The Barter Economy: 14 Great Places to Trade Stuff Online

swap meet.  Photo by glitter feet.All of us have things we don’t want and, at the same time, want or need other things. Usually, the transition between the two requires selling what you don’t want and buying what you want or need – but often, you lose value on both transactions.

A better solution is bartering – exchange something you have for something of roughly equal value that someone else has. This works quite well in some environments, but it’s often difficult to find like-minded people to barter with.

That’s where the internet comes in handy. Here are fourteen great services for bartering, most of them operating by mail and from the convenience of home. I use most of the services listed below and I’ve mentioned quite a few of them before – some of them, particularly PaperBackSwap, are part of the fabric of my life at this point.

Let’s dive right in and get bartering! (One quick note: the sites that trade “everything” aren’t necessarily the best places to go – often, it’s difficult to find things you want on those sites. I find the niche sites have a much higher level of success for that specific area.) For a few links, I’ve included my email address in the link if you click on it so I can quickly touch base with any readers who sign up for the service.

BabysitterExchange
http://www.babysitterexchange.com/
What you can trade: babysitting, carpooling, pet-sitting, tutoring, etc.

This website essentially helps you set up a babysitting, tutoring, pet-sitting, or similar neighborhood sharing cooperative online. Here’s how it works: you get a small group of families who all know each other, then you all sign up for BabysitterExchange. The site helps you schedule exchanges of common tasks like babysitting and so forth, enabling all members of the cooperative to essentially have those services for free (and with easy access) in exchange for providing the service every once in a while.

BizXchange
http://www.bizx.com/
What you can trade: business services and goods

Quite often, businesses are heavily involved in fairly similar marketplaces but aren’t in direct competition with one another. In those situations, it makes a lot of sense for those businesses to cooperate strongly with one another with regards to many specific business elements – sales, marketing, and so forth. BizXchange helps businesses interested in such exchanges to find each other and help set up healthy relationships.

Craigslist
http://www.craigslist.org/
What you can trade: everything

Craigslist is a three ring circus – newspaper classifieds gone wild. There are countless items and services for sale and trade. Digging through it is kind of like walking through a carnival – there are all sorts of interesting sideshows and you may or may not find what you want, but you’ll enjoy the trip!

Freecycle
http://www.freecycle.org/
What you can trade: everything

Freecycle is kind of like Craigslist’s DIY libertarian cousin. It revolves around people wanting to give things away – items they have that they just want to find a good home for. It has its own culture – it’s generally considered good form to both give and take, not just take, making it more of a laid-back bartering site.

Game Trading Zone
http://gametz.com/
What you can trade: video games

Game Trading Zone is a service that lets you set up trades for video games and video game accessories. Instead of listing what you have and receiving credit for those listings, Game Trading Zone allows individual users to trade with each other. They browse each others’ libraries, set up trades, possibly throw in other items, then ship things to one another.

Goozex
http://www.goozex.com/
What you can trade: video games, computer games

On the other hand, Goozex also allows trading of video games and computer games, but instead of requiring users to set up trades, it assigns a point value to each game or peripheral you list. Trades are made basically by moving those points around – if someone with enough points to request an item you have requests it, you send the item away and receive those points, which you can then use to request any other items that are listed. More efficient – but sometimes less fun – than the Game Trading Zone system.

PaperBackSwap
http://www.paperbackswap.com/
What you can trade: books

What can I say? I love PaperBackSwap. I’m an avid reader, and that often means that my shelves get overstuffed with books. I used to take piles of them to the used book store, but I’d get at best a 2-for-1 exchange and the selection at local used book stores was limited. PaperBackSwap works much more efficiently. You just list ten books you want to trade and the site gives you two credits. A credit essentially represents a single book that you can request, so you can immediately request two books out of the more than a million books listed on the site. Want more credits? When someone requests a book you’ve listed, send it to them and receive a credit when they receive it. Shipping is easy, too – you can print off complete shipping labels directly from the site. For me, it beats used book stores in selection, convenience, time, and cost.

