is usually assumed to mean no strings attached! That said, I love to give things away, and often do, rather than try to trade or sell them. In fact, if you read through the comments of the posts in this series, you will see gifting mentioned.

What you seem to be describing though, is a neighborly undefined kind of trading, which another of my readers mentioned. I think the key to success here, is that everyone understands the agreement and is happy with it. It would be a wonderful way for the world to live. Oddly, I live in an area where some folks refuse to accept gifts, for fear of being "beholden." It's a whole lot easier to say "I'll trade you for..." and ask them for some small item or service in return, before they'll accept it.

The purpose of this series of posts, was to help people realize that money isn't the only means of valuation. As you say, it can be based on need rather than a $$ amount. Yours would be another example of a success story.

jj said...

Well, I guess they don't really hang together by today's standards, bur 'gift economy' was the only term I could think of for what I have experienced here. However, entire societies have functioned on something similar. A number of Canadian Pacific Coast Aboriginal societies worked that way, and I also think of the rural barn raisings and such, where neighbors pulled together to get something done, knowing (without negotiation or contract) that they would get help in return when they needed it. I really do think this is something that could be intentionally developed, but again, I believe the sense of community is crucial...

Leigh said...

Yes, a sense of community is crucial, but sadly, practically nonexistent in many places today. I think once we get used to doing something a certain way, i.e. using money to buy goods and services, it becomes difficult to see the validity of another system. The comments to these posts were interesting because even though folks recognized the value of trading, so many were uncomfortable with it and uncertain of how to negotiate.

I always think of the Amish when I think of a community model. Work there, is so often a community project. Everyone helps as the need arises, knowing that when they need help, it will be there for them as well.

Here's another example of the odd, non-community mindset in the area I live. Some folks around here would rather throw an item away, than give it away if they can't sell it. We've seen that happen several times.

True agrarianism requires a community of like minded folks to be successful. One of my blogging goals, is to promote such a mindset. I think it will be vital to our survival in the future.