The lost art of bartering

the lost art of bartering, homesteading,

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 am a cautious person, and sometimes skeptical. 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.

What is bartering?

Bartering, the exchange of goods and services without the use of money, was once a common practice throughout the world. However, with the rise of modern currency, this ancient art has fallen out of favor. In this blog article, we will explore the history of bartering, its advantages and disadvantages, and why it’s worth considering in today’s world.

Bartering can be traced back to ancient times, when people traded goods such as food, clothing, and tools for other goods of equal value. As societies became more complex, bartering became more sophisticated, with specialized traders exchanging goods across great distances. In fact, many ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs and the Incas, used bartering as their primary form of commerce.

Despite its long history, bartering is not without its challenges. One of the main disadvantages of bartering is the difficulty of finding someone who has what you want and wants what you have. Additionally, the value of goods and services can be difficult to determine, leading to disagreements and disputes.

What are the advantages of bartering?

There are many advantages to bartering as well. By exchanging goods and services without the use of money, bartering promotes self-sufficiency and can help reduce dependence on the global economy. It also encourages creativity and innovation, as people are forced to think outside the box to find ways to meet their needs.

There are many times bartering can be beneficial, such as:

  • In a small community where there is a high level of trust between members, bartering can be a great way to exchange goods and services without using cash.
  • Bartering can also be useful for small businesses that are just starting out and may not have the funds to purchase everything they need.
  • In situations where there is a shortage of a particular item, bartering can be a way to obtain that item without having to pay exorbitant prices.
  • Bartering can also be a way to build relationships and networks within a community or industry.

To overcome the challenges of bartering, it’s important to be clear and upfront about what you are offering and what you are looking for in return. It’s also a good idea to establish the value of the goods or services being exchanged before the trade takes place. Finally, having a mediator or neutral third party can help to resolve any disputes that may arise during the bartering process.

Benefits of bartering in an ever changing world

In today’s world, where the global economy is facing unprecedented challenges, bartering is once again becoming a popular alternative to traditional commerce. Online bartering platforms, such as and, have made it easier than ever to find people to trade with.

Social media continues to be a place where groups that share the same interests can join and share their wares. Things like crop swaps in local communities have popped up a lot in the last few years and encourage people to swap their excess crops with each other without cash.

close up photo of money

Additionally, many communities are starting their own bartering networks, where people can exchange goods and services with others in their area.

With the rise of bartering, many people are rediscovering the benefits of this age-old practice:

  • Bartering can be a great way to save money and reduce expenses. Instead of spending cash on goods and services, you can trade items or skills that you already have.
  • Bartering can also help build stronger communities. When you barter with others in your area, you are creating connections and relationships that can be beneficial in many ways.
  • Bartering can be a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to consume. By trading goods and services, you are reducing waste and minimizing your carbon footprint.
  • Bartering can also be a creative and fun way to acquire new items or learn new skills. You never know what you might discover through a bartering exchange!

Whether you’re looking to save money, build community, or just try something new, bartering is a great option to consider. And with the many online platforms and local networks available, it’s easier than ever to get started.

How to barter

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
people holding money

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 salesperson what his limit to the value is, it’s 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 salesperson 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!

Bartering in homesteading communities

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.

person gather hand and foot in center

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?

The lost art of bartering has many advantages and disadvantages, but in today’s world, it’s worth considering as a way to promote self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on the global economy. So why not give it a try? You never know what treasures you might find in the process.

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