March 14, 2009— -- After the recession unexpectedly sent her retirement portfolio into a nose dive, 61-year-old Judy Capel found herself forced to make cuts to her budget, eliminating home repairs like fixing her leaky kitchen sink, getting her windows washed and repairing broken shelves in the living room.
"Right now, they would not get repaired," Capel said. "I mean, I just absolutely cannot afford that."
So instead of getting out her wallet, Capel turned to a time bank -- a program that allows her to trade her skills for the repairs she needs without paying for the service.
It works kind of like bartering, in which two people trade goods or services instead of money, but time banks have a pay-it-forward twist.
For example, if someone needs an hour's worth of help painting a fence, a time bank will match that person with someone who knows how. In exchange, that person will spend an hour helping someone else.
"It is paying it forward," said Joan Marren, chief operating officer of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, which runs a time bank in New York City. "You receive something, you provide something, you receive something, you provide something -- so it is a form of paying it forward."
For example, Capel paid for the time the handyman spent working on her sink and shelves by tutoring 8-year-old Carlito Acosta in math. It is a help that Carlito's mother, Julia Reyes, said she could not otherwise afford.
"I was looking for tutoring, and [tutors] were charging $50 an hour," Reyes said. "By the time the tutor gets to my house, that's an hour. Another hour to explain the lessons, and then an hour to leave, will be $150 a day. I don't have that kind of money."
But people like Reyes can get the tutoring by donating their expertise.
"You basically don't have to spend money, and you can still afford a little bit of luxury that you would otherwise have to pay for," said Jan Kral, another time bank participant.
The time banks' popularity may be a sign of the times.
When Capel decided to retire early from Citigroup, she did so expecting that her retirement savings would be enough to support her lifestyle. But that changed a year later, when the Citigroup stock that made up much of her portfolio nose-dived and she lost $800,000 of her nest egg.