10/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Bartering To Build Your Savings Account

The woman who cuts my hair is stressed out all the time. Her clients drive her crazy and she's working long hours to make ends meet. Last time I saw her, I told her she should take a yoga class to destress. "I can't afford yoga, are you kidding?" I thought for a moment and said, "Well, I'll teach you. A few years back, I trained to teach." She looked at me and a light bulb went off, "I'll give you free hair cuts. We'll barter!"

I never meant to teach yoga. I took training courses, complete with anatomy lessons and therapeutics, because my friends always asked me to show them poses. I didn't feel comfortable doing that unless I had formal training. And now suddenly I have a valuable skill to barter with.

My hairstylist also barters her skills for design work on her website, business cards, and manicures. Many of my friends who are attorneys exchange counseling for services ranging from oil changes to real estate advice.

Bartering is nothing new. Most economies where developed partially based on bartering. Today, the Internet, and specifically Craig's List, is used as a bartering tool.

It did not occur to me to barter, let alone yoga. Yoga was a personal skill, not meant for economics. I lost sight of the value of tradable skills. When I was in my early 20s I used to barter my writing services for anything because I was starving. But when I became a so-called professional writer, I stopped. I got too comfortable. Took things for granted. Not anymore. I have friends who are losing their homes and can't support their families. We are in a terrifying economic state. Every penny counts.

The past year has also helped me understand my parents. My dad grew up during the Great Depression and my mother was a World War II baby raised in Europe. They both understood poverty. Despite how financially successful they became later on, my mom still clipped coupons and would only buy things on sale. When I was a child, my dad put little stickers on all the light switches to remind me to turn the lights off when I left a room. I, like most kids, thought my parents were mildly insane.

I clip coupons. I turn off all the lights. I make conscientious decisions when I spend money. And I take great pleasure in bartering. It's a satisfying exchange when you give a skill in return for a skill. And, I'm saving money -- it's my personal 401K.

If you have bartering stories, I'd love to hear them.