Handshakes Print by Paperchat on Etsy

By Gabrielle. Handshake print by Paperchat.

I’d love your thoughts on bartering. Do you do it? Did your parents? If yes, what sorts of things do you barter for?

My Dad was big on bartering. He was good at it and he used his skills to give us childhood experiences that we couldn’t afford otherwise. My dad was a public school teacher and there were 8 kids. My mom was an adjunct professor at our local college, but Dad’s paycheck was what we mainly lived on, and as you can imagine, there was never quite enough money in the monthly budget.

But my dad always had a side job going on as well. For many years, he ran a picture framing business from a workshop in our basement, and he would barter picture framing for things like my ballet lessons. Not joking! I remember my ballet teacher visiting our home so she could pick out frames and mats.

When I was a teenager my parents published a newspaper for senior citizens as a side job, and my dad would barter ad space in the paper for things like dry-cleaning. I couldn’t afford an expensive wardrobe, but I could get anything dry cleaned at any time!

I’ve been thinking about bartering — and especially bartering on behalf of kids — because Ben Blair and I bartered for June’s preschool this year. We’re making videos for the school in exchange for tuition — our biggest bartering experience by far. It’s been such a blessing! And it’s opened my eyes to other bartering possibilities.

How about you? Is bartering in your genes?

P.S. — My dad was also an epic haggler at flea markets and garage sales. But I can’t stand haggling! I’m the worst at it and I get so uncomfortable I basically remove myself from the situation. My stomach aches just remembering my dad haggling. Hah!

70 thoughts on “Bartering”

  1. My dad was a barterer too! Sometimes I thought it was cool, but I also have a vivid memory of him trying to barter our way into a play at the local high school when I was 13- SO embarrassing!

    1. Oh totally!! Around 12 years old I remember becoming aware of our family’s finances and just wishing my dad could write a check like the other dads. I was so embarrassed. I just wanted to be normal.

  2. I teach my friend’s children piano lessons in exchange for baby sitting while I go to class. It’s a wonderful arrangement!

  3. This is a great topic. One of the major things my husband and I have bartered for is rent – offering to do maintenance and upkeep things on our rental in exchange for lowered rent. We are reasonably handy and have done painting, yard work, etc. in exchange for reduced rent. And I love doing trades with people – I used to trade sourdough bread for homegrown vegetables from a friend who is an organic vegetable farmer.

  4. My husband and I have a French pastry shop. We have bartered treats for: the accordian player at our wedding, half a pig, duck eggs, half a cow, cards from a local stationary shop and pizza pies! It is so fun when you each have something the other wants.

  5. Oh, I wish! No one in my family ever bartered anything. They definitely could have – my grandparents owned a very successful small business doing HVAC repair and I’m sure they could have traded work for lots of things – but I think they were the kind of people who found any talk of money tacky. You either paid for something, full price, or didn’t get it at all. So unfortunately I never learned the skill or got the confidence to barter either. I am SO jealous of my friends who get these amazing deals on things by trading services and time! I wish I could crack the code and do some of that myself!

  6. Interesting topic! My mom was epically bad at bartering–she would exchange her work as a massage therapist, or cleaning services, or teaching massage (all things she did for a living that had quite tangible valuable) for something with far lower value. She was just too sweet too ask for things more aggressively. This left a bad taste in my mouth for bartering in general. There are always exceptions, but I tend to think that someone always ends up with the short end of the stick!

    1. “There are always exceptions, but I tend to think that someone always ends up with the short end of the stick!”

      I imagine I would feel the same way as you if I felt my father had been taken advantage of. That must have been frustrating.

  7. I barter all the time! My husband has a very steady job but with six kids we are always being creative to make ends meet. I have a degree in art and have been photographing “professionally” aka bartering, for about 7 years now. I’ve traded photography for hair cuts and colors, personal training, electrical work, child care, a king size bed (which we love and never could have afforded otherwise!), dental work, children’s clothes, tile work, and a thousand other things. We could not survive without barter!

  8. My daughter is a very strong tennis player. Tennis, unfortunately is an extremely expensive sport. We are lucky – now that she is six foot one and looks like a college kid (she is 14) we barter her lessons in exchange for her being a tennis pro assistant and teaching little kids. Its really been an amazing opportunity – that I am very grateful for – and she actually still is learning (tennis skills AND responsibility) as she is teaching – so it’s doubly beneficial.

    1. I love this. I really enjoy stories of parents being able to get resourceful in order to provide their children with opportunities. I know it doesn’t always work out, but I love when it does.

  9. Interesting topic! I’ve exchanged piano lessons and proofreading, but my favorite was when I did a newsletter and marketing materials for a baker/caterer in exchange for the most delicious treats. I was so sad when they retired and moved south!

