September 21, 2011 • In web :: Features
The Barter Babes Project
One woman’s project to demystify the confusing world of finance and help people out. One barter at a time.
Scrilla, bones, dough, moola, scratch, clams, buckaroos: call it what you will, but money is money. From all the economy talk in the news to applying for school loans to standing in line at the grocery store, we spend a lot of time with money on our minds and our minds on money. It makes the world go round, yet finance is not an easy to navigate subject, with cryptic acronyms and confusing questions. What is an RRSP? A TFSA? How do you get a mortgage? What do you do if you have bad credit? What is the best way to save for school?
Finding the answers to these questions sometimes seems daunting and inaccessible. There is little education at school, and often lessons about money are left to family. Luckily, one Toronto woman has embarked on a mission to help demystify the baffling world of money. Shannon Simmons, a 26-year-old certified financial advisor, launched a grassroots initiative called The Barter Babes Project, designed to help women make sense of their dollars and cents. All for free.
After noticing a gap in access to financial information for her peers, young women who finished school but had amassed large amounts of debt, Simmons decided to do something about it. She noticed women were talking about money everywhere, all the time yet lacked the confidence and know-how to manage their personal finances. The financial guru quit her high-paying job at a wealth-management firm to offer her services to women who needed advice but might not have been able to afford her consultation fees.
“I was aware of the missing link,” says Simmons. “There was no teaching of finance in schools. Generation Y had gone through school without it and came out in the red.” While Gen Yers are increasingly technologically savvy, they are still financially illiterate. With university students across Canada facing rising tuition costs, the reality is more than half of graduating students relied on loans to help finance their studies with debt averages hovering around $20,000. This has real implications on students after they graduate, when they are looking for jobs and have to start paying back loans.
The premise of the project, which started last November, is simple. Simmons offers a financial consultation in exchange for barter from clients. The barters have varied from practical goods such as home-cooked meals and handmade hats and shirts to more adventurous items such as circus and hunting lessons. Clients contact Simmons via her website, they agree on the terms of barter, Simmons sends documents to the clients and they fill it out with their financial information including short and long-term goals. Then they meet for a session to ask questions and discuss concerns.
Marta Chudolinska, an artist and librarian, says she chose to participate as a “Barter Babe” because her financial situation had changed considerably in the past year. The 27-year-old went from making $10,000 a year to having a well-paid full-time job and wanted to make sure she was using this money wisely. “[I wanted] to pay off my student loans efficiently, to save and grow my savings through investment and properly take advantage of this opportunity I have.”
Another “Barter Babe,” Carly Boyce, a 25-year-old community worker, says before the meeting with Simmons she had fears about money and gaps in her financial knowledge. While she says she still has some fears, she found her meeting with Simmons “a great way to get some personalized advice [and because] the advice was from someone not affiliated with a bank or someone up to profit from my hypothetical investments, I felt secure in the knowledge that the advice I was getting wasn’t coming from a place of self-interest.”