Bartering Criteria For Making a Fair Trade

  1. 1.
    exchange (goods or services) for other goods or services without using money.
    “he often bartered a meal for drawings”
    synonyms: trade, swap, exchange, sell

    “they bartered grain for salt”
  1. 1.
    the action or system of exchanging goods or services without using money.
    “it will be paid for by a mixture of barter and cash”

I’m kind of torn about whether to barter. Growing up I always thought that bartering was a good thing, and you were lucky to score a trade. Yet, lately I’ve been rethinking it.

My money-guru, Denise Duffield-Thomas, aka The Lucky Bitch, firmly believes that bartering is devalues yourself. She feels that regardless of how fair the trade that bartering always makes a bad bargain.

Now that we have our beach cabins, we’ve actually have something worth a trading. And so far, we have taken advantage of this asset:

  • We’ve bartered with friends who run a side web hosting business, once for a stay at the cabins and another time for donating it the Alameda School Auction.
  • After paying for my first coaching package, my friend/coach Lou Radja was willing to take his family to the beach in exchange some extra sessions.
  • When legally forming an LLC, our lawyer Lori Beight was the one to propose bartering our cabins for her services. (She had visited once before with Rotary friends from an auction donation and knew that her husband “who is a real snob” really loved the cabins).

In each case we obviously entered into the trade with a win-win in mind. We’ve got a cabin that sits empty on some weekends and we have a need for services that friends offer.

Yet, I’ve been rethinking it lately, and feel like I need to set my own criteria for any future barters. It feels especially important since the whole point of a barter is that both parties get what they want without having to exchange money.

  1. We were already planning/needing to buy the service in the immediate future.
  2. We each make an itemized calculation of the value, and any discrepancy in either direction is paid at the time of agreement.
  3. We put it down in writing. It doesn’t have to be a legal document, probably just an email or maybe Google Docs.
  4. When either proposing a barter or being asked one, give the other person some time to think about whether it really works for them. We don’t want either party to say yes just to be nice.
  5. Set a timeline for the barter itself. When do you want the exchange to take place? Does it expire?
  6. Accept either an agreement or a polite decline with grace. Politely decline if the proposal doesn’t meet the above criteria.
  7. After the trade has happened, make sure to document it for tax purposes.

Reflecting about it, I realize that part of the challenge with bartering is that it happens with friends and family who also want to do business with you. So, you obviously want both relationships to be long term and mutually beneficial.

I don’t want to feel used, nor do I want to swindle anyone else. Hopefully, by using my own criteria, we’ll be able to continue to make friendly exchanges with good business practices in place. I think the key is to make sure no one is devalued in the process.

Have you bartered before?

How do you make sure it’s fair for both parties?




Introducing Adam & Miel’s Money


When Sustainable Family Finances began, it was initially about creating a lifestyle that balanced finances with a desire to live in alignment with our values.

Now the meaning of Sustainable Family Finances feels like a balance of creating a cashflow positive lifestyle.

If you have followed Sustainable Family Finances, you’re familiar with Darcy as the original writer and with me, her identical twin sister Miel. In covering our ongoing adventures in finance, we’re now introducing my husband Adam, whom I manifested out of thin air in 2015, and married in July 2016.

On the list of qualities manifested was “Has his shit together.” This was very specifically thought out. While money and finances were important to me, and had in fact been central in my first marriage, I also realized that there was more to it than just having money. For me it was more about lifestyle alignment and potential.

Having the freedom to do what we want to in our lives.

I recall that when Adam and I met up to volunteer at the Oregon Country Fair that I thought it was somewhat suiting that Adam, a start-up CEO for InStove, had a beat up Toyota Corolla (that my dad now proudly drives). This was notably a closer match than most folks to my 1999 Volvo with 250k miles. Of course I would fall for him.

While Adam’s car choice reflected his financial situation, I also saw this as a smart and frugal choice. So while his beat up car wasn’t a display of his wealth, it did show me that he valued living within one’s means more than having the best car on the block. As anyone who knows our story, Adam and I jumped right into our life together, deciding to move into together in less than a month.

