As family budgets get cut to the bone, an increasing number of people are trading a more meaningful commodity than money. Here's how the growing trend of time banking is helping folks in and around Brattleboro, Vt., become stronger and closer.
What do you do when your water heater breaks, you're injured and need an at-home nurse, or your daughter is pining for violin lessons and you just can't scrape together the cash to hire someone to help? Enter time trading, a practice akin to bartering that's undergoing a quiet resurgence. Members of a community band together to pool their talents and resources; instead of swapping dollars, the unit of currency is an hour of your time. You might sign up to offer baby-sitting or car rides, or your teens could rake someone's lawn. You "earn" hours and can "spend" them on any service offered by other participants, such as electrical repairs or accounting. Currently more than 300 time banks exist in the United States. Time banks not only help their members manage on smaller incomes; they also have an extra value: Neighbors get to know neighbors, and friendships are forged. To see such rewards in action—financial, social and otherwise—trace the interconnected lives of these five members of a time bank in one community and see how it has enriched every single one of their lives.
The Budget Beater: Amanda Witman, 40
Three years ago, I was in a tough spot. My husband and I had separated, and I was in a large house that needed lots of repairs. I was home-schooling my kids and working part-time from home doing website customer service. I had a huge financial challenge. My friends knew I was overwhelmed, and more than one said I should join the Brattleboro Time Trade.
At first I thought, Who has time to trade?! Then I learned that you can run a deficit—get help immediately and pay back the time when you're able. So I posted requests on the website to fix up my house. I'd hoped one or two members would respond, but a bunch of people ended up offering assistance. Randy Bright [read his story at right] fixed holes in the wall and replaced my water-pressure tank. Other people hauled a bunch of stuff to the dump, replaced ancient wiring and helped me plant a vegetable garden.
Before joining the group, I never would have been comfortable requesting all that help. But you don't feel like you're pestering anyone, because people happily volunteer for the jobs and they always show up with a smile. And even though I'm so tight on time, I've always been able to find jobs that fit my schedule, like baby-sitting or making someone a meal. In fact, my whole family pitches in. I'll tell my kids—Everest, 15, Alden, 14, Ellery, 11, and Avery, 9—that we're stacking wood for our neighbor in order to get our light fixture fixed. It makes them feel useful.
In fact, we've come to realize the value of some of our hobbies, like making music. Once we earned four time-trade hours by playing together as a family at a local garden party: two fiddles, a guitar and a pennywhistle!
• Amanda gives: Yard work, firewood stacking, child care, home-cooked meals, administrative work, musical performances
• Amanda gets: Home repairs and electrical work, trash removal, bike maintenance, music lessons, juggling lessons
The Healed Healer: Justine Jeffrey, 61
When I joined the Brattleboro Time Trade a few years ago, I offered up my skills as a pain-management therapist. It was rewarding to help people who might not otherwise be able to afford my services. Then something happened last spring that made me appreciate the group in a whole new way: While driving during a torrential downpour, I lost control of my car, which flipped over four times. At the hospital, doctors told me I'd broken my neck, and I realized I would have to remain on my back in a brace for at least six months. My entire family lives in California. I left the hospital knowing I'd make it but that I'd still need help.
Within days of arriving home, I was in contact with other members of the group, many of whom I knew or recognized from the monthly meetings. Someone would call weekly to see if I had new needs to put in the Time Trade newsletter. People dropped by to deliver meals, help around the house or stack firewood. Some of them even helped change my neck brace. Now I'm doing better, and I am more grateful than words can express.
• Justine gives: Pain-management therapy, movement training
• Justine gets: Caregiving, meal delivery, housecleaning, firewood stacking