Forget the Wallet, Take on the Trade

As gas and food prices soar and it becomes more challenging to stretch the household budget to make ends meet, many people are increasingly turning to bartering to get what they want. Swapping is all about giving and getting, so the first step is figuring out what you're willing to give up -- both in terms of your stuff and your own skills -- and then deciding what you'd like in return.

Look around your house. We all have stuff we don't need -- the DVDs no one watches, the lamps shoved in the closest, the baby gear stored in the basement, the clothes your kids have outgrown, the accessories you no longer covet, and even the gift cards you still haven't used since the holidays. All of this is good for swapping.

Books & DVDs
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Get the whole house involved. If everyone in your family longs for something new, have each person pull together what they're willing to give up. If the kids want a new video game, which old ones will they part with?

There are a number of ways to swap, so poke around with each one to decide what would work best for you, given where you live, what you want to swap, and what you're looking for.

Online swapping. For the largest pool of potential swappers, check out online trading. I found just about everything up for trade on the Internet through dozens of different Web sites. Some focus on a specialty, such as books, unused gift cards and even homes, while others are broad-ranging and cover many categories.

Click here for a list of dozens of online trading resources.

Before you choose a site for swapping, browse a bit to make sure that what's already listed on a specific site matches the kind of things you want. Each site offers its own step-by-step instructions on how to post your goods. Provide as much detail as possible -- sometimes you can even post photos -- to avoid excessive questions and confusion. Always read the fine print. Some sites charge a fee for transactions; others are free.

A few examples on Craigslist illustrate the variety of stuff you'll find: A 14-year-old looking to trade 15 pounds of Legos for a bike! A motorcycle owner willing to swap a mint condition 2004 Harley for a boat of equal value!

Party at home. Do it in person by hosting a swap meet party, which is a great option among friends. Select a category that you and your friends love -- perhaps it's women's clothing, shoes, bags and jewelry, or maybe it's kids clothing. Compile a list of participants and ask everyone to bring 20 items, all of which must be in good condition. (They can bring it at the time of the party, or even a day in advance.) Set everything up nicely -- as if it's a small boutique -- in your living room and let the swapping begin. Everyone goes home with something new, without having spent a penny. What isn't swapped can be donated to charity.

Barter services in person. If you have skills or stuff to trade for the services or things you want, offer to make a trade with people you know. Do this in person or through message boards.

One message board featured a post from a handyman in need of a physical, but doesn't have health insurance, willing to do carpentry work in exchange for the exam. Another woman is willing to provide six months of haircuts and color in exchange for having a Web site built for her business.

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