How does Bartering Work?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Bartering is a time-honored medium of exchange that allows people to exchange goods and services for products they want or need. The process is very simple and lends itself easily to many situations. Here are some examples of how a barter or trade can work in a number of different settings, allowing both parties in the exchange to benefit.

If a person is good at gardening, they can barter by offering their skills in exchange for something they need or want.
If a person is good at gardening, they can barter by offering their skills in exchange for something they need or want.

Perhaps one of the most common types of barter exchange known today is the swap meet. As the name implies, people gather in a common location for the purpose of exchanging or swapping items they own for items other people bring to the meet. The object is to acquire anything from furnishings to clothing or tools that is needed, while in turn passing on items that others find attractive or necessary. Neighborhoods or larger communities can engage in this type of bartering by meeting in a common location such as a park or community center. Once all the individual booths are set in place, traders look over the items on display and make offers to exchange something they own for something they want or need. Ideally, at the end of the day everyone goes home with something they want, without spending any money at all.

Swap meets are popular places to barter.
Swap meets are popular places to barter.

The process of bartering can also involved an exchange of services instead of swapping goods. For example, someone who is proficient with yard work may offer to mow a neighbor’s lawn. The neighbor, who happens to be an excellent cook, in turn cooks a full meal in exchange for the yard work. Both parties receive something they want by offering the other the benefit of their individual services.

Small businesses sometimes engage this practice as a way to get some necessary task done without putting additional strain on the budget. The business owner may want to set up a website, but has neither the knowledge nor the resources to accomplish the task. By striking a deal with someone who can design and host the web site to provide a specified amount of free services in exchange for the design and hosting, each party benefits from the bartering.

It is possible to engage in bartering in all sorts of situations. Two friends who wear similar sizes can exchange articles of clothing, allowing both to enjoy new additions to their wardrobes. Adolescents may barter or exchange collectibles such as baseball cards in order to built their collections. The bottom line is to offer something you have in exchange for something you need or want.

Today, it is also possible to barter via the Internet. Web sites devoted to swapping allow people to barter everything from books to vehicles with people all over the world. Online classifieds make it possible for people to offers goods in exchange for something else they need. These tools take the local swap meet and make it a global endeavor rather than a local one.

A concert promoter may exchange tickets to a show for advertising with a radio station.
A concert promoter may exchange tickets to a show for advertising with a radio station.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

When I was in college there was a bartering day every semester in the quad. People would drag out anything that they were willing to part with and you would start making deals. The only rule was that there couldn't be any money and there couldn't be any drugs or alcohol.

It was a ton of fun and it made a lot of sense. I know myself and most of the people I knew took way too much stuff to college and set about accumulating even more. I was always eager to get rid of things and see what I could get in return.


Can anyone recommend some barter websites? I know about Craigslist of course, but are there others?


Has anyone ever heard about that guy who started with a paperclip and made a series of trades until he had the deed to a house? It is easy to find online and as near as I can tell it is all real.

This is an amazing story and also an inspiring example of all that you can get in life without money. I am not suggesting that we all trade for our houses, but I am starting to wonder why we all have mortgages.


@artlover - I am not an expert, but I think that bartering tends to be unofficial, so if the two parties involved do not enter into some kind of contract there is really no way to protect one of them if the other one does something unscrupulous.

This is a risk, but it doesn't make bartering not worth doing. Most people I have bartered with have a sincere spirit of fairness. They do not want to cheat you, they just want to make an equal trade.


I love bartering. I have done it in my personal life as well as my professional life.

I was wondering, are there any laws or rules of bartering that protects you if something unforeseen happens and there is one party unhappy afterwards?

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