SwapACD
http://www.swapacd.com/
What you can trade: CDs

This service works much like PaperBackSwap, except with CDs. You receive a credit for each CD sent out; requesting a CD costs a credit and $0.49. You can swap credits between SwapACD and PaperBackSwap and SwapADVD, so you can effectively make trades in each type of media (send out DVDs and get books in return, or send out CDs and get DVDs in return, for example).

SwapADVD
http://www.swapadvd.com/
What you can trade: DVDs

Again, this works much like PaperBackSwap, except for DVDs. When you sign up, you list ten DVDs for trade and receive two credits. You receive a credit for each DVD sent out and requesting a DVD costs a credit. It’s also “credit compatible” with SwapACD and PaperBackSwap, meaning you can move credits back and forth between the sites.

SwapStyle
http://www.swapstyle.com/
What you can trade: clothing, fashion accessories

This is a perfect place to go if you’re a clothes or fashion junkie. You can swap clothes, cosmetics, shoes, handbags and so on. Although the items are all women’s fashions, several readers have told me that the items available here are quite great.

SwapThing
http://www.swapthing.com/
What you can trade: everything

SwapThing is basically a giant swapping free-for-all, where swaps are individually negotiated between two people. You simply list items you’re willing to swap, then negotiate with the lister of an item that you want. Once you come to an arrangement that makes you both happy, you send out the items.

U-Exchange
http://www.u-exchange.com/
What you can trade: services such as carpentry, cleaning, electricity, etc.

U-Exchange facilitates face-to-face bartering in specific locations. Visit the site, browse through the proposed swaps in your area, and see if there’s anything that you want or can trade. It’s fun to browse, if nothing else, and you might just find a great bartering situation for you.

Zwaggle
http://www.zwaggle.com/
What you can trade: kid’s stuff: clothes, toys, accessories

Lately, I’ve become a huge fan of Zwaggle. Zwaggle is a swap site for stuff for children – in other words, a treasure trove for parents. You can swap kids’ clothes, toys, furniture, and so forth. For every item you shop, you receive a number of points (roughly equal to the dollar value of the item) which you can then spend on other items. Virtually everyone involved with the site is a parent who just wants to find bargains on high-quality items – something I can certainly identify with.

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  1. Nick Wright says:

    I used to love Freecycle. I’ve given away so much stuff, and found some good things too. But lately — at least in our area — it has turned into something else.

    Folks are constantly asking for all kinds of things. Computers. Cars. I remember recently seeing someone asking for a house! Yesterday, someone posted looking for a full set of barnyard animals! As in real livestock!

    And folks asking for these things usually preface their requests with a sob story. It has really turned me off the whole thing.

    My wife got so sick of it she started her own bartering group, invite only, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with those kinds of things.

    Anyway, sorry to rant a bit. Hope Freecycles elsewhere haven’t turned into what ours has.

  2. @Nick – It depends on the moderators. Ours recently posted a limit on the number of requests per month, and a rule that posts can’t include reasons for the request. They also told members that posting multiple extravagant requests would cause others to look down on them and ignore their posts!

    So our group is staying on track ;) Maybe you could volunteer to moderate yours?

  3. Elkit says:

    You introduced me to Paperbackswap. Thanks for that! I’ve traded lots of books – probably a hundred over the last couple of years – and my wallet and my bookshelves are grateful for the breaks they get.

  4. Petciety says:

    If you are in NYC, petciety is a petsitting exchange.

  5. kat says:

    One of my favorite things about Paperbackswap is the wish list with auto-request. If something I want isn’t on the site right now, I just add it to my wish list… and then when someone does post it, it automatically requests it for me! There’s nothing quite like having a book I wanted to read randomly show up in my mailbox… it’s like receiving a gift from the Internet. :)

    (I also love Bookmooch, especially because it has a little more of a community feel and includes international folk, but I’ve found it’s a little harder to get the books you want on there, because their wishlist is a free-for-all instead of PBS’s FIFO queue.)

