Bartering: A new trend that will save you money

Are you a knitter? Or do you make elaborate cakes in your spare time? If so, you can barter. Barter Babe, Shannon Lee Simmons, shares how you can trade your skills to save you money.

By Jill Buchner

Bartering: A new trend that will save you money
Photography courtesy of Shannon Lee Simmons
Shannon Lee Simmons is a financial planner, blogger and founder of The New School of Finance. She also founded the Barter Babes Project. What's a Barter 
Babe, you ask? Well, Simmons basically invented the concept in 2010, when she quit her job on Bay Street to survive solely on bartering for a year. Since then, she's been on the leading edge of personal finance. We talked to her about new ways to save.

Canadian Living:
Bartering is such an old-school concept. Is it coming back?

Shannon Lee Simmons:
Absolutely. I didn't realize when I first started that I was on the cusp of this big movement. It was pretty cool. I became part of the 
bartering community, which was so much bigger than I ever thought. As the economy stumbles along and we get pulled tighter and tighter, people get really excited about ways they can stretch their dollars further.

CL:
What do people need to know to 
start bartering?

SLS:
I was totally unprepared. And so the first few months were absolutely brutal, because it's a skill. It's not hard; you just need to know what to do. I learned that everybody has something to offer, and you can save a lot of money if you do 
it right.

CL:
How can people recognize what they have to offer?

SLS: Most people think they have to barter what they do for a living. But you should look at your whole skill set, things you do for fun. So if you're a really good knitter, you can create something or you can teach it. People are really into free education these days, and if you can sit down and teach someone how to knit, that's of value to barter.

CL:
How would you suggest people 
start bartering?

SLS
: People probably do it already and don't even know it. Like, "Hey, can you watch my kids on Friday and I'll snow-blow your driveway?" That's bartering. It's basically making a community with somebody and exchanging services.

I suggest joining an online community. There are a ton of bartering sites in Canada. One of them is Swapsity. Everyone there is willing to barter. To start your own community, I would try a swap meet, which is a fancy way of saying a bunch of people get together and bring stuff to trade. I would probably start with a clothing swap. A lot of people have clothes they're never going to wear again. Instead of throwing them out, you can turn them into currency and trade them for something else you want. You can also do it with electronics, books or movies. I have fancy dress swaps with my friends. I haven't paid for a dress for a corporate Christmas party in three years. It's a wonderful way to save a few hundred bucks.

CL: Now that we're on board with bartering, what's the next big thing to look out for in personal finance?

SLS:
Finding creative ways to make money is a huge trend. So things like Airbnb, for example: You can turn your house into a bed-and-breakfast. I rented out my place on Airbnb for a weekend, so I made $200 while I was on vacation. Some other ways to make extra cash are through Etsy, a free site where people can sell arts and crafts online, or by renting out parts of your home. I suggest people rent out their parking spots. In many urban centres, parking is difficult to find. You can charge anywhere from $80 to $250 per month for your parking space. 

For more money-saving tips, check out these smartphone apps.

This story was originally titled "The New Trend in Trading" in the February 2014 issue.

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