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.
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Part of Simmons’ goal is to open up the dialogue regarding finances and make it less frightening. “Money is seen as a taboo subject. When times are good, it’s fine,” says Simmons, “but when there are bad financial times, it’s discussed behind closed doors... [And what it does] is make money scary. The more you don’t talk about it, the more people have weird relationships with it.” Money, like sex, if treated carelessly can lead to serious consequences, so it’s important to look at it realistically and plan. Unlike safe sex campaigns, there are no PSAs preventing debt. We are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages from media and society to consume and strive for the fabulous life despite the news being plagued with dire and menacing headlines about crashing economies. With so much pressure to constantly consume, the reality is many of us are not living within our means.
To reassess what is necessary is not an easy step. Simmons says that when she first quit her job, it was a shock because she was forced to re-evaluate what she needed versus what she wanted. She came from a place where she could afford all these things she wanted but, “when you can’t have everything at the drop of a dime, a swipe of a card, you start to access what you want and why you wanted it in the first place.” Simmons put herself on a $35 a week budget and “through bartering, it taught me to take a hard cold look at what I needed versus what I wanted. It made me think a lot about what makes me happy, what makes me tick.”
Aside from cutting down her expenses, Simmons says the project has been a learning journey for her as well. After meeting all kinds of talented and crafty people from all different walks of life, Simmons says she was overwhelmed with all the amazing barters she received. “I realized that if I were on a deserted island, I’d be eaten first because I don’t have any skills. I’d just count coconuts,” laughs Simmons. “What I’ve learned, walked away with towards the end of the project is that it’s nice to know we’re worth more than what’s in our bank account.”
Elizabeth Fraser, who works at an NGO and started the website, 52 Projects: A Year from Scratch, as her own experiment with self-sufficiency and a “quest for new ways of living.” The 25-year-old bartered an evening of D.I.Y. projects with Simmons and found the exchange to be easy-going and relatable. “The best part of the barter was Shannon put together these really great tools you can take with you [such as] spreadsheets where I can go back to and play around with…it was not a one-off. I feel like I have a tool I can take away with me and use for a longer-term period.”
For those looking to rein their expenses in, Simmons offers some simple advice: Live within your means. This will likely mean having to make some trade-offs. If you have student loans to pay off, living on your own is probably not a feasible alternative. “I advise people to lay out what your options are,” says Simmons. She suggests only using 50 per cent of your paycheque on rent, living expenses and other fixed costs and the other 50 per cent on spending and saving. That number may seem impossible, but with the right choices, it is possible. “Those quality of life assessments [whether it’s living alone or owning a car or having a fabulous wardrobe] are the most difficult to give up. It’s the most important rule to live by, but it’s also the hardest. For those about to embark on school, she advises people to respect the amount of debt they’ll be taking on. “Try to spend, not save, as little as possible. Make sure you’re conscious of what you’re spending.”