    At this point I have so many points on PBS that when someone recommends a book to me, I can usually just log on and order it.

    I used to love Freecycle, but I had one too many negative experiences with people who said they’d show up at a certain time (to pick up something I was giving them for FREE) and then wouldn’t show (or call or email). It happened enough that I switched to Craigslist’s “free” section, where people seem to have better manners.

  6. RagPicker says:

    @Nick

    I agree about the Freecycle thing. Between 90% of the posts being begging and half of the rest being petty tyrants on power trips, I left the group.

    (The tyrant remark is for those people who develop elaborate schemes to make you jump through a lot of hoops before they allow you to get their widget worth $17.00.)

  7. Daisy says:

    I adore paperbackswap. I actually buy more new books now, rather than shop at the secon dhand bookstore. I can rationalize the purchase, knowing I’ll get a free book in exchange after I finish mine.

  8. Erin G says:

    you forgot a big one for all us parents out there – Freepeats.org. You pay like $2 for a lifetime membership (or sign up for free lifetime memberships during the promo periods, which is pretty much all the time) and then you can give away and request kids items – EVERYTHING IS FREE – no selling. the site is set up by locality; you join in your city/region. it’s awesome – I have gotten a high chair, 2 halloween costumes (and gave them away on freepeats too!), outgrown diapers, push toys, and given away forumla checks and some of our own baby stuff.

    anyway – for kids stuff – it’s WAY better than freecycle. :)

  9. Damester says:

    Nick
    We have the same problem with Freecycle here in NYC. It has turned into quite a different kind of mix of people participating. The lists used to be mostly giveaways, then it was about 50/50. Now, it’s almost all requests, and big ones (Hey, Oprah does not do freecycle!) and the spirit of it is all but gone.

    I’ve given away lots of stuff but it always more of a hassle these days. For some reason, some people seem to think that when you are giving them something free, it should be at their convenience only. Duh? I’m giving it away, the idea is you, if needed, adjust to my schedule.

    As for getting things, I’ve given up trying. I used to answer ads that were literally posted a few minutes and still get no response. Too many people now vying for everything. And with the way email is setup, the LAST people to email actually get their emails read first. Early birds actually lose.

    Now, I’m just giving away stuff to Salvation Army and local thrift shops. It’s easier than dealing with all these folks who for the most part are just often a pain to deal with (don’t show up when they say they will, etc.) And though the selection there is no longer very good (the people who work there and their friends pick over the donations. Not supposed to, but they do and with the new upscale “volunteers”, forget about it), I can still find some bits every now and then. (A few years ago it used to be fantastic. Now there is less good stuff and more people looking for it.)

    I think it’s a sign of the times. A lot of people are desperate but many are using tough times as an excuse for trying to coax stuff out of people even when they do have money. I don’t mind helping someone who really needs it. I have a problem with people who do have the means/resources to buy stuff. Let the folks who really need it get it.

    My experience: People who really need stuff? They hate asking. Hate, hate, hate it. And they really don’t beg or give the equivalent of sob stories.

    They’re far too embarassed and ashamed to want anyone to know.

    And they are the folks who are extremely polite, keep their word and are very appreciative.

    Craigslist is hit and miss. I’ve had terrific experiences and awful ones. You really do get a sense from how they respond initially to your request. The worst is the folks who play everyone against each other for availability or price. And promise you something, then say: Oh, it’s gone.

    The key is being super polite and also dealing with people who really want to do this, which is not always the case. (They get into a mode for decluttering, it seems, then don’t want to be bothered with the work of bartering, selling, etc.)

    Love paperback swap. Most members send stuff in great shape. But again, you’ve got people who are now recylcing stuff they’ve gotten from garage sales, etc. (Smelly, dirty, yes, actual MOLD, books from some people. You have to be upfront that you won’t accept certain conditions.)

