Bartering: How to, the Best Barter Websites, & Why National Barter Networks Fail

Bartering is back! Sure, it never completely disappeared, but it was on vacation for a handful of decades. And if the great recession taught us anything, it’s that resourcefulness and frugality is ‘hip’ again. And it’s not going away anytime soon. If you’ve never bartered, this post will serve as a primer to discuss what bartering is, why it is still primarily a local phenomenon despite technology advancements, and where to do it.

What is bartering?

Covering the basics here. Young audience, old school practice. You never know. Bartering is defined as trading your goods or services for another persons goods or service without a monetary exchange.

Why Barter?

To save money! Bartering can save you some serious cash and it’s easier than ever before to find someone who is willing to barter with you. You may not be inclined to trade your graphic design services for 3 chickens from my backyard, but I guarantee that someone out there is. Bartering can also be a great community builder when services are exchanged – you’re potentially connecting with someone locally, sharing value, and filling a need, all to save each other money. That’s a beautiful thing! Just like urban homesteading and frugality, in general, bartering is a practice championed by those seeking a thrifty, self-sustainable lifestyle.


Despite Technology Advancements, Bartering is Still Local

Unfortunately, there are very few legit bartering websites out there. The model just does not work effectively. Here’s why:

  1. Shipping: You have to mail it. This makes trading anything over a few pounds exorbitantly expensive. Immediately, your bargaining universe is limited to very light objects, and the only bartering sites out there have a heavy focus on books, clothing, dvd’s, and cd’s. The bartering sites that have survived, focus primarily on these media objects.
  2. Services are Local: Service trades are primarily limited to white collar services. If you offer up your stellar plumbing skills to a national barter exchange, you’re going to struggle to get any takers. One site,, is trying to take things national, but only time will tell if it takes off (update: it looks like it didn’t). In order to make it work, you need a huge user-base, which ultimately makes it easy to connect with users at a local level, a la couchsurfing for travel.
  3. The Base Value is Missing: Part of the beauty of bartering is being able to assess something that you can physical see and touch or use a skill that you have. Again, only possible at the local level.
  4. Critical Mass: Bartering needs a very large user base to hit a critical mass where it’s appealing to others. Therefore, it’s very hard to build a user base from scratch. Why would I become an active member of a bartering website when there were only a few hundred or thousands users nationwide?
  5. Hard to Build Consensus: If a bartering site is going to work on a national level, my suspicion is that it would need to work as a ‘credit bank’ of sorts. In other words, I would clean another user’s gutters to get a credit and another user would fix my PC for a credit. I would trade my old bicycle for a credit, while someone 2,000 miles away could trade a car tire to a local user for a credit. The problem with this model is there is that some goods or services are definitely worth more than others. Without joint member agreement on how many ‘points’ a particular good or service is worth, it would be easy for abusers to game the system. At that point, you might as well just go right back to the common currency model.

Craigslist for Bartering

Due to the challenges that I highlighted, I am under the impression that the only legit national place to barter goods and services is Craigslist. Why does Craigslist work?

  • It’s local.
  • It’s free.
  • It has a critical mass.

Is the classified ad style of Craigslist the most effective interface for a bartering exchange? Definitely not. Is it the best option out there? Probably.

How to Barter on Craigslist

To barter on Craigslist:

  1. Go to your local city page.
  2. Under the ‘for sale’ section, click ‘barter’.
  3. There’s really two ways to barter on Craigslist. If you have something to offer, list it, along with the goods and services you would accept in return. The other way is to search for what you are looking for and send an email to the lister with what you have to offer in return. Of course, you can also search all for sale items and email the lister to see if they would accept something you have in exchange for their goods or services.
  4. It’s as simple as that! You can create RSS feeds on keywords for exactly what kind of service or good you are looking for so that you are made aware of any new listings. It might take you a while to find exactly what you’re looking for and be able to offer something that the other party would accept in return, but it might be worth the wait. And you might just make a new friend in your community in the process.

Bartering Taxes

The last thing I’ll leave you with is that although little known (and probably rarely practiced), you could potentially owe bartering taxes for your goods and service exchanges. More on this in an upcoming post.

Bartering Discussion:

  • Have you found any other effective bartering exchange at the local or national level outside of Craigslist? What website or local group was it?
  • Have you bartered before? What did you exchange and receive?
  • Do you have a great bartering horror story or a good story?

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  4. John Bialk
  5. The boss

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