5 Gifts You Can Get Through Bartering

Photo: Nick J Webb

A frugal holiday doesn't need to be a giftless one. Whether you’re in a service industry, a professional, or just a frugal gift-giver willing to work, you can barter your time and services for wonderful gifts that have real value. Save money without cheaping out by bartering for these in-demand gifts that friends and family will actually appreciate and use.

Music Lessons

Ideal for music lovers, children, and would-be rock stars, bartered music lessons make an incredible gift. Fun and enriching, not only does playing an instrument provide a valuable creative outlet to adults and children alike, but studies have shown that music education helps children develop valuable skills like critical thinking, creative problem solving, and teamwork. Maybe that's why kids who take music lessons are also more likely to achieve in other subjects like math and science. 

Ranging in price from $30-$100 an hour, music lessons can be a substantial investment, but they're a gift that's sure to be remembered for a lifetime. Before bartering for lessons, however, be sure to determine what instrument you're bartering for (or, alternately, find a swap-friendly instructor who is multi-talented and can teach several different instruments) and whether or not lessons will include instrument rental. Need an actual instrument? Well, you can always barter for that too!


Who doesn't like a nice, relaxing deep-tissue massage? Not only does massage therapy feel amazing, but good bodywork carries a host of health benefits, including improved circulation, increased joint flexibility, and improved tissue regeneration. Ideal for people in stressed-out situations, massage therapy can go a long way in repairing the damage that a high-stress, fast-paced lifestyle can do.

When swapping for body work, keep in mind that professional massages start at about $60 an hour and generally cost more at spas than at doctor and chiropractic offices. Also, although it's pretty easy to find personal massage therapists willing to barter for services, it's much more difficult to find a massage therapist who works in a medical practice to do so, so you may want to target beauty spas instead. 

Oil Changes

With the average cost of car ownership hovering around $6,000 a year, most people are thankful for anything that takes a bite out of that bill. Not only are oil changes a nice, practical gift that most people can appreciate, but they also come in handy year round.

Depending on how comprehensive the oil change is, prices can range from $20 to $75 each. If you're planning on giving a year's worth of changes, how many oil changes you'll want to give will depend on the age of the car. For the most part, 2002 models and older need oil changes every 3,000 miles, and models newer than that need changes every 3,000 to 10,000 miles.

Salon Services

The great thing about hair salon gifts is that they're versatile. Whether you're bartering for a trendsetting friend with a short, sassy pixie or giving a not-so-subtle hint to your mom that it's time to drop the bouffant, bartering with a hair salon can cover a number of gift-giving options.

Because hair salon services are priced according to service and not time, pricing covers a wide range. In general, expect a standard cut from a salon to start at around $26, with prices increasing beyond that based on length of hair, coloring, and styling options.

Art Lessons

As sad as it is, there are plenty of talented starving artists out there willing to barter their talent and training. Whether you're looking to barter for painting, drawing, or ceramics lessons, there are usually plenty of bartering artists to choose from, each with his or her own style and perspective. Just like with music lessons, when you're bartering for art lessons, be sure to determine what supplies (if any) will be included in each lesson.

Expect prices for art lessons to vary a lot, based not only on medium and supplies but on the skill of the artist as well. More established artists will inevitably be able to barter their skills (and work) at a higher rate than lesser-known ones.

What Can You Barter?

Think you don’t have anything worth bartering? Think again. Just about anything can be bartered. Barterers don’t just trade things, they also trade professional and personal services too. Are you a plumber, electrician, accountant, web designer, or mechanic? Then you have in-demand skills that you can use to trade for gifts. Are you an artist or musician? Then you have highly specialized skills that you can use to trade for objects, performances, and lessons. And if you don’t have a trade to tap into, there are loads of personal services you can offer: daycare, housekeeping, pet walking, and personal gopher are just a few. Bartering is less about having the right skills and more about finding the right trading partner and working out a trade.

Where to Start Bartering

If you're new to bartering, you'll want to learn from the pros, so be sure to check out bartering best practices and sites online. And don't forget to go where all the blue-blood barterers go: Craigslist. Not only does Craiglist give you a venue for finding first-rate local swappers, but it's also free to post and peruse. To find what's on the bartering table, select the "barter" link from beneath the "for sale" header. Items regularly available for bartering include professional and personal services, cars, and gift certificates.

Jenn Silva is a new freelance writer from the Midwest. She appreciates simple living and a nice cup of tea. Read more from Jenn:

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Guest's picture

Although they wouldn't be able to enjoy their gift until the summer, you could barter lawn care. This could save them a load of money over the summer months when getting their grass cut usually starts around $50 a week.

Jenn Silva's picture

I think that's a great suggestion! Thanks for sharing!

Mikey Rox's picture

Great tips, Jenn! Bartering has worked well for me. For instance, I provided free content to a newspaper in exchange for ad space, and I did some copy work for a designer friend in exchange for redesign comps of my website. Both easily would have cost me hundreds of dollars otherwise. Now to find a masseuse who wants to trade...

Jenn Silva's picture

Ha, good luck! And thanks!

Guest's picture

when you recieve services instead of cash you dont have to worry about tax implications . Another plus for bartering

Guest's picture


Just so you know, that's not true. Although laws may vary by state, the federal government still expects people to report bartered exchanges. Here's a link about tax responsibilities when bartering: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=188095,00.html

Jenn Silva's picture


That guest is right: While state laws can vary, the government does expect folks to track and report bartered goods. I don't know how they'd go about tracking it either way but it's still something good to be aware of!