Bartering is defined as the exchange of goods and services between two or more parties without the use of money. It is the oldest form of commerce. Individuals and companies barter goods and services between each other based on equivalent estimates of prices and goods. So why don't we barter like we used to and are we better off trying to bring it back? For many homesteaders, this is still a normal practice.

I must admit, I have a very romantic view on bartering.

I’m not into conspiracies, let’s be clear. I’m also not one of those when SHTF types. I won’t practice fake drills on what to do if the electricity goes offline from some God event. But, I am cautious. And I am cynical by nature. I like to be prepared and organised. I don’t have a fear that currency will be devalued and that we’ll have to exchange our goods and services in silver coins and flagons of mead…

But imagine living in a community where bartering was more commonplace. We have some of our friends and neighbours who are happy to exchange in this way and it really makes a difference. To be honest, what totally puts me off a person is when they’re so tit-for-tat. As in, ‘I spent $50 on you so you should spend $50 on me.’ Or, ‘I spent 3 hours working at your place, now you owe me 3 hours.’

That’s not how bartering works.

To me anyway, bartering shouldn’t be conscripted. It should be what people see as a fair value exchange. When our neighbours go away, we go over and look after their hens. We have a gate between us that we freely come and go through. We’ve done this countless times. And we’ve never asked them to do that for us. But our neighbour has a tractor and we don’t. Whenever he comes over to help move a bale of hay, he grades the potholes down the drive way. I think that’s a fair exchange.

Another friend of ours is a tattoo artist. When my husband had his machine, he spent a weekend over there doing a lot of clearing for him. He knocked down trees, cleared shrubbery and moved burn piles. In return, my husband got the equivalent number of hours he spent at the friend’s place, in tattooing hours. I think that’s a fair exchange.

The art of barter extends itself past this though, and we see much less of it in general in sectors outside of car and house purchasing. People want to bargain for their value in money on big ticket items, but less so for other things.

Nowadays we almost always expect to pay the asking price, yet if you’ve ever resold anything at a garage sale, you’ve likely had at least one person make a counteroffer, or ask if that was your rock bottom price.

But bartering, in all its old-fashioned glory, really has a few interesting parameters:

  • Barter was a commonly accepted means of obtaining goods and services as recently as 100 years ago
  • Both parties agreed on the system, i.e. bartering
  • Each person had their own idea of what the trade was worth to themselves, not in terms of monetary value, but how badly they needed/wanted what was offered in exchange
  • Profit was not a motive, i.e. financial and/or material gain beyond the perceived value of the service or goods
  • Instant gratification was not a factor
  • Neither was entitlement
  • Nobody made a deal they didn’t want
  • Both parties walked away satisfied and unoffended if they didn’t come to an agreement

In my experience, (and I am not the confident barterer), bartering is a tool my husband uses well. In almost all our house purchases, we’ve paid significantly less due to his ability to cut through the crap and negotiate. When he shows the sales person what his limit to the value is, its almost like a moment where they realise they’ve been busted. Like a dog caught sneaking a treat of the coffee table, they often walk away with eyes down and their tales between their legs.

Of course, in those instances you want a sales person to be the strongest they can be for you, to get the best price for you, but that would contend with their ability to barter, and in cases so far, they’ve not had the ability to. At least not with my husband as the opposition!

Many homesteaders have a goal of self-sufficiency in some way, shape or form, but in reality, the true homesteading lifestyle requires a community of like-minded folks. The problem throughout history however, is that there are always those who want to profit beyond their needs. Nowadays, our modern profit economics mindset makes us think this is supposed to be normal. From the examples we see this is not true. However, I mention it because it would seem to be one of the pitfalls in bartering a deal. Other pitfalls we need to be aware of is that not everyone is honest in their dealings and representation of what they have to offer. Others, just love to play mind games. They love to get “get one over” on somebody else for the sense of power it gives them. I don’t have any answers for these, they are just things we need to be aware of.

So what are your thoughts on bartering. Is it a dying art? Do we still have active bartering in society or do we need more?

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