  10. Danny Simmons says:

    There is also a great website for swapping which you missed at http://www.commuto.com. It’s a social local based swapping network for people to meet others in their schools or city and allows trading of anything. I personally prefer it to all the sites you mentioned, but it does need to get more popular.

  11. bsigrist says:

    I have been a member of bookmooch for some time now but am finding the same thing as kat… the selection is becoming more and more limited and by the time you get a notice that a book is available, usually someone else has grabbed it. Also, the international users often will not send books overseas.

    It seems like I should try Paperback Swap.

  12. joan says:

    Thanks Trent for telling us about Paperback.swap Books that I was just giving away are now listed on paperback.swap and the whole family now orders books with our points that they want to read. It has really saved us money. Thank You.

  13. Kate says:

    Thanks for the list! I adore swapstyle it’s fantastic

  14. Mark Herpel says:

    Great collection of web sites. We are seeing a huge amount of barter, time bank and local exchange trading programs hit the web lately. It’s great to have barter and community currency making big comebacks!

    Mark
    editor@ccmag.net

  15. Very helpful resource!

    One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure.

  16. Beth says:

    The problem with paperback swap is they never have any GOOD books. I’be wasted hours trying to find a book I want to order. All the cookbooks available are sunset casserole books. I guess anything decent is snapped up minutes after posting. I don’t hae the time to surveil the site like that. Most of what is posted there is cheap phamplets no one else wants. What a waste of time.

  17. Zwaggle says:

    Thanks for the Zwaggle love! We love being a part of the online bartering community and appreciate your support! Great post!

  18. Catherine says:

    To those complaining about freecycle going downhill: Contact your moderator and see if they need help. I know in our small area our group has 3 moderators and they do their best to keep the SPAM and people abusing the system to a minimum. All messages are moderated and they do a GREAT job. I’m planning on posting some OFFERS and WANTEDS later this week.

  19. nele says:

    well I haven’t these kind of problems with BarterQuest.com It’s really easy to use, all the users are rated in a feedback system so you know who you trade with, internationally and locally. and you can find everything from books over cars to services and even real estate. but what I really love is, it’s totally free :)

  20. lucille says:

    I moderate a Freecycle group (not one of the ones mentioned) most groups do not allow sob stories. This cuts down on the people treating Freecycle like a charity. How groups are ran varies greatly. With the right rules in place the problem people can be weeded out. If your unhappy with how the group is run talk to your group owner. There are rules they can put in place to prevent much of the bad behavior.

    Oh and Freecycle is not a bartering group, no trading is allowed.

  21. Kris says:

    I know of this great new site, http://www.CraftyTrade.com. It’s a semi-new spin on / extension of bartering. Essentially, it is an exchange of skills, hobbies, and time (& some stuff). You can find others in your area who are willing to teach, eager to learn, or simply seeking out others to engage in various activities of interest.

    The site is nicely organized into 4 different category searches for the specified type of interactions each user is seeking. You can decide to just learn or just teach. You can find those who would like to exchange lessons with what you are savvy/knowledgable in with something that you aren’t yet they otherwise are. You can link up with service professionals (like electricians, carpenters, etc.) and assist them for the day / project and in return get priceless exposure & training for your DIY projects at home (they benefit from the free help). Finally, there is a section called “SOCIALS” where you can find others in your area who have shared interests and would like to link up with others to ‘do’ what it is they mutually enjoy (i.e. hiking, knitting, playing poker, etc.). And actually, there’s a bartering section within this category for a number of things.

    Again, it’s a new site, but I think once people like us take a look at it and get some postings on there, it could really take off and be a huge asset to us all who love to learn new things and engage in many different activities without the silly cost of paying to do so! I mean for goodness sakes, we all know something!

    Hope to find others with the same interests as me! :)

  22. Sara says:

    Freecycle is different here, posts with sob stories are removed and you are encouraged just to ask for stuff, not state the reason why you need it unless you can state it without a sob story. If its an outlandish request it is removed. The moderator keeps track of who gives and who asks, so if someone is asking a lot and not giving it is taken care of (and should be well known in the community anyways). You are only allowed to post once a month for the same item if you are asking and you don’t get it, so if you constantly badger the group you are banned.

