Mnookin: Time Trade

Jun 10, 2013

While I’ve been at home with my baby daughter this year, I’ve discovered how saving money can also mean building community.

Recently, I babysat for a friend’s child. Instead of paying me, my friend stacked firewood for a musician named Lissa, who gave fiddle lessons to a healer named Jesse, who hemmed pants for a nurse named Jodi, who gave a massage to Randy the handyman, who performed an energy audit for the woman who rescues Greyhounds - named Terri - who worked with me to train my dog.

This is one of the exchanges I’ve participated in as a member of the Brattleboro Time Trade. Instead of money, members spend time credit hours they’ve earned by helping others.

Brattleboro is one of several Vermont towns to launch a time trade. There are similar time banks in Montpelier, St. Johnsbury, White River Junction, and Middlebury. Each one emphasizes core values shared by time banks throughout the world.

In a time bank, everyone is an asset. This includes people who are all too often undervalued - teenagers and people who are elderly, unemployed, or disabled. This also means everyone’s time, and each time credit hour, is valued equally: an hour that a teenager babysat is treated the same as an hour of wiring completed by a retired electrician.

As a time trade member, I’ve provided rides to the bus station, weeded gardens, loaned my kayak and food dehydrator, and baked sweet treats for fundraisers. This year, I’m one of the coordinators.

In return for these services, I’ve had curtains sewn, a chair re-caned, and my dog walked. I’ve received acupuncture treatments, borrowed a pick-up truck, obtained a carpentry consultation, and soaked in an outdoor hot tub.

Sometimes the people I traded with were friends and neighbors I knew beforehand. But more often I formed new connections by choosing to go to one of our monthly potlucks or by responding to a service ad posted in the on-line database.

All I have to do is click and enter what I’m willing to offer, what I need or I can just peruse what’s available. And with each exchange, my community network grows larger.

Vermonters are known for helping one another. In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, people volunteered countless hours (and dollars) on behalf of their friends and neighbors. What time banks do is provide an avenue for people to routinely ask for, and receive, the help they need. In fact, in order for time banks to thrive, it’s as important to spend time credits by asking for help, as it is to earn time credits by helping others.

There’s no simple solution to the economic challenges we face in Vermont. But by participating in time banking and by helping one another, we can begin to broaden our neighborhoods and strengthen our communities - not to mention keep the garden weeded and the firewood stacked.