Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bringing Back the Barter System

There’s a bowl of things I’ve not learned in the new world of journalism. I can write, but that’s just not enough. I need to know my way around the Web. I have to learn about blogging and how to use multimedia in my articles. I never dabbled with these programs before and unfortunately watching the news alone doesn’t make you a videographer through osmosis.

I needed to get ahead somehow and turned to my one sure skill: cooking.

My photographer and videographer friends would complain about being too busy to eat proper meals. While I, being a food junkie, would try out new recipes and enjoy my creations alone. I came up with a plan: start a barter system where I would cook for my multimedia pals in exchange for lessons in their areas of expertise.

My guest is a videographer and a vegetarian; he’s setting up his computer, which he calls his “machine,” on my kitchen table. It’s a rare treat for him to eat a proper meal instead of dry cereal or day old pizza. Tonight, at his request, I’m making Chinese food with fried bananas in rum sauce and a dollop of fresh cream. This meal will get me video editing lessons that would cost seventy-five dollars per hour for free. Not bad for a dinner that costs about ten dollars to make.

This happy marriage of eating and teaching has gone surprisingly well. However, you don’t need to know how to cook to have a barter system work for you. There are plenty other examples of trade exchange. From simple skills like dog walking or gardening to more professional skills like photography, accounting, yoga lessons, and website design.

We all have cast suspicion on bartering. The most common bartering experiences we hear about tend to be over large purchases. And when we do barter, it's usually with people who are professionals. When buying a house, we butt heads with brazen realtors. When buying a car, we struggle through negotiations with charming but fast-talking auto salespeople. This leaves us exhausted and suspicious. Did I just get ripped off? Could I have gotten this any cheaper?

But it's time we re-think bartering. Bartering is simple to do. You can place an ad on your city’s Craig’s list or find official local bartering sites. (Some of these websites are item specific.) There is a growing community of bartering that helps the cash-strapped individual and in our current economy there are more than a few.

When you place the ad, all you have to do is include the service you provide and the service you’re looking for. You will be notified when another person can match your offer. Barter systems require a lot of trust, so it is helpful to come up with a written contract for the exchange. If you don’t feel comfortable bartering with strangers, you can exchange skills with friends or family.

Remember that recipe for Pad Thai that you always wanted to learn from your best friend? Well it’s time to do her laundry in exchange for a free cooking lesson.

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