    It depends heavily on the moderators, if the moderators are not doing a good job or doing what they are supposed to be doing it will become a craigslist free for all.

  23. Kelly says:

    Lots of places I’ve never heard of that I’m looking forward to checking out!

    You didn’t include one resource that many of our friends enjoy: http://www.timebanks.org/

    Time banks are community based groups that hold events, meetings and have a board, and members can make exchanges for various services. We have yet to make it to a meeting, since we usually find just what we need through Craig’s List, and Freecycle. I think it may come in handy when we have more time to give, as it is we barely have enough time to keep up with our own stuff!

  24. Trish says:

    This is an AWESOME article. And doubly so for all the great comments by readers.

    THANKS for http://www.CraftyTrade.com (Kris) & http://www.commuto.com (Danny).
    I love audiobooks and saw one called http://www.swapaudiobooks.com. I’ll check it out.
    If anyone has one to recommend please do.

    FREECYCLE: It’s all in the moderators. Our in Western Mass (Springfield area) are great. If you forget to put what city or region in the OFFER line they reject your post. No sob stories and they limit the number of WANTEDs.

    LOCAL CURRENCIES: Yep. Ultimately what we all need are local currencies. They have tons of them over in Europe especially Germany. Basically they make trade so much easier. Neat looking magazine (Mark).

  25. Caroline says:

    Also try http://www.makeupalley.com for trading all sorts of toiletries and cosmetics. Great when the color/smell/etc if something is not what you expected.

  26. Joe says:

    Great Post! and superb contributions from the whole audience! I’ve already gotten lost for a while now discovering new found resources, especially excited about the community currencies magazine and how cool is it to see an idea and inspiration brought up to me some time ago come true with the craftytrade site?! Hope it grows in popularity, I just posted some apprenticeship offer.

    These times call for barter and trade!

    For those of you wondering how to set up your own barter club, there is some software I’ve helped to build over at curomuto.com barter exchange software. It’s built to handle direct barter and community currencies, and is priced to be affordable for average joes. We’ve also got a great resource section on our site for anyone interested in finding some of the most useful sites for learning about barter and community currencies.

  27. Renee says:

    What a cool website…I am doing a seminar on bartering to a group of low income adults. Any ideas on activities that any one knows of would be appreciated. I am thinking of actually trying a bartering activity maybe between the folks in the group. Or any other websites that I could get some info on would also be helpful.

    Thanks

  28. deRuiter says:

    There is a crack pot theory floated by the United States Government’s Internal Revenue Service that anything bartered incurs federal income taxes. This would of course include anyone being paid in community currency. Just a thought for people who don’t realize that computer records last forever and the U. S. Government has recently hired a lot of new IRS agents who will be looking for creative ways to justify their handsome salaries.

  29. Great article – what a good idea putting all those sites in one place as a resource. Hard times call for creativity and bartering certainly fits the bill.

    As a European, it amazed me when I moved to the US over a decade ago that hardly anybody bartered. Now I own and operate a number of Merchants Barter locations around the US. I was surprised that you didn’t have http://www.merchantsbarter.com as a reference site for your business readers – they are still the only national barter company that does trading on a 100% barter basis at the same cash price (basically it’s just like having a barter bank account.) and there are literally thousands of members all over the US.

    Anyhoo… just wanted to throw in my sixpence and say thanks!

  30. rebecca says:

    I agree that swapstyle is awesome, i have saved so much money using that site.
    Totally reccomend. Also love makeupalley.com though more for its reviews that swapping..
    So yeh check out http://www.swapstyle.com and makeupalley.com for some cool girly stuff :)

  31. Siobain says:

    I personally have used the site www/ecofreek.com to find all kinds of swap and just straight up free as well. I thikn this site needs to be included in your reviews! Thanks so much

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