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Bartering (or Barter): What It Is, Benefits, Uses

What is Bartering?

Barter entails the exchange of goods or services between multiple parties without involving money or any monetary means like credit cards. Essentially, it revolves around one party providing a good or service in exchange for another from a different party.

For instance, imagine a scenario where a farmer contracts a local carpenter in their town to build a fence for his property. Instead of the farmer paying the carpenter $1,000 in cash for the labour and materials, the farmer compensates the carpenter with $1,000 worth of crops or food items instead.

Principles of Bartering

Bartering operates on a straightforward principle: Two individuals negotiate the value of their goods or services and exchange them evenly. This ancient practice predates the existence of conventional currency, representing the oldest form of commerce.

In earlier times, the older generation engaged in bartering using their limited resources like produce, livestock, or personal skills such as carpentry and tailoring within their community. Nowadays, the internet has vastly expanded the pool of potential bartering partners for many Australians, offering access to a wide array of goods and services for exchange.

Almost any item or service holds potential for barter as long as the involved parties agree on the trade terms. Whether it’s individuals, businesses, or nations, all can benefit from these non-monetary transactions, especially when faced with a scarcity of conventional currency for acquiring necessities.

Benefits of Bartering

Barter enables individuals to exchange their unused items for necessities, preserving cash for essential expenses like mortgage payments, medical bills, and utilities that can’t be covered through barter.

Engaging in barter can foster deeper personal connections between trading partners compared to standard monetary transactions, offering a psychological benefit. Additionally, it serves as a tool for expanding professional networks and promoting businesses.

At a larger scale, bartering facilitates the efficient distribution of resources by swapping goods of comparable value. It aids in reaching economic equilibrium, where demand aligns with supply, contributing to a balanced economy.

Person to Person Deals

When two individuals possess items desired by the other, they can mutually assess the value of these items, leading to an optimal allocation of resources.

For instance, if someone values their 20 pounds of rice at $10, they can trade it with another person needing rice, offering an item valued at $10 in return. Alternatively, they might exchange an item for something they don’t immediately require, knowing there’s a market available to sell or trade that item.

Between Companies

Businesses might opt for bartering their goods due to financial constraints, lacking the credit or cash required for purchasing these items. Barter transactions offer efficiency by mitigating the risks associated with foreign exchange.

A prevalent modern instance of business-to-business (B2B) bartering involves the exchange of advertising time or space. Smaller enterprises often swap advertising rights on each other’s premises. Bartering extends beyond businesses and encompasses exchanges between companies and individuals. For instance, an accounting firm might offer an accounting report to an electrician in exchange for the electrician rewiring the firm’s offices.

Country-to-Country Barters

Countries resort to bartering as a strategy when faced with substantial debt and challenges in securing financing. They export goods in exchange for the specific items they require, effectively addressing trade deficits and curbing the accumulation of additional debt.

Bartering During Downturns

Following the 2008 financial crisis, small businesses, grappling with declining prospects and sales during the Great Recession, increasingly embraced online barter exchanges.

These platforms provided an avenue for members to offset reduced revenue by finding new customers for their products and gaining access to goods and services through underutilised inventory. Custom currencies within these exchanges allowed accumulation for the acquisition of services like hotel accommodations during vacations. During the financial crisis, the barter economy was estimated to have reached $3 billion.

Instances of bartering gaining momentum during periods of economic uncertainty are not uncommon. For instance, amid the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, the ABC had a look at barter trade flourishing in Fiji after the closing of borders triggered heavy unemployment. Many Fijians were reliant on tourism to bring hard currency, and the situation led to barter transactions. One woman who was laid off from a garment factory, for example, had to trade some pigs to buy roofing sheets for her house.

Tax Implications of Bartering

The ATO currently rules bartering as covered by income tax and GST just like ordinary cash and credit transactions, when conducted through a trade exchange. The trade exchange’s own rules will also guide members with how to calculate the value of their transactions. When issuing a tax invoice for the barter transaction, the document must account for the GST inclusive price in Australian dollars or the GST in Australian dollars. 

