Brave old world

Americans are nothing if not resilient. And we’re forever looking for options that cost less or nothing at all.

Short on money? Yeah, who isn’t?

That explains the soaring popularity of a cashless system of procuring goods and services. Bartering is reaching epic proportions across the globe in this tough recession, becoming a $600 billion exchange industry.

Anyone and everyone can take advantage. Surely you have skill sets or unwanted goods to put on the trading block. Doctors and dentists participate. Mechanics and carpenters, too.

We found this a real eye-opener, thanks to a report by Herald writer Donna Wright last week — especially the bartering of luxury cars, yachts and even downtown Sarasota condominiums.

In the modern world of bartering, you don’t have to find that perfect trade partner for a one-to-one swap.

While Web sites such as Craigslist provide that vital link though bartering ads, the most efficient and effective way might be to join a wide-ranging exchange that works with a common trading currency that can be utilized at many exchanges. An accounting system known as The Banc keeps track of all that currency. This organized method of bartering offers a level of security not possible with one-on-one exchanges.

Say your business produces widgets out of a building in need of a paint job. You sell plenty of widgets to a number of exchange members, and that covers the cost of a painter who is also a member. No U.S. currency gets passed around in any of these transactions, and you get your factory painted.

People can participate with cash if they like.

Brokers like Ron and Mary Unger of the International Bartering Exchange in Sarasota operate in this marketplace, listing a network of businesses, professions and trades based from Tampa Bay to Fort Myers.

Best of all, the Ungers are waiving the usual membership fee of $495 to help businesses and people struggling in this economy. The exchange’s Web site can be found at www.barter-works.com.

Be forewarned, though, that exchange members must report transactions to the Internal Revenue Service. However, IBE keeps tabs on those and provides the right tax forms to members.

Are all bartering exchanges fair and honest? Not in a world of Ponzi schemes and identity theft. But IBE gets high marks from members for instituting rules and bylaws, monitoring the network and booting out the rotten apples.

This entire bartering economy looks like a throwback to the Stone Ages. Yet IBE’s been around for 18 years. There’s even a National Association of Trade Exchanges (www.nate.org), formed in 1984.

If you’re looking for ways to cut expenses at home or at work, bartering may hold some worthwhile options. This phenomenon is no longer off our radar.

Donna Wright’s report can be found at www.bradenton.com/ local. Click on Special Reports and then Surviving the Squeeze.