Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Usually there is no exchange of cash. Barter may take place on an informal one-on-one basis between individuals and businesses, or it can take place on a third party basis through a barter exchange company. A barter exchange is any person or organization with members or clients that contract with each other (or with the barter exchange) to jointly trade or barter property or services. The term does not include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis.
Then again, it’s one thing to keep a community alive and well when everyone’s camping in a forest and they’ve all opted in to that vision. It’s quite another to imagine a gift economy enabling humans to build skyscrapers, invent iPhones, put air conditioners in every house, and explore space. (The same goes for collecting taxes and running large businesses.) Not that it’s an all-or-nothing situation: We already have gift economies among friends and family. Perhaps expanding that within small communities is possible; it’s certainly desirable.
Economic historian Karl Polanyi has argued that where barter is widespread, and cash supplies limited, barter is aided by the use of credit, brokerage, and money as a unit of account (i.e. used to price items). All of these strategies are found in ancient economies including Ptolemaic Egypt. They are also the basis for more recent barter exchange systems.
Whether or not one agrees with such broad claims, it’s worth noting that monetary debt, a byproduct of currency, has regularly been used to by some groups to manipulate others. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, suggested that the government encourage Native Americans to purchase goods on credit so they’d fall into debt and be forced to sell their lands. Today, black neighborhoods are disproportionately plagued by debt-collection lawsuits. Even after taking income into account, debt collection suits are twice as common in black neighborhoods as in white ones. $34 million was seized from residents of St. Louis’ mostly black neighborhoods in suits filed between 2008 and 2012, much of which was seized from debtors’ paychecks. In Jennings, a St. Louis suburb, there was one suit for every four residents during those years.
Business to consumer barter may include things like free merchandise for a customer who is willing to provide sales leads. Person to person barter can include almost anything you can imagine. Auction sites are a good place to find others willing to trade for things you have. Classified ads, online or in print, are another handy way of conducting barter transactions, and so are barter clubs.
Many prepper fiction novels eventually get to a point where there is a barter economy or the characters visit a Trading Post. For instance, a trading post plays a prominent role in Mark Goodwin’s series, Seven Cows, Ugly and Gaunt: A Post-Apocalyptic Saga of America’s Worst Nightmare. In the novel, the characters use silver to purchase the necessary items to survive and make life easier. Goodwin’s novel is a post-apocalyptic EMP story. The poop has really hit the fan in this one!
When exchanging services, it’s important to remember that bartering is considered income. While you may be able to write off expenses you incur during the barter, you must claim the fair market value of the services you provided as income. For example, if you charge $60 an hour as a massage therapist, and you trade a one-hour massage for housecleaning services, you may have to claim the equivalent income. When you trade assets, you may even be responsible for tracking capital gains or losses. If you have any doubts or questions, consult the IRS website.
For a few years now, the Preparedness Community has been pointing to the economic issues of Venezuela and asking the public to take a good hard look at what is going on. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering, and at the same time, our minds consider what we would do if we found ourselves in the same predicament. One thing that we can definitely learn is how the people have adapted and found ways to continue living. One major way that the people are surviving is through creating a barter economy.
As Orlove noted, barter may occur in commercial economies, usually during periods of monetary crisis. During such a crisis, currency may be in short supply, or highly devalued through hyperinflation. In such cases, money ceases to be the universal medium of exchange or standard of value. Money may be in such short supply that it becomes an item of barter itself rather than the means of exchange. Barter may also occur when people cannot afford to keep money (as when hyperinflation quickly devalues it).
At least at for my children, all of the little league sports are sponsored by different local businesses. They usually pay the cost of uniforms and donate a certain amount of snacks and such. In return, they get their company name on the jersey. The school often have fundraiser auctions and things, too, that are sponsored by the booster club. A lot of places donate laptops or other items in exchange for them mentioning that their company donated the product.
Bartering does have its limitations. Many bigger (i.e., chain) businesses will not entertain the idea and even smaller organizations may limit the amount of goods or services for which they will barter (i.e., they may not agree to a 100% barter arrangement and instead require that you make at least partial payment). But in an economic crunch, bartering can be a great way to get the goods and services you need without having to pull money out of your pocket.
Make the deal. After you've found a barter partner, get the agreement in writing. Make sure you detail what services or goods will be involved, the date of the exchange (or work to be done) and any recourse if either party reneges on their part of the deal. If you are working through a membership-based bartering association, they will likely provide all the structure and paperwork you need for the deal.
