Bringing Barter Back

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Rants & Reflections, Sue's Blog | No Comments
Bringing Barter Back

My closest friends know that I’ve been experimenting with barter. I’ve taken on a small handful of “barter clients” and I’m using it as an opportunity to grow my business. The projects are generally non-urgent and in an area that is new and interesting to me. I take them on so that I can experiment and stretch my skills while building my portfolio.

The basic way it works is that I do a simple time trade. As I work on the project, I count up my hours. Upon completion, I simply ask for an even number of hours in exchange – to be claimed in the future at a mutually agreeable time.

So far, I’m only doing this with other service providers. As long as they have a skill that I need and can’t perform myself, it’s as good as cash to me. No dollar value is ever attached to the transaction. In essence, it’s only a little more formal than trading favors — like parents taking turns with carpool duties, or babysitting each others’ kids. It’s all about time. And human relationships.

The clients I’m working with are quite tickled by the concept. It seems too simple. But if you think about it for a bit, it makes perfect sense.

Time is the one thing in this crazy world of ours that is a pure currency, unadulterated by societal values. Everyone, no matter how rich or poor, has exactly 24 hours a day to spend. The fact that some people’s time is “worth more” is purely a product of privilege and circumstance.

What brought me to this conclusion was a conversation I had at the bar after last week’s design session at SXSWedu. I was chatting with a very esteemed professor who said that during her march up the academic ladder, she’s realized that a lot of her mentors and colleagues weren’t necessarily smart people. What they did have, however, was a period in their life when they were allowed the luxury of time to get smarter.

It’s like Hermione!

Makes you think… if everyone in this world had a time turner, would we have a more egalitarian society?

I hesitated a lot at writing this blog for two reasons. First of all, I do still need cash to live, so I don’t really want to advertise the barter option (luckily, my readership is still low). But perhaps more frightening is that I googled “is barter legal” and found the tax rules. Here’s the link: http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc420.html

If you notice, I haven’t named any of my barter clients here because apparently what we’re doing is all taxable. The government still wants us to put a dollar value on the transaction and take a chunk of it as tax. I didn’t discuss any of this with my clients, so I won’t name them publicly.

But I decided to take a stance and “out” myself as a barterer because I find it really appalling that the government has forms to collect money from people like us – yet multi-billion dollar corporations are able to hide their wealth in disgusting ways.

Yes, I will consult with my tax professional about the proper form to file for what I’m doing. It will be very interesting to hear what she says! And I’ll do whatever she recommends. But if I get in trouble for whatever I do… I’m going to make a big stink and ask why nobody is taxing the carpooling parents!

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