Barter © Thinkstock/Superstock

The Basics

Bad economy is good for bartering

How about some dental work in exchange for a brake job? As the sagging economy squeezes pocketbooks, many Americans are trying an alternative to piling up credit card charges.

By U.S. News & World Report

Watches, baseball cards, cupcakes and cookies, artwork, a journal entry, a bike and even a dog have all found new homes at Main Street Family Dentistry in Tupelo, Miss.

Dentist Harry Rayburn and his staff accepted the tokens as a barter from patients on a single day in exchange for fillings, extractions and cleanings, mainly from uninsured patients.

As spare cash becomes harder to come by for many families, bartering is an increasingly attractive alternative to putting expenses on credit cards. Lots more people are swapping stuff and services: Listings on bartering Web site SwapThing are double what they were five months ago; posts for bartering on Craigslist are nearly double those of a year ago.

Thinking of trying it? Here's a guide to bartering online.

You can barter anything

"Instead of buying your kid that new video game, you can trade for a new one," says Jessica Hardwick, a co-founder of SwapThing, which charges $1 per swap to its 130,000 active members. The Cupertino, Calif., company recently had 3,456,669 things listed as available, including antiques, comic books and electronics. That was up from 1,721,179 in May.

"Our growth is inverse to the economy," Hardwick says. "As people start to spend more money to put food on the table and gas in the tank, they find other ways to save money."

You might start with folks you know -- friends, family and co-workers -- before trying sites such as SwapThing, Trade A Favor and Joe Barter.

Be specific

A New York attorney offering to prepare a simple will and health care proxy in exchange for the services of an experienced floor sander or painter. A San Francisco parent interested in trading two sets of luggage for beer or wine for her son's baptism party. A painter in San Francisco willing to proffer his services for a Harley. Those were just a few of the recent offerings on Craigslist, which reported 148,097 barter posts in September.

"Some people will give a laundry list of items they are willing to trade or services they know how to provide and ask people to send them similar lists they are able to trade," Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster says. "Others list a single thing they are able to provide or a single item they are looking for. A key is to always be specific so that people know what you have and what you want."

To trade like for like, try focused sites such as PaperBackSwap and Peerflix.

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List details

"The more information you can put in the ad, it cuts down on phone tag," says Debbie DeSousa, the CEO of Barter Bucks in Concord, Calif., which boasts 50,000 business-owner and manufacturer members. "Because we are international, you need to say what distance you are willing to travel."

DeSousa herself has bartered for eyeglasses, dinners out, dental work and auto repairs. If you're mailing a package, you must also decide who will pay for shipping. And consider posting a picture. Ads with photographs tend to get more responses.

Continued: Assign value

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