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Don't buy -- barter

These days, a certain underground economy is making a comeback -- and we're not talking about the black market.

The barter economy is back in the public consciousness thanks to Barter Kings, a hit show on A&E, which chronicles American traders Antonio Palazzola and Steve McHugh as they trade up for high-dollar items without cash. Canadians may remember Kyle MacDonald, the Montrealer who started with a paper-clip and managed to trade up to a house in 2006.

Inspired by MacDonald's quest, Ottawa's Martin Provost is currently trading up for a Tesla Roadster. He started with a $35 Minolta camera and, ten trades later, is holding a one-year HootSuite [social media dashboard] membership valued at $12,000. Send him an offer at TeslaTradeup.com.

"You have to make sure you set your expectations for what you want in exchange for what you're swapping," says Provost. "You'll get a lot more hits if you say, 'This is what I'm looking for.' There are also a lot of online tools you can use, like Swapsity.ca."

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The barter benefits
Businesses large and small have been using barter to save expenses for years. Canada's largest barter exchange, Barter Network Ltd., trades five to six million dollars' worth of goods and services every year and they're not without competition. What's harder to find are resources that help facilitate person-to -person barter, which is why Toronto's Marta Nowinska created Swapsity in 2008.

"There wasn't anything for ordinary people who wanted to trade, let's say, a bike tune-up for a driving lesson, or exchange time at a cottage. That wasn't accessible. There was no 'Ebay for swapping', so that's why Swapsity was launched."

Users join the website for free and create a swapping profile where they list all the skills, services, goods and items they're willing to trade. After that, they create a wish list of what they want in return and the website will match them up based on keywords with other users willing to trade what they're looking for. From there, the two users can message each other and negotiate their own trades.

And the benefits? "There's obviously the financial benefit as far as your personal finances, there's the element that we're recycling the stuff, there's the social level because people are connecting and having conversations and on a personal level -- it's just really rewarding for me," says Nowinska.

With the down economy and Canada's debt-to-income ratio at 152 per cent, barter has become part of a larger movement called collaborative consumption that sees more sharing and renting than ever before.

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-- Posted August 8, 2012
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