One evening when I was in third or forth grade the doorbell rang when mom, dad and I were eating dinner. That in itself was a little strange. Most people came to the side door and knocked and the front door was rarely used. Of course when anyone came to the front door my dad always was the one to go and see about it. I knew something was up when my dad asked me to go and answer the door. I remember all of this vividly, even down to how nervous I felt to be answering the door.
When I opened the door there were three men standing there with a piano. I had been asking for a piano and lessons for as long as I could remember and I was overwhelmed when I realized that the piano was for me!
My dad later explained to me that he had done some electrical work for a family and bartered with them for the piano. Some years before that he had done the same in order to get me a pony. Daddy was a great example to me of how to use your skills and abilities to barter with others in order to get things that you would not normally be able to afford.
Over the years I have bartered with a number of people and businesses in order to get some of the things we wanted and I’m sure it’s because of the example that my dad set for me when I was a child. When Eva was a little girl we wanted her to have dance lessons. After a few months of lessons I heard the owner of the studio talking with one of the instructors about her need to find a reliable cleaning service. We met the next week and worked out a deal where I cleaned the studio once a week in exchange for free dance classes for Eva.
I have also bartered with a professional photographer. He and his wife wanted piano lessons for their children and I wanted nice pictures of our family and of the children. There was NO way that having regular professional photos was in our budget as a young family. I taught them piano (and yes, I taught piano lessons for years on that piano my daddy got for me!) and we kept a tally of what he would have paid each month. Whenever we went in for pictures we simply deducted the cost of the photo shoot from the balance he owed for the lessons. Sometimes he owed me and sometime I owed him, but it stayed fairly even over the years.
Here are a few bartering tips if you want to get started:
The bartering arrangement is only going to work out if the deal provides both parties with something they really want. In the case of the dance studio – I really wanted Eva to have dance lessons and was already paying for them but it was really stretching our budget. The dance studio owner really needed someone to clean weekly because she just did not have the time or energy to do it herself. We both got what we wanted and it worked beautifully for quite some time.
Many people are wary of bartering because they have been burned in the past by people who said they would do something and then didn’t follow through. For this reason I highly recommend that you have a written agreement. It doesn’t have to be fancy or in hard to read legal language! Just something as simple as “Charlotte will clean the dance studio every week in exchange for two dance classes every week for her daughter.” I think we also listed out the specific tasks I was supposed to do such as cleaning the floors and making sure all the mirrors were spotless.
Think about the goods and/or services you can offer others that would be valuable. Here is a list of things to help you think of some ideas:
Cleaning services for home or business
Pet sitting/daily care
Teach lessons – music, cooking, swimming, etc.
Professional services – can you do some sort of repair work? Are you a plumber or mechanic?
Now that you have thought of some things that you can offer to others you will have to think about what you would like to get in return. Do you want your children in lessons of some kind or want lessons for yourself? Do you need repairs done on your home? Do you already know someone in this field that might be easier to approach about a bartering arrangement?
In my experience all you can do is ask if they would be interested in talking about the possibilities. If you decide now not to be offended or have hurt feelings then you will be much better off! Sometime people just aren’t interested but you will be surprised at how many people will jump at the chance if you can offer them something they need or want.
Of course the IRS has some specific ideas about how to report bartering on your income tax form so be sure to take a look HERE. There are also a ton of websites out there that promise to help you find people to barter with online like this one. I have only traded with people I knew but it looks like others are having a lot of success with bartering and trading services. One article I read said that bartering on Craigslist has exploded in the last year as well. Just remember to be really careful when dealing with anyone you don’t know personally. To be honest I would not consider a bartering arrangement like this with someone I didn’t know personally.
If you have other ideas about services someone could provide or a story about your bartering experiences please leave a comment below – I would love to learn about more ways to use bartering!