In Ithaca, Time Is Money

ByABC News

Aug. 30, 2002 -- Time is money in Ithaca, N.Y., where they spend "Hours" instead of dollars to keep the local economy alive.

When Jim Houghton, a graphic designer in Ithaca goes shopping at the local farmers' market, he makes his purchases with a local currency, called Ithaca "Hours."

"Sometimes I spend them in restaurants or movie theaters," said Steve Sierigk, the designer of the 1/8 Hour denomination. "I think that it is in the spirit of self reliance and also really helps the small businesses a lot and builds community, which I think are all-American."

Ithaca is one of many communities in the United States that has added a local currency as a way to encourage a community's self-reliance and interdependence. Ithaca was particularly hard hit by the recession in the late '80s, so in 1991, residents created their own currency in order to help people who didn't have money to spend.

More than 500 businesses in Ithaca accept the local currency, which was named an "Hour" to remind people that the real source of money is people's time, skill and energy. Even though a single Hour has a $10 value, it deems one hour of everyone's time to be of equal value.

One can exchange dollars for Hours at the bank or buy them at a store. Also, an employer can pay their employees in Hours.

"There [are] almost 900 Hours in circulation now, which is $90,000-worth of local currency," said Monica Hargraves, an Ithaca Hour board member. "Local currency is really a valuable way of keeping money and wealth circulating within the community."

"It makes people think a little bit about the value of money, what gives it value, what gives the federal dollar value, what gives a local currency value," Hargraves added.

Keep Local Economy Alive

Unlike dollars and cents, which can be spent in the United States, Ithaca Hours can only be used in Ithaca.

"They stay right here. They travel 'round and 'round and 'round and build our economy through that multiplying effect of money changing hands back and forth enriching everyone," said Joseph Wetmore, who runs the Ithaca Hours bank from the cash drawer in his used book store called Autumn Leaves.

Instead of "In God We Trust," the bills are imprinted with the saying "In Ithaca We Trust." Different symbols depicting life in Ithaca are also imprinted on each of the eight denominations, including faces of children, a waterfall, an important school teacher and a clock only made in Ithaca

"'In Ithaca We Trust' [is] not based on some state thing or some national thing or some religious thing," explained Wetmore. "It's based on Ithacans getting together and saying this paper's of value. Without Ithacans this paper would be worthless."

Continuing Tradition of Bartering

When the United States was founded, there was no national currency. "At the time of the Founding Fathers, you saw individual currency within states, you saw individual banks issuing their own individual currencies," said Wetmore. "It's very much like what they were dealing with in their time."

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson thought a national currency was absolutely necessary. The first national paper currency was issued in the 1860s. But local currency has never gone away. During the Great Depression, people who had no money used a form of currency to formalize barter.

In Ithaca, the Hours system has helped small businesses to grow.

"I want to support other businesses in Ithaca and I want other businesses to support me," said Awura-Abenea Ansah, the owner of Alta Salon.

"The stronger individual communities and the little micro-economies, the stronger the national economy and global economy is," said Hargraves.

ABCNEWS' Justine Schiro produced this story for World News Tonight.