  10. My dad does some bartering. He runs his own HVAC business. Last summer as our house finally came under contract (after sitting for 13 months on the market), we found out the roof needed a lot of work and insurance was going to do nothing. He bartered with a roofer he knows and helped us so so much. What a blessings. I’m a part-time Tarot consultant and have bartered with people a few times. Hope to do more of it in the future, once I have time to get my business up and running again after having twins. That is so awesome that you were able to barter for preschool. We want to send our girls to a (unfortunately very expensive) Montessori preschool. Pretty sure they won’t want Tarot readings, ha! :-P But I would be willing to volunteer/work for free if it meant we could get a serious reduction.

  11. We own a catering company and I have been dreaming of how wonderful if would be if a house painter would barter with us. Their kid’s wedding catered to the 9’s in exchange for painting the inside of my house, because I HATE PAINTING.

  12. My husband is a HUGE barterer. He’s used his graphic design and video production skills (his day job) to barter for a home brewing system, home brew supplies, private dog training sessions, dog boarding, and numerous other things. I’ve dabbled a bit with my circle of friends. In the past I’ve exchanged my sewing skills (hemming and repair work) for haircuts and knife sharpening! I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s given us opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.

    1. “It’s given us opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.”

      Love that. I agree. But it can be so scary putting yourself out there. Sometimes the answer is “no thanks” and it’s hard not to take it personally. At least for me! : )

  13. My parents (who you know! Joe & Lee Bennion) are big time barterers. I grew up at the poverty line and never knew it because my parents had a big garden, my mom sewed our clothes, and they bartered for big ticket items that enhanced our lives. My piano, ballet, and horseback riding lessons were all bartered for pottery and paintings. My sisters and I all had the good fortune to attend Wasatch Academy, a local private school (where I now work) and they bartered teaching art classes to cover some of our tuition. Currently, my dad eats at the local cafe in their town almost everyday in trade for the great coffee mugs he makes them. My parents have had some interesting and famous clients over the years . . . she has traded portraits of the Jobs’ kids for a Mac laptop (for my sister in high school) and for a desktop that she uses for her business; which just goes to show even the big guys will barter! I think it is a fantastic way to do business.

  14. As a former preschool teacher, that’s an amazing barter! Lucky June and lucky school!

    My cousin, who is a professional photographer, bartered photography for a yoga studio for free membership for yoga sessions. I have bartered baked goods (pastry school grad) for many things too, including tickets to Disneyland (from someone who gets them discounted).

  15. I bartered my daughter’s cello lessons for homemade pastries. The teacher was amazingly sweet and even came to our house because we were a one-car family at the time. I would send her home with pies, tarts, cakes, sweet bread, etc. I still can’t believe she agreed to it and I was so nervous to even ask. My daughter is now playing with her University’s Philharmonic and is a Music Ed major so it was all worth it!

  16. We managed to barter guitar lessons for our wedding cake! And there is no way we could have afforded such a beautiful, delicious cake with it. Such a blessing.

  17. We just finished a bathroom remodel that my hubbie bartered for. He’s owns a video production company and when a contractor approached him about creating a web video he got smart and asked him to trade for labor. We still paid for the materials but it was much more manageable with the barter. So glad we did… I LOVE our new bathroom. Hope we can do more projects this way in the future.

  18. I make logos and have bartered business logos for music lessons for my toddler, vet services for my dogs and personal training for myself. I almost prefer to barter for my services because I don’t do it as a business and asking for money makes me uncomfortable since I don’t know the going rates.

  19. I am a teacher and my husband retired early because of health reasons. We started going to yard/garage sales because we found such good bargains. Also my husband knows something about everything and began selling on ebay for extra money. Four months ago we rented a small, 8×8, space in the best antique mall in Chattanooga, Tn. The Knitting Mill. We buy small items for low and sell for a reasonable price. So far we have made over 5,ooo dollars. I used to not like to haggle at all…I mean I would hand it to my hubby and say what I wanted to pay. HE MADE ME START TO HAGGLE! Now I am sooooo good at it, I think it happened because now I see that I can buy something for 5 dollars and sell it for 50. I have learned so much going “thrifting” I buy clothes for my kids, get great gifts, and am constantly stocking my booth. It is a great “hobby” for my husband and me. I also sew and cook for people in exchange for services. I think it is such a great use of talent!

  20. I wanted my kids to go to a beautiful Montessori school this year and ended up bartering to get all three of them in- tuition free! I wish it would be come much more normative….there are so many talented people out there and I just don’t have enough money to go around!

  21. My father is an estate planning attorney. He’s bartered with clients for stays at their vacation homes in exchange for doing their estate planning.

