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    Fair Trade | Summer 2011 Out Here Magazine

    Try getting what you want without spending a dime

    By Noble Sprayberry

    With a little good faith, common sense, and the art of the deal, you'll find that cash or credit is not always required. Try bartering for what you want.

    Most people have no idea there is another way other than having money, borrowing money, or using credit cards," says Karen Hoffman, of St. Louis, Mo. "But, there are other ways to obtain things."

    She and co-author Shera Dalin wrote the book, The Art of Barter: How to Trade for Almost Anything. Hoffman ran her own bartering company, which helped facilitate deals, from 1987-1999.

    Hoffman puts bartering to work in her life, including once trading for a portion of her daughter's college tuition in return for providing the school with advertising space in a magazine she produced. But, the idea is not unique to her.

    When the pork industry faced tough times about 10 years ago, Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., created a program to allow parents to trade hogs at market value for tuition. The program is no longer active.

    In fact, it's possible to barter for nearly any type of product or service. A woman worried about her boyfriend's health bartered his auto mechanic skills in exchange for a physical that identified prostate cancer. "Bartering saved his life," says Hoffman, who can rattle off story after bartering story.

    The Golden Rule of Bartering

    Bartering falls into broad loose categories: personal agreements brokered one-on-one and deals created through bartering exchanges, which manage the details for a fee. Now most exchanges operate online, expanding the reach of would-be barterers.

    Regardless of the medium, Hoffman suggests guidelines for worthwhile bartering.

    The first rule is simple, and most important. "I really feel that to make a deal a win-win, you must treat that other person totally the way you want to be treated," she says.

    Begin by taking stock. Search the attic. Sort the basement. Consider job skills or hobbies that might offer value to others. "I tell people to write out an inventory of what they might barter," she says. "We often take for granted something that would really be wanted by someone else."

    Next, consider pricing and keep it straightforward. "Is something there worth $10, or is it worth $100?" she says. "I tell people to look at barter as a cash equivalent." Use that to barter for items of a like price.

    Once price comes into consideration, the art of a deal plays a role. Some people choose to go back and forth before agreeing. Hoffman prefers a low-key approach.

    "You don't have to be a haggler to barter," she says. "One of the things I do is to ask a question that gives the other person some comfort. I might ask, 'This might be a crazy idea, but would you consider É?' You give them space and then you start exploring the possibilities."

    Understand that each deal carries real responsibility. A verbal agreement can be considered legally binding, but a paper trail never hurts, particularly when dealing with larger transactions.

    "I try to tell people that if they would get a lawyer for a transaction that's in cash, then get a lawyer for that transaction if it was barter," she says.

    While barter does not involve the exchange of cash, don't forget to consider the Internal Revenue Service. When trading a service representing a primary source of income, such as a mechanic bartering car repair or a baker a birthday cake, the IRS may consider that item or service taxable.

    One guiding rule should always come first. "If you treat each other well," Hoffman says, "you'll make a deal happen."

    Georgia writer Noble Sprayberry has been known to make a trade or two.