Spare your cash, barter your services instead

My first barter was last month -- a friend asked me to re-write her resume in exchange for making a few dinners' worth of her delicious soup. Simple enough. Then a business associate asked me for a similar swap -- editing copy for his Web site in exchange for two ski lift tickets at Squaw Valley. Not too shabby.

Then I went on to Craig's List for the Bay Area and clicked on "Barter." Lots of electricians, salon owners and tech support people looking to trade their services for tax-return prep. Hey, I could offer my TurboTax skills and and get my ceiling fan fixed, my PC data backed up properly, and a haircut to boot. Even despite my freelance writing assignments being slow to pay, this bartering thing could be a good way to save cash and still get the goods and services I need.
You're probably thinking the same thing, and many of you have probably bartered with friends, family and even the outside world. The rocky economy means bartering is back and booming right now, reports USA Today. Craig's List, my main go-to trading site, has seen barter-related postings go up 100% between January 2008 and January 2009.

A 21st-century word for bartering is "time banking," in which you spend an hour or two doing something for someone in your neighborhood, those hours go into a Time Bank and turn into Time Dollars, which you can spend to have someone else do something for you. Sounds like a good idea because bartering seems to work better on a local scale -- doing plumbing or cooking for someone two states away just doesn't seem feasible. Time banking was created by a nonprofit called Time Banks USA -- it has time banks in 44 states and offers start-up kits on their Web site if you want to open one up in your community.

One misperception about bartering: It's not officially free, according to the Feds. In his story, Michael Estrin says the IRS views bartering as income and therefore taxable as non-cash exchanges on your tax return. So if you want to be an honest taxpayer and declare your barters, do some research online to see how much your good or service is valued at before you barter it. To make that more appealing, do the same research for the goods/services you are bartering for. You'll probably feel happier knowing you saved that cash for something else -- and paid for it instead with your own good, hard work.
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