    My husband (also an estate planning attorney) has done some “free work” for those who can’t afford it, and in turn they have “paid” in handmade quilts, pies, stuff like that…even though he insists that they give him nothing.

    Not the same, but we’ve totally made family vacations out of required continuing education planning. Well, it was a vacation for my mom and I. Not so much for the dad who was stuck in class all day. :)

  22. I have bartered Working a few hours a week in a gym day care for membership and recently I bartered, though I called it credit, working in a start up day care / private school for credit to their facility. Now I can take the morning yoga class and not pay for the day care. I can send my son to the robotics class or to play racquetball. It was a win win situation to me. She was just starting up and wasn’t making much of a profit yet. I didn’t really need the money as much but the opportunities for my kids and myself were really nice. I think that bringing up the subject if often difficult. But if you can find others who like the concept it’s so nice to let everyone’s time and talents come together to help make each others lives better.

    1. ” I think that bringing up the subject if often difficult.”

      I agree. For me it’s a pride thing. Bringing up a possible barter feels like saying “I don’t have enough money”. And that can be a huge shame trigger.

  23. Yes! I’ve been doing it a lot now that my blog is running well. I’ve bartered a haircut, make-up tutorial, party supplies, cakes for my kids’ birthday, etc with blog post! :) Love it!

  24. i love the idea of bartering. my dad was an attorney and a lot of his fees were paid with services (like my braces). he was also part of a couple organized bartering groups before he retired – most of my wedding was paid for through one of them – florist/photographer/food/honeymoon cottage at brighton. the groups were a bit riskier since it wasn’t a 1 for 1 deal – more like store credit and you hope there’s something you like – but most often, with a big family and lots of interests/needs, there was (and i don’t think your credit expired). plus, there was the benefit of an expanded network (he worked/lived in az, but i could use his credit for the wedding in utah).
    my husband and i actually bartered for bradley classes the first time i was pregnant. we couldn’t afford the whole fee so paid some, did some babysitting for the instructor, and since i was working at a museum, used my discount to get them a couple historic photos of wrigley field.
    i think it’s a great way to do things – i realize it’s totally not practical on a large scale or for the majority of your purchases – but it’s a good counter to the alienation and excess of consumerism.
    i can’t do haggling, however – the most i can manage in certain swap meet or garage sale situations is to ask for a deal if i buy more than 1 thing.

  25. I love bartering!! When we lived in Portland Oregon, the barter economy there was pretty strong. I had a bodywork practice, and traded services for:
    Hair Services
    A Spa Gift Card (worth $450!!)
    Voice Lessons
    Grass Fed Beef
    Restaurant Gift Certificates
    Acupuncture Treatments
    Private Pilates Sessions
    Custom Woodworking
    Website Design Consulting
    Professional Photography

    We were strapped financially, but having bartering as an option brought all sorts of little luxuries into our life!

  26. Bartering is great! I live with a neighbor in the building who has a child the same age as I. We connected during our pregnancies for the first time. Since our kids were big enough to stay away from mommies for an hour, we have been bartering babysitting time on regular basis. For stay home moms with multiple children like us (I have 3, she has 4) , this arrangement has made our lives so much easier! Not only it eliminates the need to hire a babysitter when other kids need us on field trips, we also get to do things for ourselves.

  27. I think it only really works if you have some necessary service to offer people in return for what you want. I had friends growing up who only ever bartered for things, and it can sometimes come across as pretty offensive and entitled. Like, I know this job (i.e. piano teacher, preschool teacher, violin teacher, etc) is your JOB, but I don’t think it’s worth actual money, it’s just worth a loaf of bread. But then, if you have something they want (I love the idea of videos, that you’re doing), it seems really worth it! I mean, that will take your time and money to create, too, so it seems like a fair trade.

  28. Two summers ago, a local farmer in our town built a new stand to sell his veggies – and then printed out terrible stock photos of vegetables and taped them on to the wood at the top. It looked TERRIBLE! The ink ran when it rained and the edges of the paper weathered….I couldn’t stand it. So my husband and I approached him and offered to paint him a permanent sign in exchange for free veggies for the summer. I’m sure he only agreed because he didn’t believe us….but when we returned with it a few weeks later he kept his word! We has great vegetables all summer and the sign looks terrific.

  29. Like Ann above, we call it trade, and I love the idea of trading. We’ve had some successful trades and some less successful: the desk I’m writing on was built by someone who never collected their part of the trade, and occasionally I feel really guilty about that!

    We’ve joked with other business owners who’ve dealt with trade that maybe we should just trade money…sometimes that’s best for everyone, but trading is sure appealing. Because we’re a business, the tax implications of trade have kept us from doing much, though I’d jump at the chance to trade with a handyman for house projects or with an artist I love!