How to Barter

Executing a barter transaction goes under a number of cardinal tenets.

Identify your resources

Which possessions can you easily let go of? Take a discerning look around your home, including items in storage or those being used by family or friends. If offering services is more your style, honestly assess what you could provide that others typically pay professionals for. It might involve a skill, talent, or even a hobby like photography.

Assign a value to them

Successful bartering hinges on both parties finding satisfaction, a balance that’s only achievable when the items exchanged are accurately valued. If you’re considering trading an item, seek an accurate appraisal; it’s worth is truly what someone is willing to pay. So, research by exploring the “selling” section on eBay to gauge what similar items have fetched from online buyers.

When valuing a service, gather local estimates from professionals to gauge how competitively you can price your skills. Maintain honesty about your abilities and factor in associated costs, such as shipping for goods or materials for exchanging a skill.

Identify your requirements

Clearly define your barter exchange requirements. Alongside particular items sought, consider this range of potential services available for barter:

  • Babysitting/daycare services 
  • Car maintenance and repairs
  • Lawn maintenance/landscaping
  • Computer troubleshooting and repair
  • Minor home improvement projects
  • Plumbing services
  • Home removal 
  • Tax preparation assistance
  • Financial planning guidance (but only if the person is an AFS licensee)
  • Orthodontic services (for ADA-licenced orthodontists)
  • Medical care (carer qualifications) 
  • Accommodation arrangements

Search potential partners for exchange

Once you’ve determined your offerings and precisely identified your needs or desires in a barter scenario, the next step is to seek a suitable barter partner. If you don’t have a particular individual or business in mind, consider leveraging word-of-mouth. Inform your friends, colleagues, and social circles about your specific requirements and what you’re seeking in a barter exchange.

Various online marketplace platforms exist with special sections for strict barter trade transactions that also have regulations for fair exchange and dispute resolution. Additionally, scout for local bartering clubs or groups. Your area’s chamber of commerce might have information about similar clubs in your vicinity that could be beneficial.

Finalise the agreement

Once you’ve secured a barter partner, formalise the agreement in writing. Specify the involved services or goods, the exchange date (or scheduled work), and outline the potential consequences if either party fails to fulfil their obligations. If you’re operating within a membership-based bartering association, they’ll likely furnish the necessary structure and paperwork for the agreement.

Limits of Bartering

Bartering comes with its constraints. Larger businesses, such as commercial establishment chains, typically dismiss the concept, while smaller organisations might impose restrictions on the value of goods or services they’re willing to barter for—they might not consent to a 100 per cent barter deal and instead demand partial payment.

Membership-Based Trading Exchanges

Some businesses that may not directly barter with customers might swap goods or services through membership-based trading exchanges such as Bartercard. By becoming part of a trading network, individuals can engage in trading with other members using barter “dollars,” albeit with accompanying fees. Each transaction incurs a nominal fee, with the exchange platform facilitating the swap and overseeing the tax aspects of bartering.

Example of a Barter

Consider a barter scenario involving a plumber and a copywriter. In this case, the plumber addresses leaking pipes at the writer’s home and instead of requesting payment, proposes that the writer assists in creating promotional content for the plumber’s business. This instance showcases the exchange of one service (plumbing) for another (writing), devoid of any monetary transactions.


Is bartering illegal?

Bartering remains legal in numerous countries worldwide as long as it’s conducted appropriately. Problems may arise when these exchanges aren’t reported to local tax authorities, potentially rendering the barter transaction illegal.

Is bartering still used today?

Indeed, cashless exchange systems continue to thrive in contemporary times. Time banking, child care cooperatives, and house sitting serve as modern examples of bartering methods still in use today.


Even with physical and digital cash transactions still prevalent in modern society, there still exists a need for people to do business with whatever commodities they have on hand that others may need. Doing barter trade under rules-based exchanges can ensure that both parties making the trade will be satisfied.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only.


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