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Getting through tough times

People outside sweet shop visiting


Sharon M. Danes, Extension Specialist and Professor — Family Social Science

Reviewed 2015 by author; revised May 2013 by Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

Even when your income drops, you are not without resources. Take stock of all non-money resources you have as a family. Among these assets are time, knowledge, possessions, property and creativity.

Swapping resources with others is a time-tested way to stay in control when money is tight. Be creative. Think through the assets you have. List your skills, talents, and interests. Next, try to match your skills and talents to community needs. Try making your first swap with a friend, neighbor, or relative to build your confidence.

Why Barter?

Bartering places value on human resources and not commodities. It increases buying power, stretches resources, extends goods and services to those on low or fixed incomes, taps relatively unused talents and resources, and can involve all family members.

The challenge of bartering is making the right exchange. Some communities have a clearinghouse, civic groups, or publications to help. There are also national groups and clubs for this purpose. One obstacle that discourages some individuals from bartering is determining value given for value received. Any material expense should be paid before services are rendered and should be paid for by those receiving goods and services.

Determine your expectations in advance to avoid misunderstandings.

Note: If you engage in barter transactions, you may have tax responsibilities. Please review information from the IRS at Bartering Tax Center.

Guide to Successful Bartering

  • Know who will supply needed materials. Usually it’s the receiver; but in some cases, the provider may have the needed tools, such as a lawn mower. When materials must be purchased, work together to determine specifics, cost limits, quality of materials, deadlines and other details that could become irritants.
  • Don’t assume anything. Be sure to agree on the details of exactly what will be done. Be sure expectations are clear to all. In some cases, a contract or written agreement may be necessary.

When You Provide a Service

  • Be sure you are clear on details of expected service. Don’t take on tasks that you cannot do well.
  • Keep the receiver well informed on your progress. Inform the receiver also of any problems or delays.
  • Decide on the time the service is to be provided. If needed by a certain date, be sure sufficient time is allowed to complete the service.

If You Receive a Service

  • Carefully explain and supervise work to be done. Don’t be caught with a completed job that is not what you expected.
  • Don’t hesitate to check the provider’s qualifications.
  • Make sure the delivery of service is convenient and within the time you want the work done.
  • If the task requires your presence or help, make sure you are aware of this.

Bartering Ideas

Appliance Repair

  • stove
  • refrigerator
  • television
  • radio
  • air conditioner
  • furnace
  • audio/video equipment

Arts and Crafts Making

  • painting
  • scrap book
  • flower arranging


  • jump starts
  • tune-ups
  • oil change
  • wax
  • wash
  • interior cleaning
  • tire rotation


  • bookcases
  • decks, fences
  • furniture repair

Childcare/Elderly Care

  • day care in your home
  • home nursing


  • visiting
  • travel companion


  • hardware set-up
  • software set-up
  • tutoring
  • install memory
  • trouble-shooting


  • singing
  • playing musical instrument

Food preparation and Service

  • special occasion assistance
  • cakes/cookies
  • pies
  • breakfasts
  • canning/food preservation
  • catering

Food Production

  • fishing
  • berry picking
  • hunting
  • garden produce
  • food preservation

Home Repair/Maintenance

  • painting interior/exterior/trim
  • replace boards
  • insulation installation
  • plumbing
  • electrical work
  • storm windows/doors on/off
  • screens/doors on/off
  • roof patching
  • minor fix-ups
  • window washing
  • wall papering


  • floor care
  • replacing light bulbs
  • vacuuming
  • dusting
  • carpet shampooing
  • dish washing
  • laundry/ironing


  • music
  • sewing/handiwork
  • canning/preserving
  • flower arranging
  • gardening
  • computer

Moving and Hauling

  • furniture
  • trash
  • garden supplies
  • wood


  • transcription
  • word processing
  • bookkeeping

Personal Care

  • hair cut/trim
  • hair coloring
  • braid
  • hair styling
  • permanent
  • manicure
  • pedicure

Pet Care

  • sitting
  • walking
  • feeding
  • grooming
  • training


  • portrait
  • special events
  • video taping


  • mending
  • alterations
  • custom-made
  • handwork


  • grocery
  • errands

Summer Home Care

  • lawn care
  • winterize
  • house-sit


  • errands
  • rides
  • chauffeur

Yard work and Gardening

  • tree trimming
  • grass cutting
  • garden tilling
  • weeding
  • hoeing
  • planting
  • watering
  • hedge trimming
  • edge trimming
  • wood cutting
  • wood piling
  • snow plowing
  • snow shoveling
  • lawn and garden tool


Garman, T. & Forgue, R. (2015). Personal Finance. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Related resources

Financial Capability — Online resources and workshops to make wise decisions about money and other financial resources.

Rural Minnesota Life — Provides information for Minnesotan rural families, including the other 16 Getting through tough times fact sheets.

Adjusting to Suddenly Reduced Income (PDF) — Take into account the financial, emotional, and social aspects of sudden income loss.

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