Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bartering in a new economy

A lot of people have been discussing using bartering as a method of exchanging goods and services in the new economy, one where jobs may be scarce and the money tight, but where the need for exchange still exists.

Well, a Seattle company has created a website, called Dibspace, where you can post and exchange bartered services and goods. Basically the way it works is that you offer your services for a certain number of "dibits". Each dibit is equivalent to one dollar. So, let's say I sold my services providing canning lessons to someone for 25 dibits. I now have a credit that I can use for another service on the site, say housecleaning, window washing, sock folding, whatever is being offered. (For more detailed info you can read the FAQ.) The site does provide the appropriate tax forms at the end of the year as there are tax liabilities with bartered services.

The nice thing about Dibspace is not only is it free (for now), but you don't have to find someone to match an exchange with since you are bartering for dibits. It's an interesting concept and one might wonder why not dispense with the dibits business and just use dollars altogether instead? Their site offers the following answer:

Dibits pick up where the dollar leaves off. Even in a strong economy there's a whole lot of productive hours that go unfilled. Why? Because consumers don't always have enough dollars to afford to consume it all. To fill that gap, a specialized currency is actually necessary.

Consider the current economy. Cash is getting harder to come by and people are spending less. As a result, businesses are getting less work and consumers have more unmet needs. In economics-speak, we're value rich but cash poor. makes it possible for businesses and consumers to continue to trade even when the US dollar isn't up to the job.

This isn't the only online bartering website. The issue with Dibspace, at this point, is that it's local to Seattle only. There are other online bartering sites that are national, like Joe Barter and ITEX, but you have to register to view data or make an offer and there just isn't much there in the way of services. Basically, the problem here too is that you have to find someone willing to accept some exchange that you can provide for their goods or services.

These sorts of sites offer some practical services (accounting, web design, etc.) along with more recreational things like pet portraits, photography and the like. I would love if there were a site similar to Dibspace that hooked up people needing basic homesteading goods and services in a similar fashion since finding someone to trade services where both parties match what they need is difficult.

Would you be interested in this sort of homestead bartering website? What kind of services would you be able to offer?


belinda said...


That sounds like an online version of LETS, Local Energy Transfer Scheme, the main problem with many of these schemes is getting usership high enough so that there is an active trading network both buyers and sellers. The online component because it could more easily accessed a larger number of people, ie you don't need to know the secret handshake to find out when meetings are :-), could make some of these systems work a lot more effectively.

Thanks for the food for thought.

Kind Regards

Eco Yogini said...

this is interesting.

Actually- at home in my parents village a lot of people use the "bartering" system with fish... as most of them are fishermen. Although they probably wouldn't call it that.

Just this weekend my father gave lobsters for diving services. However, the "tax" aspect is never addressed....

Anonymous said...

Wow, I really like this idea. Being uptight and shy,I have always felt totally embarrassed about bartering and would rather just pay the full price and get the hell out of there. But if there was a pre-agreed on amount it would really smooth the process. Having sustainable homestead lessons would be awesome and I'd be willing to teach anything I could in return.

Anna M said...

It's kind of funny but I bake bread for a neighbor often and he lets me harvest wood from his land. Bartering? or just being neighborly? One requires taxes paid, one does not. I know which I prefer.

Sue said...

this seems silly. I do a fair amount of bartering, and the main advantage is that you can create and strengthen local relationships while getting something you need. There's a strong element of trust involved that I wouldn't have with an anonymous free website (that could very well go down and take my dibits with it any day in this economy). Plus, half the point of bartering is that it's off the record. Maybe I'm just grumpy today, but it seems like an unwieldy and impersonal way of accomplishing what should be done in person, by creating individual connections within the community.

hmd said...

That's pretty neat. I've been doing some bartering at our farmers' market with my whole wheat bread. And I plan to do more of it when all those greens I just planted are ready to harvest.

A couple of the market vendors and I were talking about how bartering used to be the way of things (of course it makes it difficult for the government to tax us that way). I don't know if it was a better way or not, but it's working out GREAT for me so far.

As far as what I can barter - I have taught others to can their own foods in exchange for some of the product we can that day; I have bartered bread for local canned tomatoes and also for freshly ground flour; and I host booths at festivals and fairs around town promoting the farmers market - in return the farmers give me all kinds of goodies (veggies, trail mix, jams and jellies, homemade desserts, eggs...)