  30. My dad was a dentist, and bartered dentistry for beautiful built-in bookcases and tree maintenance. I have bartered with my NYC sis- graphic design for her “old” but expensive and trendy clothes (I live in CO, so anything other than Levis counts as fashion forward!)

  31. Friends of mine had a barter business for awhile and are still very into bartering. They get great stuff. It has really opened my eyes to it. They are helping me take my art and make it into an actuall business and I will be open to bartering.

  32. Bartering is great between individuals who genuinely would like something from one another, but I don’t like when potential clients of my company assume we will barter services just because we’re a small, friendly team. My boss works hard to run a business and pay salaries and we can’t afford to barter as a company… Or we would be putting aside time that other clients are paying for?


  33. I think bartering is great if you truly have valuable services or exchanges.
    We lived in China for five years during times when price bartering was very alive
    I became very frustrated because it was so extreme that a true value was impossible to determine. I observed really impolite “foreigners” taking inexcusable advantage
    of the bartering culture. Guess there’s always that side. Something about us humans that demands fairness. I support fair and honest bartering!

  34. My boyfriend is a personal trainer, and he barters every once in awhile. One of his clients is a math teacher, and his daughter needed a math tutor. So, voila, problem solved, and they swapped services.

  35. My parents did this often growing up and it can be stressful when someone doesn’t fulfill their side of the deal quite as well as the other…now I am a nurse and if necc. I can pick up an extra shift for some extra money. Whenever bartering is an option, my husband and I feel that maybe we should just do it out of service especially if the person is in difficulty, but both sides can be fulfilled when something is offered. With all this said in college I participated in many studies in exchange is money, contact lenses, meals etc… And actually my mom even got a discount when giving birth (without health insurance) because she went through a teaching hospital and allowed a whole class of medical students in the room, maybe the ultimate barter.

  36. We were very poor when we were thinking of getting married. My husband is a talented graphic designer and bartered for my engagement ring. He worked many hours on a website for the jeweler who made my ring!!! Such a great idea and guy.

    Many years ago, as a single mom, my mother was in a terrible car accident that knocked out many teeth. She bartered with a kind dentist. She cleaned his office and sterilized instruments for months in exchange for dental work. Genius!!!
    I am working on being a bargainer and a barter er. It’s becoming fun. I used to hate it!

  37. My daughter has been wanting violin lessons for a while but it just doesn’t fit in the budget. She and a friend bartered violin lessons for english lessons (we are americans living in Italy). They’re on week 2 of the trade-off and it seems to work well.

  38. I have a feeling I wouldn’t enjoy bartering in person, but I do like trading ad space on my website for material goods. Did some Christmas shopping that way last year via lovely Etsy shops. Happily, it worked quite well for both sides.

  39. Oh man, haggling makes me so uncomfortable! My mom has always been quite good at it, but it makes me squirm anyway. Bartering, though, we do a lot, mostly for creative services. (The skill sets at my house are mostly writing and editing, and we’ve traded for things like graphic design work.) :)

  40. I’ve never paid for a gym membership, I just trade babysitting and cleaning for it. It has worked well for 9 years and 4 different gyms. I wish I has more talents to trade because I’m the biggest cheapskate and I’d rather spend time (I have plenty) than money (4 kids and a government job for the hubby means there isn’t a ton).

  41. I have lots of many happy memories of my mom bartering clarinet lessons for a sundry of things… including other music lessons… and my favorite- bushels of apples! Now, my husband is a phenomenal haggler, only made better by living in cultures where that is a daily ritual in the markets. I think the key is how smiley and friendly he is even when he is being tough :)

  42. My sister and her husband are very big on bartering. When their daughter was about 1 year old they started a “parent’s kindergarden” with 3 other moms – each day 2 moms would watch the four kids from morning till noon while the other two moms got time to work and breath. They have this community around them, that they created with their friends – where they help each other with many things, such as moving to a new house, clearing a garden and stuff like that. My sister is a Yoga instructor, and she told me that one of her students couldn’t pay for the classes anymore so instead of paying he put up posters for her all around town every week. I am a graphic designer and i once bartered with a friend who is a naturopath – I designed something for her website and she answered questions I have about my kids health.

  43. My dad was a dentist who bartered plenty during his 40+ years of practice. He did dental work for a local salesman and we had Electrolux vacuums all during my childhood. Same for his accountant of 20+ years. I think he even bartered for car repair work. He would always barter for dental for someone who couldn’t afford it.

  44. I’m pretty sure my dad was able to get me a guitar and scuba diving certification because resourceful people owed him a favor.

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