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Bartering Away the Budget Blues

Author says this traditional trading practice is alive and well.

In tough economic times, most people instinctively cut spending to keep their finances afloat; but adding the oldest form of exchange to the family financial toolkit can bring some wiggle room and maybe even a bit of luxury.

Barter or the exchange of goods and services without cash, predates our monetary systems by centuries. Once our societies became cash-centric, the art of barter seemed to fall by the wayside. But many local families and individuals are re-discovering barter and the power it brings, says Karen S. Hoffman, with whom I co-authored the book The Art of Barter: How to Trade for Almost Anything.

"With barter, you aren't dependent on just the numbers that are on your pay stub. Trading gives you a lot more latitude to get what you want and need as well as relieve financial stress if you're experiencing it," Hoffman advises.

University City father Patrick Thimangu worked out a great trade. He is a black belt and owner of Arch Taekwondo. He offered his services as a physical education teacher at Reform Jewish Academy in Frontenac, his son's school, three days a week. What he gets in return: after-school care for his son.

"I'm introducing kids to something they don't know and they might want to come to my school after they learn," Thimangu says. "It works for me and it helps fill in for vacation for their PE teacher."

So how does it work? Simple, says Hoffman.

Make a list of what you have, what you know and what you can do that could be of interest to someone else. For example, that exercise bike you've been using as a clothes hanger could be tradable. Or how about your delightful violin playing or knitting prowess. Those are skills that can be traded. Your ability to speak Spanish or tutor someone in calculus can also be the basis for a trade.

Once you've got an idea of what you can trade, check out web sites such as BarterQuest, Craigslist and U-Exchange for trading partners. Also, Hoffman advises would-be traders to mention the idea to friends and co-workers. You never know who's open for a swap.

If there is a business that has what you want, approach the owner or manager about bartering. Hoffman says this is easier to do with locally owned companies than major chains. The key is to make sure you talk to the decision-maker or you could be wasting your time.

"In the end, it's all about being open and just starting the conversation," Hoffman says. "If one person says 'no,' he or she wasn't the right trading partner; but someone will be. Just be persistent and polite."

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