Bartering used to be a common occurrence when people had more of an item or skill than they did money.
Maybe you would see the doctor and pay him with some of your harvest. Maybe you would help a neighbor build a fence, and the neighbor would then share a portion of his meat with you.
As we came to have more money than time, bartering fell out of use. However, bartering has recently experienced a resurgence thanks to the economy.
I have bartered for a few things since I quit my full-time job and became a freelance writer. I bartered with my son’s dance teacher–my son got free tap dance lessons, and in return, we cleaned the studio for 2 hours once a month. Considering his lessons were $50 a month, we “made” $25 an hour. Not a bad exchange.
While I like to barter, I don’t do it often enough. My guess is that you probably don’t either. We can all learn from Mavis Butterfield, a blogger at One Hundred Dollars a Month.
Who Is Mavis?
Mavis is a woman who lives in suburbia and loves to garden. This year alone she grew almost 2,000 pounds of food in her back yard. She also challenges herself to spend no more than $100 a month to feed her family of 4 consisting of herself, her husband, and her two teenage children.
Sure, gardening helps offset the grocery budget, but her secret weapon is bartering.
Bartering with Mavis
As you can imagine, Mavis doesn’t have a lot of money in her $100 a month grocery budget to buy meat, but that isn’t a problem for Mavis. She just barters with her neighbors, including Francisco and Miss Hillbilly. Francisco even agreed to have the bartering session videotaped. I loved his expression when Mavis tried to barter “reclaimed” food, and he asks, “Is it safe?”. (Reclaimed food is discarded produce from the grocery store that the grocer sets aside and she picks up to feed to her chickens. If it is in good condition, she keeps it for her own family or to barter with neighbors.)
The video with Francisco landed both Mavis and Francisco on Headline News’ Making It in America series where they offered the skeptical host some tips on how to barter.
How would you like to get free chicken breasts? Recently her friend, Ramona, had to pick up 80 pounds of chicken breasts she had ordered.
The problem? She was due to go out of town the day the order was due. Instead, she asked Mavis to pick it up and trim the fat and put it in individual packages. Mavis did, and as their barter agreement, she got 30 pounds of the chicken for free!
She also keeps the good “reclaimed” food meant for the chickens. This may disgust some, but the produce is cleared from the store shelves just hours before she picks up the boxes. Some of her readers have also taken to getting reclaimed produce and share pictures of the bounty they find. What isn’t good enough to eat Mavis does give to the chickens.
The chickens provide Mavis with free eggs, and she has to spend very little to feed them because she often gets up to 4 boxes of reclaimed produce a week. The chickens also feast on the abundance of kale that she grows.
Finally, she coupons strategically. While many extreme couponers load up their carts with junk food, Mavis controls her shopping and couponing so that the majority of what she brings into her home is healthy. She often barters the groceries she gets for free after coupons like pasta.
How Does She Use the Money She Saves?
If you haven’t yet figured out that Mavis is extremely resourceful, how she spends the money will convince you.
Mavis uses the money she saves to travel to Europe. She has made at least two trips there with her savings, but on her most recent trip, she took advantage of the summer deals that European auto makers were offering–buy a car in a European country, and the car company would send you two tickets to that European country AND ship the car to the U.S. for free. Mavis bought a car, which she was already planning to do, and she and her daughter went to Europe for free and used the money she saved on groceries to pay their expenses.
Bartering is a lost art, but Mavis is doing her best to revive it. Clearly, bartering, along with a few other strategies, is allowing her to spend her money the way she would like, rather than paying hundreds of dollars a month to feed her family.
Bartering is indeed a lost art. I backpacked in South America for 8 months and was forced to learn to barter. I would strike a deal with everyone on every purchase from hostels, food, clothes, bus tickets and tours. My bartering skills while in South America allowed me to travel more. Mavis is a great barter and resourceful. I met a traveler who trekked Machu Pichu for free in exchange for carrying some equipment for the entire group. He saved roughly $500 US dollars! Farmers Market is the best place to barter in the US. You get the best deals when farmers market is about to end. When bartering it’s important to use cash. Cash is king.
Wow, what a success story! I may have to try bartering more. One of the best parts of living in the country is definitely that you can grow your own crops. Huge gardens are commonplace around where I live, but people tend to give away fresh produce out of the kindness of their hearts. I think we should barter more, and maybe it will help us get rid of the stuff we don’t need!