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Making no-cash deals with neighbors

  • Story Highlights
  • Making no-cash deals with neighbors can help in down economy
  • Atlanta group meets to offer and announce goods or services needed
  • YOUMEs see bartering as a way to save money, get better quality of life
  • Other people join barter groups where they may get credits to trade
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By Brad Hodges
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Some people living in Atlanta have found a way to get goods and services without spending their hard-earned cash.

Misty Love discusses YOUME options with A.J. Butler and Nick Viola.

Misty Love discusses YOUME options with A.J. Butler and Nick Viola.

Once a week, this group that calls itself the YOUMEs gather around a campfire in Dr. David Epstein's backyard to offer what they have and to find out who within their community might have something they want.

Each person takes a turn offering assets and announcing needs.

Robin, an artist and interior designer, is looking for someone to refinish her hardwood floors. The next person up, Jo-Jo, a Pilates instructor who grew up on a boat, knows all about hardwood floors and can help Robin. A connection is made. Video Watch them make their pitch »

Cameron, an acupuncturist, is looking for someone to fix his bike. A.J. Butler, a student, says he likes working on bikes and, although he has never seen an acupuncturist, will probably exchange time with Cameron -- another connection.

The group is part of a growing national trend of communities looking for low-impact, locally rooted solutions in this challenging economy. Along with saving money, they're meeting neighbors, learning what they have to offer and making connections that they say will benefit themselves and their community, today and in the future.

The YOUMEs are still working on guidelines, such as whether a premium should be placed on highly developed skills or arduous tasks.

"It's really about the two people who are making the arrangement, so if you have a really dirty job that takes six hours, maybe the other person would offer 10 hours of gardening," Epstein said.

There are hundreds of barter networks set up across the country. Many use barter credits as currency, so a plumber who needs to have a cavity filled doesn't need to search for a dentist's office with plumbing problems to make a deal. He can fix a leaky pipe for one member of a network and use the credits he earned for that job at any other.

Michael Krane, president of Green Apple Barter Services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says his company has brokered everything from breast implants to college tuition to a horse.

Web sites that put Americans in touch with like-minded people who are willing to trade everything under the sun have also seen a boost in traffic. SwapThing, which lists almost 3.5 million "things" available for trade, reports that its customers are bartering for different reasons than before.

Although there is an online element to YOUME group, what sets it apart from other barter groups is the personal connection made at the weekly meetings.

"There's a scarcity of money and jobs, but we still have ourselves, our skills and our relationships. And we know that if we offer those, we'll get something back," Epstein said. "Yes, this sort of thing is also happening on the Internet, but when it's supported by a personal connection, it makes for a more valuable process."

Jeanne St. Romain agreed. "I like the personal aspect. I'm on my computer all day. You can't connect in the same way online."

Butler sees the meetings as an alternative to social networking sites.

"Facebook is fine, but a lot of the people I'm in contact with on Facebook are very similar to me in terms of age or stage in life. Jeanne and I would never meet on Facebook," Butler said, "but here we are, talking about bike repair and marketing."

This life-enriching aspect is key, according to Epstein. "We're hoarding our money and protecting it for utilities and mortgages and those types of expenses, but in doing so, we're depriving ourselves. Here, we're able to save our money for those things that require money and enrich our lives in the process."

Although life enrichment is a benefit for many, Misty Love, who's unemployed, needs help with more basic needs. "I can do manual labor, video editing, massage. I'm looking for food. I would like a place to live, rides around town, basic necessities," she said.

For group founder David Frane, the process is about finding a sustainable way of life without having to sacrifice too much. "We all know how to be sustainable; we give up everything. But it's not a very palatable way to go through life. I don't want to live like a monk and not enjoy the things we enjoyed growing up."


But he also believes that it strengthens the community.

"In the normal process of purchasing things, we really lose track of the money once it's out of our hands. What we're trying to do here is spend our resources in ways that benefit our community," Frane said.

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