Living without money and swapping skills

By Leo Telling
Money Watch, BBC Two

Image caption,
Mark Boyle has given up money for good and is self sufficient

When our personal finances are under pressure the first things to go are the luxuries - fewer nights out, cancelling the gym membership and cutting back on the little things that make life more pleasant.

So if someone told you there was a way to claw back some of those treats that eat into your disposable income, you would probably jump at the chance.

Well, actually there is a way, and it is older than money itself.

It used to be called barter - exchanging your goods and services for someone else's - but today it is more commonly known as 'swapping'.

Thanks to the internet, and the recession, it seems to be becoming more and more popular.

Nicole Wehden, founder of the website, says that she now has more than 12,000 users of her free to use website, up from just a few thousand a couple of years back.

The swapaskill website allows users to write an online profile which details what kind of skills they have on offer and what they are looking for in return.

Other on-line schemes such as LETS allow people to build up credits by doing favours for others and then cashing in those credits at a later date.

Swapping and bartering allows everyone to get goods and services without spending any money.

No home comforts

Mark Boyle has taken the idea of living without money to its logical extreme.

Eighteen months ago he set out to spend a year living without spending any money at all - he liked it so much that he has decided to give up money for good.

Image caption,
Charlene is a hairdresser and swaps beauty treatments for cooking lessons

Mark began his quest to see whether he could give up cash by offering his labour in exchange for a place to live.

But no money means no home comforts and an unusual approach to personal hygiene.

"For toothpaste the main ingredient is a thing called cuttlefish bone, which washes up on most shores around the UK, and with that I mix wild fennel seeds, which I just grind up," he explains.

Some essentials Mark can make from things he can grow or scavenge - but other things, like indoor plumbing and a flushing toilet (he uses a compost toilet which is essentially just a hole in the ground) he just has to do without.

"In the first two months I found it really difficult, everything seemed to take so much longer," he said.

"But after the first two months, once I had established routines and actually got to really build relationships with people and the local environment, it actually just became second nature."

Tax issues

But swapping is not just an extreme sport - anyone can do it and during these difficult financial times it can be a way of getting those little extras without busting the budget.

Charlene Latchford is a hairdresser who wanted to learn how to cook, and was recommended the swapaskill website by a customer.

The only downside is that as self employed hairdresser Charlene needs to stay on the right side of the taxman.

Image caption,
Rosie thinks she has made big savings through her swaps

"There is a tax issue - obviously I wouldn't be going into it to sell any cakes or anything like that, its just basically like a hobby. It's a favour for a favour really," she said.

If you are swapping regularly and using a skill for which you are paid a salary or use to run business, then its best to take proper tax advice, but for anyone else swapping is a fun and free way to enjoy life's little extras.

Charlene met Rosie Kelly online. Rosie is a seasoned swapper, exchanging lessons in baking and sometimes English for all kinds of beauty treatments.

"I've done one with my beautician, so I teach her nephew English and she gives me beauty treatments. I've had treatments I didn't know existed! I even had extensions on my eye lashes - I had to teach quite a few lessons for that though!"

In exchange for teaching Charlene how to bake, Rosie is getting her hair coloured. Thanks to her baking skills Rosie reckons she has made some pretty substantial savings.

"Over the last year maybe a few hundred pounds - though I'm just doing what I love really," she said.

For Charlene, it is a bit of fun, but as a businesswoman she doesn't see swaps taking the place of cold hard cash.

"It's not going to replace money. Part of the appeal for me is it's not going to cost me anything. But it's not something that I would do full time because my business runs and I need money to pay the bills," she says.

Money Watch: How to beat tough times is on BBC Two at 8pm on Wednesday 14 July.

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