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Even when money is tight, you are not without resources. Take stock of all non-money assets you have as a family such as time, knowledge, possessions, property and creativity.

Swapping resources with others is a time-tested way to stay financially healthy. Be creative. Think through the assets you have. List your skills, talents and interests. Next, try to match your skills and talents to community needs. Try making your first swap with a friend, neighbor or relative to build your confidence.

Why barter?

Bartering places value on human resources and not commodities. It increases buying power, stretches resources and extends goods and services to those on low or fixed incomes. It also taps unused talents and resources, and can involve all family members.

The challenge of bartering is making the right exchange. Some communities have a clearinghouse, civic groups or publications to help. There are also national groups and clubs for this purpose. One obstacle that discourages some individuals from bartering is determining an item's value. Any material expense should be paid for before services are provided and by those receiving goods and services.

Determine your expectations in advance to avoid misunderstandings.

Note: If you engage in barter transactions, you may have tax responsibilities. Please review information from the IRS at Bartering tax center.

Guide to successful bartering

  • Before you begin: Know who will supply needed materials. Usually it’s the receiver; but in some cases, the provider may have the needed tools, such as a lawn mower. If you have to buy materials, work together to determine specifics like budget and quality of materials. Clarify deadlines and other details that could cause conflict.
  • Don’t assume anything. Be sure to agree on the details of exactly what will be done. Be sure expectations are clear to all. In some cases, a contract or written agreement may be necessary.

When you provide a service

  • Be sure you are clear on details of expected service. Don’t take on tasks that you cannot do well.
  • Keep the receiver well informed on your progress. Inform the receiver also of any problems or delays.
  • Decide on the time the service is to be provided. If needed by a certain date, be sure enough time is allowed to complete the service.

If you receive a service

  • Carefully explain and supervise work to be done. Don’t be caught with a completed job that is not what you expected.
  • Don’t hesitate to check the provider’s qualifications.
  • Make sure the delivery of service is convenient and within the time you want the work done.
  • If the task requires your presence or help, make sure you are aware of this.

Sharon M. Danes, Extension specialist and professor emeritus in family social science

Revised by Sharon Powell and Sam Roth, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2023

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