The Ins and Outs of Bartering

by Alex J. Coyne
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Could you trade for what you can’t afford? You can if you know the ins and outs of bartering. Here’s what you should think about when it comes to the trading business.

Bartering is an ancient custom that’s much older than money, but that doesn’t mean money has replaced it by any means. When you think about modern bartering, there’s no need to envision crazed, mangy-haired hippie-types in a dodgy neighborhood who are really trying to get rid of a stereo. Bartering is an entirely legitimate business, and there are some great deals out there.

The Basics of Trading

I’ve traded a lot of things, including pool tables, amplifiers, speakers, guitar pedals, and books (to name just a few of them). Here’s what you should think about when it comes to the trading business:

Always trade up.

Get something similar or worth a little more than what you’re giving away in terms of value, and when not, you should have the value made up by something extra (like more goods or cash). There’s nothing worse than trading before you realize it’s worth half of what you just gave away.

Do your research.

Research what you’re giving up (and provide the interested buyer with accurate information) and research what you’re looking to get in return. Research what the condition is like, what it is worth in cash terms, and what the current market demand is like. Also, keep in mind what the market might be like in six months. I’ve gained cash by being right and lost cash by being wrong.

Be clear.

Descriptive, accurate ads with attached images will get far more attention than misspelled ads with dark, blurry pictures. Does the item have any faults? List them. Is it a 1983 Stratocaster or a 1982? Check before you post.

Conduct your trade in public.

Giving away your personal information or home address on the internet remains dangerous. Don’t do it.

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Be careful of couriers.

When you have to ship items, make sure you’re using a reputable courier and dealing with a reputable trader. Many bartering sites force you to create an account where people you have dealt with before can review your service. This helps cut down drastically on scammers.

Combinations of a trade and cash, where warranted, can work out great for both sides.

Let’s say you have half of what you need saved up for a laptop and you’re not really using that console in the corner much these days. Put them together and you’re much closer to your eventual goal.

Trade further up.

Sometimes, you have to trade several times, each with more value, until you get to what you want. This can be a great alternative when you don’t have the cash. Just how successful can this be? One of the most famous cases, Kyle MacDonald started off with a red paperclip and traded his way up to a house.

Avoid the hole of misjudgment.

Trading is addictive, but some mistakes can be absolutely fatal. I’ve seen people trade real, $1,000 guitars away for fakes. Always trade carefully.

Bartering on the Web

Besides the regular classified ad sites, there are a couple of reliable sites for trading. Most have every item you can possibly think of, and some are geared towards high-value items like houses and cars. You can even offer to trade with your skills. Try some from these suggestions from

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Valuing Items

So, just what is it worth? You’ll need to ask (and answer) that question when trading. The cash value of an item is affected by the item’s condition and the current market for the item. When trading, the market for the item is sometimes restricted to the market for that item with something you want for it. This sometimes leads to surprises and interim trades. I’ve been surprised by many trades, but luckily, never in a horrible way!

Some items like antiques, high-value items, and commonly faked items need a little more thought regarding authentication. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is this the real thing? Check that it’s consistent with what it claims to be. Ask on enthusiast forums. Check the serial number.
  • Is it original? Originals are often worth more than things with replacement parts.
  • What’s the condition like? Specialist and vintage items are graded according to a specific scale. When trying to re-sell something, you want to know exactly what it is and what the condition is like.
  • Make sure any accompanying paperwork is in order. When you’re trading art, signed memorabilia, cars or houses, there’s paperwork that goes with it. Authenticity certificates and pink slips are examples. Make sure it’s all in order as it should be, and keep in mind that paperwork can be faked, so always verify what you read.

Have you traded anything cool?

Reviewed November 2023

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