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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

 Step 2: Identify a Trading Partner. 
Make a list of friends, colleagues, or existing business clients who might have what you want and want what you have. Two years ago, Jennifer Garcia, a baker based in Dallas, was looking for someone to update her website regularly, so she offered her friend Sharon Harvey, a website designer, unlimited cakes and baked goods to do the job. The ongoing arrangement has “worked wonderfully,” says Harvey, saving both women hundreds of dollars.
Coming up blank on people you know? Try one of these more organized ways to find a match.

  • Join a local bartering club. Groups like Kirschner’s exist in towns and neighborhoods across the country, bringing people together to swap goods and services. Some are conducted online, others in person, and many are spread by word of mouth. So check the notice boards at schools, cafés, and community centers.
  • Join a Time Bank. It works like this: You register (for free) at your local Time Bank’s website and list the services you have to offer. For each hour of work you provide to another member, you earn a “time dollar,” redeemable for any service someone else has listed on the site. Find a Time Bank in your area, or learn how to start your own, at
  • Visit specialized bartering websites. New niche sites have sprung up where you can exchange almost anything: kids’ gear, legal services, cars, you name it. (For a few to try, see Online Trade, at the end of this article.)

Step 3: Pop the Question. 
Bartering in a club or online? Skip to step 4.
But what if you want to offer, say, your accountant the use of your season tickets to the theater in exchange for doing your taxes? Just ask, advise the pros. Antonio Puri, an artist based in Philadelphia, was in his dentist’s chair, absorbing the news that he needed a root canal and a crown, when he noticed there were no paintings on the office walls. “So I said to my dentist, ‘You need art. How about doing a trade?’ ” Puri says. The dentist visited his studio, found a $1,200 painting he liked, and accepted it as payment for the two procedures.

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