Greenpa said...

I like it. It's another pathway, and could/should easily lead to the more personalized kinds of informal swaps. It has a lot of similarity to the "local currencies" now cropping up in a bunch of places. The oldest local currency is actually from Ithaca, New York (around Cornell University) - the Ithaca Hour; launched in 1991- and still going.

Any way that works- is the right way, I think.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Neat idea. I still prefer to barter under-the-table with people I know... I've said before that I'll do work on my family's farm in exchange for produce, my husband will help a friend split wood for some of the wood, etc.

I think it's important to make these interactions in person, since that's part of building community. However, I can see the place for the online version, too.

tyKa said...

TimeBanking is another option, and it is not taxable. We have one started in Mendocino County, CA and we love it. There are other communities with larger time banks that you can look at too.

You can start your own at

Laura said...

I have to offer:
Home/office organization
I'll run your garage sale!
How to ride the bus/Bus Buddy
Basic knitting skills
a fabric shower curtain
knitted cotton dish scrubbies
a project sewn from a pattern
very basic tayloring and repair
basic hand and sewing machine skills
myself as a weed puller, mulch layer, all round garden minion
Loan/trade for some of the books I own.

I would like:
someone with goats to 'mow' my lawn.
canning instruction/equipment share
glass window replacement, materials provided
borrow a ladder
foraging tutorial
farming/gardening experience
frozen home cooked meals in glass dishes
use of an apple press
intermediate level yoga instruction
meal planning help
and of course, someone to do my taxes. ;)

Great idea. Now that I have my preliminary lists, I'm off to check out Dibspace.

Tara said...

I really prefer to barter locally and in person, and to that end, I feel like we already have such an outlet - craigslist!

I do firmly support bartering as a means of exchange though, no matter how people choose to do it!

Laura said...

I'm checking out Dibspace and not sure that it's for me but I may still give it a try. Tara has a point...Craigslist may be just as good.

The Internetter said...

I've actually been meaning to do exactly this at my local community garden: offer to help in exchange for any vegetables they might have (since I can't have a garden of my own). Even if I technically get less value in vegetables than my services would be, I still want to do it just for the opportunity to garden.

But in the wider world, bartering seems annoyingly difficult. It's hard enough to sell something, let alone trying to find a match of what you want and what someone else wants. That's not to say I don't think people should do it; it's just that it's not easy.

Robin said...

I would be interested in doing bartering for everything... I think it would be really neat. Let's say I buy a house and land outright, have no mortgage, and have solar power, and use rain water. I barter for everything else that I need.

If I never use money, then how can I pay my taxes? I would have to just sell my goods for money, right? There's no other option?

blondeoverboard said...

we have something similar in houston. an aquaintence owns a landscape business. she and her husband traded their services for dental work for themselves and their teenage boys. the midwife i used to work with traded a birth for remodeling on the birthcenter. i want a skylight installed in my garage and i'm offering my services as a nurse in exchange for the labor (i buy the materials). it's the first time i've tried it so i'm curious to see how things work out.

Anonymous said...

Hi All - Thanks for the great writeup, and thanks to everyone for their feedback!

We just launched Dibspace about two months ago, and we've been incredibly excited to see the positive reaction to it throughout the Seattle area.

Sue - You make a great point. One of our goals for Dibspace is to strengthen local community ties and provide Seattle-area small businesses with more contacts and clients, and hopefully many more paying customers when the economy starts rebounding.

Heather - I'd love to see you join the site. I'm sure there are tons of people on Dibspace already who'd pay dibits for your bread. I know I would! The same would go for any farmers you know. I'm incredibly interested to see CSA projects or local sustainable farming groups join Dibspace and trade their excess produce for services.

Laura - Check out our Wants feature.

Tara - One of the advantages we see to Dibspace is that the bartering is asymmetric, meaning that you don't have to find a 1:1 trade in order for all parties to be satisfied. Say, for example, that you could offer Heather yoga lessons, but you're not interested in Heather's farmers market promotion services. However, Belinda is interested in Heather's services, and willing to trade you some of her fresh fruit in order to make the deal work. The deal works, but only because a broader community of people are willing to work. Any one of the individual deals might not have ever succeeded. You can think of Dibspace as effectively being an alternative currency. Someone pays you for your goods or services, and you can turn around and spend your Dibits (the coin of the realm) on any other service provided by any other member.

