As Economy Plummets, Cashless Bartering Soars on the Internet

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 14, 2009

LONDON -- The next time Kevan Quinn needs his sink unclogged, he won't pay cash. Instead, Quinn will take the plumber and his family out sailing on his boat.

"In this climate, when everyone's concerned about their money, this is a cracking idea," said Quinn, 49, a father of three who found his plumber on, a bartering Web site based in Britain. "It's a great way to get things done without using cash."

Bartering and swapping are booming as the global financial crisis squeezes cash out of the world's wallet. Web sites and business organizations promoting cash-free transactions are growing, from New Hampshire to New Zealand to Sri Lanka, as unemployment soars and millions are struggling to pay their bills.

"It's hot right now," said Ron Whitney of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, based in Portsmouth, Va.

Whitney said that about $12 billion worth of business-to-business bartering happens each year around the world and that more than 250,000 U.S. businesses bartered goods and services last year.

Now, he said, the growing recession has created new interest in that long-established business trade, as well as boosting the person-to-person swaps taking place on Web sites and in community networks worldwide.

A spokesman for Craigslist, the online classified advertising service, said bartering has doubled on the site in the past year. Proposed swaps listed on the Washington area Craigslist site this week included accounting services in return for food, and a woman offering a week in her Hilton Head, S.C., vacation home for dental work for her husband.

"Obviously people are looking for other ways of getting what they need without paying for it," said Nicole Wehden, founder of Swapaskill, which will soon launch in Washington and other cities across the United States.

"The general mood is gradually coming away from the spend-spend-spend culture," Wehden said. "People are taking stock and seeing if there is another way of doing things." lists people looking for barters and swaps in more than 80 countries.

California-based lists more than 3.4 million items for barter or swap, from Chevies to Frisbees to gymnastics coaching.

Sites such as are becoming increasingly popular with those who don't want to pay for a vacation home. But others cater to people who want to meet the mundane needs of everyday life without using cash or credit cards.

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