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Trade for the Good Stuff

If you are committed to paying down debts you probably have experienced the momentary sadness of finding something you would like, but realizing your budget won’t allow it. Whatever that was, it might be more available to you than you thought, because of one simple fact: You’re good at something.

Maybe you don’t get paid for what you’re good at, but that could be because you’ve been unwilling to look at a broader definition of “getting paid.”

Many business owners engage in the practice. For example, an advertising company might create an ad for a restaurant and get paid in $500 in gift cards to the restaurant. Why not just pay cash? Because for the advertiser the gift cards might feel as good as cash. For the restaurant those $500 gift cards will cost them much less than that, because there is profit built into dinner prices. So it’s a win for both sides.

This happens all the time. It’s legal, as long as you report it as income to the IRS. That means you have to keep track of what value you received for your work. If you don’t do it a lot, it lessens the chance that it creates a problem for you at tax time.

Bartering works even if you’re just practicing your skill as a hobby. Maybe you are an excellent cake baker and you know someone with season tickets to a baseball team. Trade a cake for tickets. Can you write? If you were an English major in college you can finally make good use of that degree and write some promotional copy or edit for a local business.  Don’t do it for free, but tell the business you’re willing to do it for trade. Then let the negotiations begin.

This might be a feasible way for you to get things that right now you think you can’t afford, because you are so committed to paying down debt. You can continue to execute your plan for financial freedom and still find ways to partake of things you thought were out of reach.

While you don’t have to be in business, bartering might be a good way to build one. For some of your potential clients, whatever you offer might be more attractive if bartering is on the table. They feel like they’re getting a deal and you get something you otherwise would not have purchased. And in the process you have created a customer who might ask for more work and are willing to pay in cash. And that customer can refer other potential clients. Before long, you’ve got a full-fledged business.

Done well, bartering can be a bonanza. One USA Today writer said he got a new deck and patio at his house in exchange for work he did. He traded his time for their product and ended up adding value to his house.

It’s probably best to start small, but think about some of the things you want and consider whether your skills could get you those things without derailing your budget.

Published Jan 15, 2014.