The Barter Babes Project

Sep 09, 2011

Bartering is something we’ve talked about on the blog before. It’s one example of a contemporary use for one of the oldest kinds of economy, based in mutualism, that we are very interested in. It may seem like an odd juxtaposition – for funders to be interested in bartering – but for us it’s an essential piece to exploring alternative economic systems in a time of economic volatility. One of the opportunities we have as funders is sharing financial resources with our grantees. In return, we receive invaluable education and awareness around crucial issues through our relationship with the community we support. Sometimes we have the good fortune of being able to connect partners with one another and in turn we see movements around social and environmental justice progress steadily forward.

These kinds of collaborative relationships are what drive us in our work and we’re taking notice of others who are utilizing the collaborative barter model in interesting ways. One such person is Shannon Simmons, who I first heard about at a summer party. Some women at the party chatted about a seemingly too-good-to-be-true urban legend: A mysterious sounding woman who barters excellent financial advice in exchange for just about anything she finds herself needing. With one quick Google search I found her. Shannon Simmons, the financial consultant who started the project Barter Babes about a year ago, was in fact real and very available. I had the opportunity to barter with her this summer and was so impressed I subsequently decided to interview her for our blog.

Full disclosure: my finances are not what you would call “in order.” I’ve often longed for some serious financial advice, but everybody I spoke to wanted to charge me upwards of $200 an hour. I was intimidated and even enraged at times when old men would want to rob me and then judge me because, as they would say I live, “like an artist.” Sensitive, I know – but after speaking with Shannon I realized I was not alone in my fears.

According to Shannon’s research, which she conducted for two years prior to launching her project, she found that, “there’s a huge gap of information especially with women between the ages of 20-35. Even if they have the information, there’s a lack of confidence in how to put that information to work.” I was her target woman.

Her project is simple: Shannon had been wanting out of the corporate world for sometime. As a very successful woman in the finance world she was rapidly tiring of her high profile clients and their fears during the crash of the economy. She thought, “If these people are afraid of losing one million and they still have five left in the bank, what must all the other regular people be going through?” As any good financial planner would do, Shannon saved. She saved enough money to pay her rent and phone bill for one year and then quit her job. Barter Babes was born. Her project mission, though ambitious was simple. Give financial advice to 300 women in exchange for goods, services, food, garden tools, just about anything she might need. 300 barters in one year. And now, ten months into her project she has  completed her goal.

Before meeting Shannon, I was skeptical. How could a woman younger than me, (she’s 26!) who isn’t making any money be able to give me useful advice about my financial life. Skeptical but desperate, I kept the appointment and did the homework assignments she gave me. A few weeks later we met in her home and she presented me with a clear and easy to manage map of my financial life. In exchange, for what felt like gold, I gave her my favorite book about clean beauty and some raw, organic coconut oil, both from a local Toronto shop whose owner also contacted Shannon. That’s it. Granted, I did have the feeling like I’d robbed her blind, but she insisted it felt like a fair exchange because she felt valued for what she’d shared.

“It’s all about utility.” Shannon said this phrase a number of times in our interview and her lived perspectives on the Collaborative Consumption movement was impressive. Similar to the Time Banking idea, Collaborative Consumption (think Zip Cars, ebay, Bixi, swaps), allows consumers to share and in turn a community is born. When I first started riding my Bixi around Montreal three summers ago I realized that I was part of a delightfully dorky club of cyclists who traded in their craigslist cruisers for shared bikes. Riding around and seeing other Bixi users led to ringing bells of acknowledgement. Romanticized…maybe. But, Shannon speaks about the accidental community she created through bartering with a humble joy:

The community that I’ve accidentally created is my greatest success story. It’s a group of people who have like minded thoughts about this new economy… they are not scared of it and they like it. They trade within the community. They love trading, they have a trust, and I’ve acted as a natural screen for them.

With this new economy we’re forced to really look at what we need instead of what we want. Bartering and collaborative consumption requires patience, trust, and the building of relationships. The Barter Babes project is one example of how people are slowly changing how they interact with the capitalist model. For Shannon, bartering has forced her to look at this relationship critically, forgoing the instant gratification of currency for the more patient and thoughtful results of bartering.

Written by Arianne Shaffer, Kindle Project Media and Project Coordinator

Shannon Simmons is a financial advisor and founder of The Barter Babes Project. She specializes in Generation Y and their relationship with money. Shannon hopes to spread financial literacy by making financial advice and education more accessible, one barter at a time!

Check out her site here to learn more. You can also find her on Facebook.