What is barter? Barter is the oldest form of exchange - far older than money. Say you have a garden, and your neighbor keeps chickens. Maybe you swap some produce and get eggs in return (and then you both eat omlettes! heh.). Or maybe you're good at baking and your neighbor can mend clothes so you never knew they were damaged. No money changes hands, but the two of you work out a little deal.
Who should I barter with? It's ideal to do barter with people you already know - people you trust, or at least, people in the same community as you. That way, you both have some accountability - you can't just take one side of the barter and run off with it.
What can I barter? Just about anything of value, be it a good or a service. Think about what skills you have that maybe get under-utilized in your day job. Are you good at making things? Fixing things? Designing websites? Bring all of that to the table. What do you have lying around your house? Maybe that set of fitness DVDs just wasn't right for you, or there are simply too many computers in your house. Maybe you like making cookies more than your jeans like you eating them.
What can I ask for? Consider your audience and be realistic. You probably won't get a brand-new top-of-the-line computer through barter - but you might be able to get a slightly older laptop you can refurbish. You may not get help from a tax accountant - but you might find someone who is experienced with filing their own taxes and can help you get through yours. Be flexible and creative.
What's the best way to get started? Try going to a clothing or book swap. It works like this: you bring some books, or clothes, that are in good condition. If you have great heaps of them, you should choose the ones you think are the best. You drop off your goods, maybe in advance, and then you pick out new-to-you titles or outfits. These are getting pretty common in urban areas. For the most part, it should not cost you anything to get in (except your used-goods contribution!). Make sure to ask the host if there are any requirements for what you bring, as most swaps have at least a few requirements (maybe all the clothes should be clean with no holes, for example, or you shouldn't bring any computer books more than five years old). These rules and having someone else in charge provide protection for beginners.
And then what? Keep things small while you get comfortable with barter. Try doing a little barter with someone you're close to - maybe a housemate or friend - for things that are not a huge deal for either of you. Maybe you don't have time to take out the trash this week but you could clean the bathroom next week. Maybe you could trade well-meant gift cards left over from the holidays. When you have a little practice, then you can work up to more.
What are some good barter resources? There is so much out there! Try the barter section of craigslist for your area. (If you write your own ad, only write one or two things that you are offering or looking for at a time - it keeps things much simpler.) Try a website like paperbackswap.com, where you can get a credit for each thing you send out, that lets you order something different. Try Freecycle - a place where you can give things away and ask for things you need, although it's not a simple one-to-one exchange. Try googling the word barter with the name of your town and see what comes up. But really, one of the best barter resources is word of mouth.
Anything I should watch out for? Yes. Just like with buying stuff on the Internet, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You should also not try to put anything over on the other person - barter is collaborative, cooperative, not competitive. Make it a goal that everyone be happy with the outcome. Also, bear in mind that some barters will not work out. Be willing to let things go once in a while, because your track record probably won't be perfect either.
If you have additional tips for barter beginners, or questions you would like to see answered, please feel free to leave a comment.