How to Barter Effectively: 5 Tips for Success
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Bartering is an awesome way to get food or items you need for your homestead. Beyond saving money, it’s also an effective means by which a community can share the wealth directly with each other instead of through large corporations or stores.
Even if self-reliance is your goal, there are going to be things that you just can’t produce yourself. Bartering is a great “middle ground.”
But bartering is an art. Finding ways to trade with others means having straightforward conversations and ensuring that each party is well-served. It also means getting creative about how goods and services are passed along. Sometimes a creative barter isn’t just a simple two-way transaction.
5 Tips for Effective Bartering
Bartering Tip #1: Honesty above all Else
The first thing you need to tell yourself when you want to make bartering part of your lifestyle is that trust is paramount.
You are not just trying to “get stuff for free.” You are trying to meaningfully trade things of which you have excess or that you no longer need for items that you do not produce yourself. You would typically pay money for these items, so the thing you are willing to trade must have a genuine value to someone else.
Scamming someone, or being dishonest about what you are giving to them, is a recipe to end that bartering relationship before it even takes off. Long-term trading partnerships are one of the best bartering scenarios possible, so don’t kill it before it has a chance to blossom.
Beyond the immediate relationship, some bartering communities have rating systems or good old gossip mills. If you are an untrustworthy, others may find out.
Bartering Tip #2: Find a way to Value what you are Offering
When you are trading with someone else, you need to be able to get a sense of what each item is worth so that the trade is reasonably equitable.
For example, we have been trading eggs for vegetables with our neighbor for years. She has chickens and we have a huge garden, so it is a win-win scenario. It is pretty easy to know the value of her farm fresh eggs because there is an established market for them in our area – $5.00/dozen is a typical price at farmer’s markets or local grocery store.
In order to ensure that what we are giving her from our garden is relatively equal to $5.00, we use online grocery store price lists. She’s a fan of spinach, so we look up the price for various quantities of organic spinach that you would buy at the grocery store and we make sure that we give her an amount that roughly equals $5.00. This honest and straightforward trade has allowed us to maintain this relationship on a weekly basis during garden season.
Services can be valued in a similar fashion. You just need to do your research to ask, “What would someone pay for this service by the hour?” Say you offer to develop a website for a local farm market – you will need to spend 10 hours of your time and, based on some good research, you value your time at about $50/hr. You might ask the farm market to give you a $500 credit for vegetables over the course of the summer.
Be straightforward and transparent in your conversations about value – the last thing you want is a misunderstanding in the end. Even if values aren’t exactly financially equal, as long as both parties feel that what they are trading with the other makes sense, you are good to go.
Bartering Tip #3: Use local networks and services to share bartering opportunities
These days, neighborhood list serves are common in most parts of the United States. Whether you have a large national service like “Next Door” or it’s local equivalent (we love our Front Porch Forum in Vermont), this is a great venue for proposing bartering relationships.
We especially appreciate this forum when we have an overstock of a certain vegetable. We have been known to post something like, “Will trade honey for squash.” Chances are someone nearby has way too much squash and would love to have a jar of our honey of which we have excess (and yes, that has happened for us).
Other forums to find like-minded traders might be things like Facebook Marketplace or a local Freecycle group. There’s always the good old bulletin board at a local market, too.
Posting things on your own Facebook Page or Instagram account can also be effective. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
Bartering Tip #4: Long-Term Partnerships are Gold
As mentioned previously, a long-term bartering relationship is one of the best scenarios if you want bartering to be a part of your lifestyle. Finding someone who regularly has what you need, and to whom you can regularly offer something they want, is the jackpot. You don’t have to recreate the wheel each time and you know exactly what you are getting.
The only way you’re really going to find this is if you actively search it out and propose it. If you find someone for a one-time trade who seems to love the experience, talk to them about making it more permanent. You could actually talk with each other and plan to have what the other will need.
Our neighbor, for example, knows that we are a long-term “customer” for her eggs so she can plan accordingly. Likewise, we talk to her at the beginning of gardening season and ask her what type of veggies she would love to have us grow with her in mind.
Bartering Tip #5: Businesses might want to barter, too!
Bartering does not have to be just between neighbors and individuals. You may find that smaller businesses like restaurants or small markets would be open for bartering as well. It certainly can’t hurt to ask!
For example, each spring we bring our excess rhubarb to a farm market down the street. They give us wholesale value for the rhubarb, but we get it in the form of a credit in the store. Then, when we want flowers, strawberries, or an ice cream cone at the window we can use our credit to pay for it.
I can’t stress enough that honest and straightforward conversations are best when it comes to bartering. Sometimes it can be hard to broach the topic, and you find yourself beating around the bush and not being sure what you are offering or being offered. That lack of clarity can give everyone a sour taste for bartering.
Done effectively, though, bartering can be a huge part of your homesteading lifestyle. It not only helps you get what you need, but also creates connections among community that are often missing in this time of big box stores and online shopping.