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How to Barter Anything

In these lean times, your only limit to what you can trade (computer help for birthday cakes? artwork for dental work?) is your imagination.

By Hannah Wallace
Real Simple March 2008Lucas Allen

Now that cash is no longer king, bartering is back. Craigslist.org alone has seen a 100 percent increase in activity on its bartering boards in the past year, and dozens of new websites are cropping up to help eager swappers find one another. Traders save hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars exchanging things as varied as photography, gymnastic lessons, and babysitting. Following the advice of bartering veterans, you can reap similar financial rewards―and more. “There’s a psychological benefit,” says James Hartley, a professor of economics at Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “Bartering is about communities. It fosters human contact.”
 
 

Tricks of the Trade

Follow these four steps when arranging a barter to ensure that both sides get a sweet deal.
 
 Step 1: Figure Out What You Want to Get―and What You Can Give. 
The first part is easy. Maybe you’re looking for a yoga class or interior-decorating help. The challenge is working out what goods or services you can exchange in return. Tapping into your professional expertise or considering what you studied in college is an obvious place to start. But also ask yourself:
 

  • What would you sell if you were having a garage sale tomorrow? Is any of it worth trading?
  • What hobbies could you teach someone?
  • Could you craft something to swap? (A pair of hand-knit mittens? A photo book or a scrapbook?)
  • Which common chores do you enjoy? (People have performed tasks as random as pulling weeds.)

“Everyone has something to offer,” says Amy Kirschner, founder of Vermont Sustainable Exchange, a business-to-business bartering network in her home state. She is also involved in a local bartering group whose members have run errands, given rides to the airport, or even walked dogs in exchange for what they needed.
 

  
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