When money is tight, it can be difficult to figure out how to get the things that you want and need. Bartering and other exchanges that don’t involve money can not only help you when times are tough, but they facilitate connections within communities — if they are done tactfully, that is.
Greg and Lauren Soutiea, owners of Craignair Inn by the Sea and Causeway Restaurant in Spruce Head, said that they have engaged in several bartering arrangements since they bought their inn and restaurant around two years ago. For example, they will exchange a few nights’ stay for services like photographs or videos of the hotel.
“The former owners did do a substantial amount of bartering,” Greg Soutiea said. “We’ve been a little bit more selective with whom and with what. We find the value in essentially being able to offer something that doesn’t cost us any money. There’s some operating costs with offering a room, but that’s minimal than what we hope to gain.”
Bartering isn’t the only kind of exchange that doesn’t involve money, though. “Bartering,” as defined by the Internal Revenue Service, is a direct exchange of goods or services between two parties. Sarah Braik, board president of Hour Exchange Portland, said that her organization does something a little different: facilitates time exchanges between a group of their members.
“We have members and they exchange services with one another and earn hours,” Braik explained. “If I spend an hour bunny sitting, it’s added to my accounts and then I can spend the hour either with the bunny owner or another member for another service. It’s really a kind of alternative economy — instead of exchanging dollars, we exchange hours.”
Braik said such exchanges are a good way for the unemployed, underemployed or those who are going through financial hardships to get the goods and services that they need. Plus, the exchanges build community.
“It brings people together with many different backgrounds and skills,” Braik said. “If you have really close connections with people locally and you have a relationship of mutual assistance, that makes individual people and households much more resilient.”
There are some best practices to conducting such transactions, though. Here are tips for setting up some of these exchanges for yourself, and making sure they go well.
Put yourself out there
The first step to initiating a barter is to simply approach someone, offer what you have and ask for what you want. You will never know if you don’t ask.
“A lot of barter is just based on trust so you have to kind of put yourself out there,” Greg Soutiea said. “You don’t always know if you’re going to get what you’re exchanging for.”
Braik said to be direct, and be prepared for — but not afraid of — rejection.
“[Go] in with an open attitude on both sides,” Braik suggested. “How can we make this situation better? What do we each need?”
Communicate expectations clearly
The most important element of any non-monetary exchange is clear communication about what you are offering and what you expect in return.
“Be really clear about who is doing what and when and what the parameters of the exchange are,” Braik said. “For example, if I were letting somebody use my excavator we’d be really clear — does the person need to replace the fuel? Who is going to deliver it? What happens when there is damage?”
If you do not set clear expectations, you might wind up disappointed, and feelings could be hurt on both ends. The Soutieas recalled a swap they set up with an artist for a piece in exchange for a few nights’ stay.
“It was a lot smaller than we were led to believe,” Greg Soutiea said. “It didn’t really fulfill what we were hoping to get out of it, and he was a little hurt.”
You may want to consider a bartering “contract.” The Soutieas said that, after that experience, they often use them.
“Make sure the expectations are set clear up front,” Greg Soutiea said. “Make sure everybody is on the same page and understand what each party is getting out of the exchange.”
Braik said that if you do not feel you are getting a good deal, feel free to negotiate the terms — clearly, of course.
Look in your community
If you are just getting started with bartering, you may want to get your toes wet with exchanges within your own community, where the value of the goods and services swapped are more clearly defined.
For example, the Soutieas said that they will exchange nights in their inn with nights at other inns with innkeepers that they know throughout the state.
“If we have a day or two with no rooms and want to drive up to Bar Harbor or Baxter State Park, we reach out to inn owners [and we’ve] traded rooms that way a couple times as well,” Greg Soutiea said. “That’s a straight, pretty easy exchange to work out.”
Trust your gut
Bartering and non-monetary exchanges involve more trust than simply paying for goods. As such, it is important to have a conversation with the person you are planning to exchange with.
“At the beginning of the conversation of talking to somebody, just listen to your gut,” Lauren Soutiea said. “If you think, ‘I don’t think this is a good fit for us,’ listen to your gut and maybe don’t move forward with it. That situation it’s not the end of the world.”
You can get an idea of them from their online presence.
“We’ll look at their social media accounts and get a feel for them that way,” Lauren Soutiea said. “You may not know them directly but you can get a feel for who they are.”
Avoid risky tasks
Bartering can be great, but there are some absolute no-nos. Blaik said that of course to avoid anything illegal, but also anything high risk.
“If [you are] repairing someone’s roof, I think there would really need to be great communication and complete transparency about insurance, what happens if somebody is injured,” Blaik said.
It’s also important to be honest about your qualifications and “your capacity to actually provide the service,” Blaik said.
Consider a third-party facilitator
A third-party platform or facilitator might help you to find more potential barters and non-monetary exchanges.
“We’ve found that to be somewhat helpful,” Greg Soutiea said. “We found a photographer through their service who came up and took a lot of really nice photos of our rooms and restaurant space. That was a large expense that we didn’t have to pay out of pocket.”
Braik said that there are a number of different time bank organizations if you are looking for an exchange like that. They even have special software and provide technical support for the less tech-savvy in order to help them get the most they can out of the service.
A third party platform might also help facilitate any interpersonal issues that might arise.
“[They] take that out of the equation by being a middle man, vetting everybody reviews and people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Greg Soutiea said.
The Soutieas said it is worth vetting such services carefully, though — they have had experiences in the past where such attempts at mediation have been unsuccessful.
Still, be open with what bartering might achieve for you.
“Sometimes it might not make sense, and sometimes it might make sense,” Greg Soutiea said. “[It’s just about] being open to the idea and understanding that there’s a market especially in Maine for this kind of service.”