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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Art of Trading

One of the most sustainable ways to invest in goods or services is to trade with others. This skill can take some time to master, while you navigate your own interests and find out what you're good at. But if you have 3 or 4 products that you are talented at making, or some services to provide, you will find that if you look in the right places, you can find people willing to trade for just about anything.

Trading goods and services can make you feel free. In a consumerist world where we rely heavily on department stores and businesses, using some nice wholesome work ethic to move ahead can really bring out the goodness in a person. You feel proud of yourself for taking a risk, and you have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Everybody loves a good bargain, and trading can help you find that bargain, without cutting coupons or standing in line at the store.

In my old neck of the woods where we had horses, it was pretty commonplace to trade things like stall cleaning and excercise riding for lessons from our riding instructors. We could often also "buy" our trainers' services with more in depth barn chores like cleaning tack, bathing horses, or feeding their livestock.

As I've gotten older, I've gained a wider variety of skills and abilities. I began wanting to learn more ways to make and do things for our household. I wanted to make winter hats and preserve our own food. As time went on, I tried my hand at more and more different hobbies, and I realized I had something to offer. So whenever I needed something new, I tried to find ways to trade for it before going out and buying it.

Some trades I've made in the past:
-Homemade jams and pickles in return for a friend's home harvested honey
-Seeds collected from my garden in exchange for seeds of varieties I didn't already have
-Pickled peppers for fresh peppers
-I gave fresh eggs to an acquaintance who heard I needed some weeds pulled when I was pregnant.
-I did some sewing for a relative, and in return, he did some yardwork for me.
-I did a different sewing project for a friend who helped us move
-Helped someone with their website design in exchange for some products they were offering
-Took care of a neighbor's pets while they were out of town, in exchange for them to feed my chickens while I was gone
-Neighbors let me pick my own fruit off their trees, in exchange for preserves
-Homemade jelly and relish in exchange for a friend's homemade lotion

Growing up in a ranching community taught me a lot about the goodness and wholeness that hard work has to offer. There is something much more personal and heartfelt about doing a favor in exchange for a favor, as opposed to just handing over a check or some cash. When you work hard for something, you appreciate it more. And vice versa, when you put effort into the wellbeing of someone else, they appreciate you more. I don't mean to say that you should only do things for people if you expect to get something in return, that doesn't align with my values at all. But for the purpose of this specific topic, trading goods and services as an investment in something you would normally spend money on, it's not a bad thing to build relationships and gain a reputation as someone who can be relied on to produce quality work.

Now, depending on where you live and what skills or services you have to offer, you may have to adjust how you go about making trades. In a small farming community, it's really easy to find people who are willing to trade because it's something they've been doing all their lives. In a city, or if you're in a new place where you don't know many people on the other hand, it may be more difficult. That's where the internet comes in handy. (Craigslist!)

The first step to perfecting your trade game is to find out what you're good at, or at least what you're willing to do. Examples of common services might be yardwork, tree trimming, house cleaning, dog walking, car repair, carpentry, haircutting,  etc. Something else to consider would be teaching a skill that you're proficient in. If you're a talented seamstress, or you have knowledge in food preservation, pottery making, or cooking, you could potentially trade your knowledge for something you need.

The next thing to have in your back pocket are some goods. When I make pickles and jam every summer, I always make some extra to have on the shelf as "currency." If you know how to make soap or lotions, those can be good trade items, as well as dried herbs, fresh garden vegetables, knitted hats, and simple sewing projects like hot pads, kitchen towels, canvas bags etc. If you know how to woodwork, you're in even better luck. I know people who have gotten gorgeous custom benches, cutting boards, and even saddle racks in exchange for leatherwork and tractor work.

Get creative and hone in on some of your skills. Think of things that could be offered to anyone, and also think of some specialty skills that might be valued in high regard by very few. Then, the next time you need something, try to think and ask around to find out if there is someone you might be able to trade with for that item or service.