COO, Dibspace

stella said...

In Berkeley there was something called Bread that was very similar, but you bought bread bucks to begin the program. And 1 hour of one person's time = 1 hour of another person's time, regardless of what the job was. It didn't really work, though. We never spent or earned any bread.

I am an adult ed ESL teacher, and I would love to trade private tutoring in exchange for hair cuts, mani/pedis, dance classes, fruits from gardens, or homemade yogurt, curry, etc.

Alison Kerr said...

I think it's a good idea. As others say, it's an additional option which has pros and cons.

When my kids were little I started and ran a babysitting co-op. That worked pretty well, except that some parents preferred to babysit and others just wanted to use the babysitting service so the tokens ended up all out of balance after a year or two. I'm not sure if this would be an issue with dibits.

The neat thing about neighborhood exchanges of skills and labor are that it can just be started by a couple of households and be spread from person to person through a sense of community. I don't barter, but I do help my neighbors sometimes without the expectation of receiving anything in return. It works with like-minded people.

Green Bean said...

I would totally be interested in a site like that in my neck of the woods. We've set up a swap for home grown produce or homemade goods but I would love to take it a step further. Growing up, my dad used to barter quite a bit. You have to have the right network and the right sort of skills/goods.

Daniel said...

I would love that. As Peak Oil Hausfrau recently posted, people are going to want to garden soon, and new gardeners will want help from those of us who have been doing it for years.

And not just gardening. I would be willing to help people find what's sustainable and healthy to eat, how to cook it, and how to make real food a part of their lifestyle. Some members of my community have already asked me to help them. A bartering website for services like these would be very helpful for both consumers, and service providers.

Toiling Ant said...

I recently was introduced to a bartering organization in my town that takes it to a very professional level with bartering between businesses...

Very cool concept (I'm not affiliated, and they're not paying me to say that).

The Cooking Lady said...

My husband and I barter all the time. I am a retired hairdresser and just last summer I bartered a years worth of hair cuts for a three wheeled bicycle (The kind the old ladies drive...that's me now and I ain't' even 50).

And my husband is a massage therapist and I barter all the time with my girlfriend who had buckets of wheat. One bucket for one full body massage.

It's a win win for everyone.

Anonymous said...

a great bartering site is there you can trade your services for other services/items. it's great for individual barters as well as for small businesses.

queen of string said...

I would really enjoy this sort of scheme. We did do a little bartering at the farm market.
Many of my skills are similar to the previous poster.

I could teach knitting and crochet, swop small knitted household items and baby clothes. I can sew a little and can certainly sew on buttons etc. I garden and could help with that or swop seeds or baby plants or produce. I cook so there are options for teaching, or visiting on people's homes to make favourite recipes for them if they are no longer able ( I know someone who does this), or swop baked goods or freezer meals. I have a log splitter that might have value. I know how to build rocket stoves. I can do business admin and type business letters. I can do organising, de cluttering and home mover packing or help clear houses after someone has passed or moved into care. I know how to do ebay selling and etsy. I can do dog walking and run errands and take people to appointments. I can mentor business start ups. My specialist skills are in developmental disabilities and mental health so there might be things to do there and I am also qualified in NLP and have some additional skills in working with people's metaphors and clean language that can help work through issues and with setting goals and intentions.

Things I need include the loan/ instruction in pressure canning. Help with reno and hard landscaping. Home decorating and someone to make a bookcase and some shelves for the garage.

Wow, that was a really useful exercise. Thanks cruchy, lots of food for thought there to take forward. Especially as my visa status in Canada doesn't allow me to work right now. I think I need to investigate what doesn't count as work!

Patricia Menzies said...

I joined Fourth Corner Exchange out of Bellingham last year. There is a small charge to join (for website maintenance and outreach) but it already has over 800 members mostly in Washington State. Why invent something else when a working model is already in existence? Life Currency has been developed over about 40 years of research and observation and is also a time-equivalent exchange system. If we get more people from Seattle to join that network (as well as in Tacoma where I live), we have a more resilient system.

Patricia Menzies said...

Actually, I didn't notice that this post was more than two years old so Dibspace was not just starting out. I withdraw my other comment but apparently can't just go in and delete it. I still like Life Dollars though.

tracirz said...

This is awesome! I've been putting off joining LifeDollars ( for some reason, maybe it's because I was waiting for Dibspace ;P