Bartering helps us think about value, real costs

I think we need to bring back the barter system. It seems like money makes things so complicated, and, at times, it would be much easier if we could just trade goods and services.

After all, this is how it used to be. You’d go to the doctor and bring produce from your garden.

Someone would help you fix your roof, and they got cheese and eggs. There seems to be a fair amount of this sort of thing in Bloomington. Maybe it’s because there tend to be a lot of folks without much money but with free time and skills to offer.

Perhaps there are many enterprising people who think outside the box to find a way to make things happen. I think this system has many advantages that we can investigate.

First, the value of the exchange is determined by the individuals and not an outside person. What is important to me might not be to you.

This also works with the strengths and preferences of those involved. I’m a disaster in the kitchen, so I would appreciate a home-cooked meal. You don’t like to get out in the hot sun, so then I can work in your yard.

The woman who directed the storytelling show I was in is also a career counselor. She mentioned that she will do a session for various jobs around her house, as she knows that many who are in need of her services probably also don’t have a lot of funds to pay for it. And let me just say that after going over there a few times, she can definitely use the cleaning help.

I decided this was a good deal. Even if her advice doesn’t pan out, then all I’m out are a couple of hours of my time, taking nice walks over there and getting exercise while I work. I am reminded why our grandparents didn’t have to go to gyms; they did physical labor.

It’s nice to come home tired and feeling like I’ve actually done something.

It seems like this is a less risky investment than using my money that I can then save for paying bills. I also get to make a human connection in this process rather than have a faceless exchange of funds.

All other things aside, I’m at least hanging out with someone who is an interesting person, which gives me motivation to keep returning.

Additionally, it gets me to think in terms of how much something is worth to me — am I willing to set aside that time, relative to what I’m getting in return? I think this is a good habit to get into, even if you are using money. Translate the cost of an item into how many hours of work at your job it would take to buy this thing. Do you still want it as much now?

The barter system helps us to think more about what we value and the real costs involved in obtaining what we want. I’ve read that we should pay for everything with cash because our spending seems more real to us than using credit or even debit cards. I would argue that the use of cash, and certainly credit, has driven our society to ever-increasing levels of materialism because we have substituted a symbol for the work required to obtain the purchase.

Trading goods and services drives home the point of how much you are actually “paying” for something and in turn makes you slow down to really think about what you need, when you consider what you have to go through to get it.

Maybe you’ll decide you need less and can work fewer hours as a result — and have more time to spend with family and friends.

This sort of paradigm shift would be easiest among individuals or those with small local businesses who would be more likely to work with you. (Yet another reason to eschew franchise establishments with their corporate policies.)

If you’re a business owner, it makes financial sense to give payment from your own merchandise. An item that would run me $10 in your store doesn’t actually cost you that same amount, so we both come out ahead.

If money is something that we’ve all agreed upon, then couldn’t we just as easily consent to some other way of doing things? Bartering may sound like a modern-day trend in kooky Bloomington, but I guarantee your ancestors a couple of generations back would feel right at home.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website,