Yesterday I spent a fair bit of the day at a small festival, promoting our local LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System) scheme. I do love the idea of LETS, although I must confess to not taking advantage of it as much as I should do.
If you're new to the idea, it basically works like this. Each local group has a name for its local currency. Ours is called 'stones', and I think the general idea is that a stone is roughly the equivalent of £1. Other groups have far more festive names for their currency. So, I come and do some work in your garden for an hour, you write a 'cheque' from your account to mine for, say, 6 stones. I can then spend those 6 stones on goods or services from you, or someone else. So I might pay someone to walk my dog, or give me a massage, for example.
The point is that, like money, the bartering doesn't have to be directly between two people - I don't have to exchange my eggs for your knitted jumper, for example. However, unlike with money, the stones stay in the local economy, and people offer all kinds of things they might not ordinarily be able to charge real money for. There's a fair bit of debate within the system overall around how much people should charge for their services - there's some schemes where everyone charges a fixed rate for their time, say 5 stones an hour. Our scheme doesn't do that, and people price their time according to what they believe their skills are worth, like with real money. This means people who have spent more time building up specific skills, teaching music, for example, generally charge a higher stones rate than those offering general help in the garden. Obviously, it also means that, like in life in general, those without specific skills earn less for their time. The debate goes on.
At the minute, members in our scheme offer everything from plant care to ironing, art tuition to flower essence consultations, event management to hair cutting. The diversity of people in the scheme is impressive.
Some people make far better use of the scheme than I do. I tend to be pretty self reliant, and so struggle with the idea of getting someone in to help me decorate, for example, or do the garden. However, I'm on a bit of a mission to do more trading in the coming months, and, leafing through the directory of offers, I'm edging towards a regular spot of massage, which is something I would never pay for in real life.
Actually, I just noticed that a woman I met recently from the guild of spinners and weavers is offering tuition in spindle spinning... Might be time to give her a call?