Literally. You are the best asset you’ve got.
Are you a farmer who can grow a crop of corn or tomatoes? Are you a skilled mechanic who could help neighbors repair their machines?
The skills and production you bring to your community are what pay for your meals, home, and everything else. The money you use to make the transactions is just a means of transferring those skills to others.
You’ve probably read about the current coin shortage in America. While that’s inconvenient, businesses have been finding ways around it by using electronic payments or simply rounding to the nearest dollar.
But if money failed you altogether, what would you do to get the food and supplies you need? The answer is simple, barter.
Your skills and production are the real value you possess. And they can be traded. Even grandma’s banana bread is a skill with value.
As COVID-19 has added uncertainty and dislocation to economies around the world, people have been turning to barter. They’re relying on the best asset they’ve got, themselves. BBC’s Jessica Jones reports:
London-based nurse Marjorie Dunne joined Barter United Kingdom after spending five days in hospital with coronavirus in April. The group, which she originally joined to get rid of a few unwanted items unearthed during spring cleaning, ended up helping Dunne through one of the toughest times of her life.
“It really helped me out with meals for my family,” says Dunne. “I didn’t have the energy to cook, I was spending a fortune on online grocery shopping and having meals brought to the house was a tremendous help.” Members of Barter United Kingdom, which started on 23 April and had 1,300 members as of early August, swapped curries, roti and cakes for Dunne’s dresses and DVDs.
Around the world, people have been turning to swapping, trading and bartering during the coronavirus pandemic, whether to do their bit for the local community, save money or simply source hard-to-find baking ingredients. With economic uncertainty looming and anxiety levels soaring, barter is becoming an emerging alternative solution to getting by – and staying busy – amid Covid-19.
‘Barter was a natural solution’
The increase in bartering is nowhere better exemplified than in Fiji, which inspired Dunne’s London group. The country has a long tradition of barter, known as ‘veisa’. It’s only grown amid Covid-19, and Fijians have harnessed modern technology to connect even more people.
“I knew that money would be tight to stretch out and even harder to come by. I asked myself what happens when there’s no more money? Barter was a natural solution to that,” says Marlene Dutta, who started the Barter for a Better Fiji group on 21 April. Its membership is just under 190,000 – more than 20% of Fiji’s population. Items changing hands have run the gamut – pigs for kayaks, a violin for a leather satchel and doughnuts for building bricks – but the most commonly requested items have been groceries and food.
“The primary reason for setting up the Facebook group was to help offer a solution to our current economic situation,” says Dutta. Fiji’s tourism-dependent economy has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic, with an estimated 100,000 people losing jobs in an industry that contributes around 30% to Fiji’s GDP and employs around a third of Fiji’s total labour force.
“The economic hardships people are coping with are driving the rediscovery of bartering,” says Shera Dalin, co-author of The Art of Barter. “The same thing happened during the Great Recession. When times get harder, people turn to barter.” Similarly, more than 300 barter organisations cropped up during the early years of the Great Depression in the United States, says Dalin. “American currency was hard to come by during the Depression and barter helped assuage that need,” she adds.
While Fiji’s barter explosion has affected the whole country, other groups across the world have been working at state, city or community levels.
“I invited all of my friends and it just grew. We had 1,000 people in less than 24 hours,” says Veronica Coon, who started her Facebook barter group in the US state of Nevada on 15 March. It now has more than 5,600 members. The most popular items traded have been hard-to-find groceries like flour, yeast and eggs, as well as baby wipes, disinfecting spray and masks.
Along with goods, some people have been trading another precious commodity that they may have had more of recently – time.
‘Time banking’, which started in Japan in the 1970s, and in the US in 1992, is seeing a jump in popularity. Members of a time bank spend one hour helping another member, and can receive one hour of help in return. People offer and receive things such as piano lessons, painting services or language teaching.
“We have definitely had more interest as an organisation, with four new time banks starting after the onset of lockdown,” says Kerri Tyler, community engagement and communications manager at Timebanking UK. Founded in 2002, the group has never seen such a spike before, adds Tyler.
During Covid-19, many UK time banks have been helping the local community. In Gloucester, members of the Fair Shares time bank have been picking up prescriptions, shopping and making food parcels for those hardest-hit by the economic crisis. In Merseyside, the Our Time time bank, whose aim is to tackle social isolation faced by people with mental health problems and help them engage in the local community, has been helping connect isolated people by setting up video calls and quizzes as well as doing regular wellbeing checks on its most vulnerable members.
Read more from Jones here.
Barter can be for retirees too. Even in good times, if you enjoy putting the skills you’ve honed over a lifetime to work, you owe it to yourself to continue doing what you’re good at.
Action Line: Assess your own skills. Dig deep. You may have a hobby with value that you haven’t even considered.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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