Some examples of trading goods and services:
-Teach someone how to crochet their own hats in exchange for them teaching you how to grow vegetables.
-Offer to clean up your neighbor's fall leaves when you ask them for help putting winter tires on your car.
-Make some small drawstring bags to give to a fellow zerowaster in exchange for their homemade lotion or chapstick.
-Trade a few jars of homemade jam for someone's old T-posts to use in your garden
-Bake a loaf of homemade bread or a pie for someone who is willing to give you scrap wood for a project.
-Photograph someone's wedding in exchange for their marketing services.

If you have a very specific skill, you could even have an ongoing arrangement with someone:
-Give weekly haircuts to the farmstand owner down the street in exchange for fresh eggs and produce
-Feed someone's goats and chickens for them a few times a week in exchange for milk
-Website maintenance or business marketing in exchange for services that a local business provides.

The list goes on and on. It's really up to you to decide what to offer someone. It helps if you know the person, but if you don't, you can always ask what they are interested in and give them a list of options. Or say something like, "Hey, I heard you know how to repair shoes, I have a pair that I can't afford to re-sole, what could I do in exchange for your talents?" They might say, "Well, I need someone to stack that pile of firewood over there." And there you have it. It's really quite simple, but an old fashioned way of doing things. And nowadays, people are more accustomed to the cash transaction. It's alright to do that, obviously, we do it almost daily. But when you're able to induce a trade like this, it's a remarkable feeling and it saves you money.

Now, how do you find someone to trade with? Well, you have to ask. You always get different answers, but you never know unless you ask. And sometimes a negotiation takes a while. Recently, I saw some wooden toys online that I would really love to have for my son. They were handcrafted in Europe and I figured the shipping would be astronomical, so I decided to see if someone closer could make them for us.  I know my step dad has some woodworking tools so I asked my mom if they would be able to make one of the toys for us. She said they probably can, but if not, her neighbor is actually a wood worker and has all the special tools for that project. So instantly I told her that I would be willing to pay him to make these toys if he wants, but if he was interested in a trade, I really would rather do that. I gave her a list of some items that I have available for trade and she is going to forward the information to her neighbor. He will mull over the offer and look into what the project entails, then get back to me on what he would like in return. So making a connection is as easy as asking a friend. Even if they can't do it, they might know someone who can.

Sometimes, people just want the cold hard cash, and that's ok too. We all have bills to pay! It's up to you to decide whether you want to hand over the money, or keep looking around to try and find someone willing to trade. For time sensitive services, it's often best to just pay someone. But if what you're looking for isn't really urgent, it can be fun to keep looking around and do some negotiating.

The best place to start looking is with people you know. But if you run into a dead end there, use the internet or facebook groups to try and find what you need. If you see an item or service listed for a reasonable price, message the seller and ask for a trade. Sure, they might say no, but it never hurts to ask!!

When you make someone an offer, take care not to lowball. You don't want to make an offer so high that you get taken for granted, but you also don't want to offend anyone, or make them think that you don't value what they have up for grabs. If they are providing you with a service, offer to provide them with an equal amount of work. That applies to any kind of labor, or the amount of time you've put into creating an item. Be fair. And if someone does exceptionally good work for you, make sure to throw in a little extra, on top of the original agreement. An extra jar of jelly, or a few veggies from your garden will let the other person know you appreciate them.

All in all, trading requires a little more patience and ingenuity than just going to the store to pick something up. But in exchange for your efforts, you'll make friends, you'll have things you wouldn't normally be able to afford (or don't want to spend money on),  and you'll be seen as a person of good standing, who lives by their word and works hard. Most importantly, you'll save money for your family to use elsewhere, and you'll be investing in your homestead by way of good old fashioned resourcefulness.

Oh and one last thing, I forgot to mention; While I'm not a full-blown conspiracy theorist, nor am I much of a "prepper," I do like being prepared for emergencies to a certain extent. Strange, unexpected things do happen in this world. That being said, if the proverbial s*** ever really does hit the fan, money won't mean anything. And in the meantime, nobody collects tax on trade between neighbors ;)


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