And, if you’ve been in the Preparedness community for any amount of time, you are familiar with Fernando “Ferfal” Aguirre. He wrote about his experiences of the economic collapse in Argentina in his very popular book, The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse. Argentina hasn’t really recovered from their collapse many years ago. This video discusses one Barter Market Club that is located in an abandoned textile factory.
Especially prior to the Christmas holiday season, a gift and craft exchange can take the pinch out of your budget. Contact people within your network and arrange a day where people exchange homemade holiday decorations. You may not find everything you’re looking for, but you will likely find at least a few stocking stuffers – and the perfect price.
In Spain (particularly the Catalonia region) there is a growing number of exchange markets. These barter markets or swap meets work without money. Participants bring things they do not need and exchange them for the unwanted goods of another participant. Swapping among three parties often helps satisfy tastes when trying to get around the rule that money is not allowed.
Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, sought to demonstrate that markets (and economies) pre-existed the state, and hence should be free of government regulation. He argued (against conventional wisdom) that money was not the creation of governments. Markets emerged, in his view, out of the division of labour, by which individuals began to specialize in specific crafts and hence had to depend on others for subsistence goods. These goods were first exchanged by barter. Specialization depended on trade, but was hindered by the "double coincidence of wants" which barter requires, i.e., for the exchange to occur, each participant must want what the other has. To complete this hypothetical history, craftsmen would stockpile one particular good, be it salt or metal, that they thought no one would refuse. This is the origin of money according to Smith. Money, as a universally desired medium of exchange, allows each half of the transaction to be separated.
Kids sure do grow out of their clothes rather quickly, and that’s where ThredUP comes in. They set up a cool shop for parents to swap clothing and toys with other parents whose kids are different ages. You can pick up a box full of clothes or toys for just $5 plus shipping, or post your own child’s used clothing for other users to pick from. Membership is free for everyone.
While the original idea for Rehash was to design clothing out of recycled clothes, it eventually evolved into a site for trading clothes with other users. Members can trade their unwanted stuff (clothing and accessories) with others who are looking for new items for their wardrobe, and vice-versa. Rehash also acts as a social community where users can get green living advice, read articles, request items, and attend swap events. Membership is free to interested parties.
But in real-world scenarios, like in Venezuela, Greece, and Argentina, the fabric of society is still intact. Society hasn’t unraveled like it did for Selco in Bosnia. In those countries, people still go to work (if they have a job), go to school and life goes on, although it really sucks! In these cases, bartering will be a little easier, safer and more readily available as society is intact.
“Economic theory has always got to be historically bounded,” Beggs says. “I think it’s a mistake to think you’ll find the workings of modern money by going back to the origins of money.” He does point out that, while barter may not have been widespread, it’s possible that it happened somewhere and led to money, just given how much is unknown about such a large period of time.
The Internet provides a new medium for the barter exchange industry. Pure Internet-based barter companies differ from traditional, organized trade exchanges in that they do not have a physical office. In modern Internet barter exchanges, there is an agreement or process in place to value goods and services exchanged, which is facilitated by the barter exchange for a fee. A barter exchange functions primarily as the organizer of a marketplace where members buy and sell products and services among themselves.
Other countries, though, do not have the reporting requirement that the U.S. does concerning proceeds from barter transactions, but taxation is handled the same way as a cash transaction. If one barters for a profit, one pays the appropriate tax; if one generates a loss in the transaction, they have a loss. Bartering for business is also taxed accordingly as business income or business expense. Many barter exchanges require that one register as a business.
It is said that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” If we ever get to a point where a barter economy is the way goods and services are exchanged, things will come together. But those who are prepared ahead of time, those who have thought about all of this, will be in a place where they can quickly move to make decisions that will benefit themselves and their family financially.
Business-to-business barter often includes merchandise or services in exchange for advertising. A company may supply promotional items or a service for a TV, radio station or newspaper, and in return receive a set amount of airtime or a certain number of print ads. Other examples include trading advice for goods, or trading merchandise or services for stock.
While some people may balk at an online community for finding babysitters, I know several parents who say it’s actually very difficult to find a sitter they can trust. BabysitterExchange started in 2000 as a babysitting co-op, and it has since expanded to the point that members use it to reserve time when they just have some errands run, need help tutoring their kids, or want a temporary house-sitter.