While we align in many, many ways, there is no doubt that each us have come into our marriage with very different financial situations and perspectives.

For Adam, he is 31 years old, has not paid off his student loans, and comes with a small mountain of credit card debt from his previous marriage/divorce. While he does spend prudently, his income has been hampered by his conscious decision to forego a full salary until InStove is fully capitalized, and all employees are paid full salaries. His huge contribution our first year together was actually food stamps. I never ever thought that I would be on food stamps, but honestly, without them we certainly wouldn’t have been able to stay afloat as well as we did.

For myself, I was just finalizing my divorce and recently unemployed when we met. I also had a net worth of $1M to keep me going. I spent the first several months of our relationship finishing up establishing my Living Trust, and getting several businesses launched (InStove became a third project of mine). I also went from just starting as an Airbnb host to spending much of the summer on the road to enable us to rent out my place for some income.

While our initial financial situations are different, it doesn’t matter. It simply means that my being a little further along in the game (yes, I’m a bit of a cougar – Happy Birthday love!) enables us to follow our hearts passion and serve humanity by giving to great organization like, Rotary, and EduCongo. It gives us some room to make it all possible.

As Adam and I now start our married life together, it feels like a new journey in faith and finances. We are excited to share as we manifest our fabulous lives.

We might not have lots of money, but we can use our love to pay the bills!


Adam & Miel

My Historic Money Pit

This week marks our one year anniversary of moving to Astoria, Oregon. We bought an amazing example of Craftsman architecture with a spectacular view of the Columbia River. I’ve shared in detail about manifesting our dream home, and in many ways, it still feels like a fairy tale.

Yet, now that we’ve been living here for a year, it’s time to share about the “money pit” side of the story. While I still am in awe of our beautiful home, the realities of how much this house is going to cost us sunk in this past winter. Like the feeling of living in a money pit. It’s not quite as bad as the exaggerated 80’s movie, but it’s certainly more than we ever bargained for. While the house is cosmetically gorgeous, virtually all of the mechanicals are in desperate needs of repair/replacement.

That feeling has sunk into my stomach ever since we returned from an aloha-filled trip to Hawaii only to find combined sewer overflow flooding our basement. To be honest, this wasn’t the first time, we had a smaller flood within weeks of moving in, with our first big storm.

We had been “lucky” for several months not to deal with it, and in the mean time had spent several weekends getting the basement ready to rent out, thinking that it was an occasional issue that we could deal with. Yet, this last time it proved more than I could manage. Instead of spending hours and hours mopping up and ripping out the carpet, I called a restoration cleaner to deal with the “Level 3 contamination.” In the process, they also tore out the trim and first two feet of drywall, and what previously looked like a cute studio is now torn to shit. Between the plumber and the cleaners, I know we’re in for over six thousand, plus needing to repair the walls and flooring. I was crossing my fingers that this could be paid by our insurance, but now it appears that it isn’t covered.

Here’s the list of expenses that we’ve paid since moving in:

  • Basement “restoration” to clean up the flood: $6,203.04 plus interest.
  • Roof – Replaced the original hundred year old cedar shake roof, plus $3,600 to fix the garage enough to put a new roof on it, I’m frankly glad there wasn’t more rot: $34,024.35
  • Gutters with screens– A necessity in Astoria: $8,348
  • Appliances – Every appliance except the microwave had issues within few weeks of moving in, so we now have new fridge, dishwasher, stove, microwave, and washer/dryer: $4,225.17
  • Bedrooms painted – It technically wasn’t urgent, but needed to be done to feel like home. We did “splurge” on Benjamin Moore’s eco-friendly : $1,000 labor, $404 paint
  • Tree work – Maybe this wasn’t a must, but we had the trees pruned and cabled, soon after one limb nearly dropped on our van. It did buy us an amazing view: $6,075
  • Electrician – We actually need a whole lot more done, but this was just to get the stove installed: $119
  • Plumber – Our first plumbing call after the first CSO incident: $257.59
  • Misc. DIY fixes: $8

Total to date: $60,664.15

Here’s a list of the work we can’t afford yet:

  • New furnaces and water heaters – the house is so big that it needs two of each and the current ones are over thirty years old.
  • Insulation and weatherization – aside from great storm windows, the house leaks like a sieve.
  • Fix basement walls and floors – this frustrating because it feels like a temporary fix
  • New sewer line – The kicker is that the previous owner told us that she paid was a sewer scope that came up fine, we wasted money on a lawyer trying to see if we had any recourse.
  • New toilets – we’ve had chronic leaks – the upstairs toilet flooded to the main level Christmas – now the main level toilet is completely plugged – the basement toilet is a hideous black.
  • Fix main upstairs shower tile – this was leaking and now a “band-aide” fix of putting unmatched tile just in the basin is going to cost us
  • Fix slanting back stairs – It feels like you’re about to go off a diving board
  • New garage door – the current one is rotten and has visible holes

And our “wish list”:

  • Blinds in our bedroom
  • Built in dining nook in kitchen
  • Bathroom flooring to remove ugly carpet…

Now these lists aren’t including all the miscellaneous things that really ought to be fixed, notably the foundation needs to be replaced for the price of at least $150-200k.

The only saving grace is that we are working to refinance and the house appraised at $500k, after buying the housing for $350k just last year, so at least our $60k hasn’t gone entirely down a money pit.

Unbelievably, I still love our home and am happy we bought it, even if it is a labor of love.




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8 Tips to Create an Engaging Airbnb Listing

Listing your place on Airbnb is a pretty straightforward process, and you don’t need to be very tech savvy. However, an engaging listing is essential to attracting your ideal guests. Asking yourself a few key questions will make the listing flow and attract the guests you want. Take a moment to ask yourself:

  • Who is your ideal guest? Do you want just couples? Or is your place naturally set up for families? Would you prefer to meet tourists or friends/family of locals?
  • What is unique about your place? AirBnB guest aren’t looking for a bland boring hotel room. They want to stay in places with character that reflects the local culture.
  • What’s attractive about your neighborhood? Guests are looking to you to learn about the local attractions like restaurants, and want to know that there are interesting things to explore that they wouldn’t find by booking a room downtown.

Here are my top 8 tips for creating an effective and engaging listing:

  1. Create a personalized listing. Guests want to know a little about you in order to feel comfortable with booking your place and sleeping in your bed. Make sure to post your favorite travel pic (guests too…we hosts want to know what you look like!) and tell guests about why you’re hosting. Many guests respect the fact that you want to save up for a big trip or need to replace your roof (like us!).
  2. Speak to your ideal guests. Now that you know who you want to attract, speak to them. If you know foodies would love the local farmer’s market and restaurants, compel them to visit.
  3. Use your title wisely. You only have a short title to catch people’s attention. Make sure to have key search words that will get the attention of potential guests. Our current title is “Transit/Kid-friendly Yard/Patio). Initially I included something about the skyline view, but decided that even though we have a decent skyline view that guests would want to stay at our place more because it’s close to all sorts of transit than because they can see the Portland hills (plus, our view isn’t the best in town).
  4. Be completely honest. AirBnB is built on honesty and trust. Be forthright about any negative quirks your place might have. As long as you are upfront about any issues, your guests will likely be willing to overlook some typical imperfections (like at our place not all of the old windows open up, and we use fans instead of AC).
  5. Take great photos. The cliche is true, pictures do say a thousand words. Make sure they are taken in great light and with minimal clutter.
  6. Create a Welcome Book. You can create a great “guide book” through AirBnB online. It’s super easy to plug in your favorite restaurants and give a quick review to give your guests and idea of the places they can visit in your neighborhood. Our guests have really appreciated this. We combined this with a “Welcome Book” that includes info about our neighborhood and the basic house rules. Plus, it helps cut down on your back and forth communication with guests…our first several guests wanted to know several basics, like how to get to the streetcar two blocks away, and it was obvious that we needed to give our guests a little orientation.
  7. Keep your calendar up-to-date. With our location so close to downtown, we’ve been booked literally every weekend that we’ve make available to guests. But it’s a bummer to have to turn folks down because your place isn’t available. So, make it easy on both of you and make sure to keep your calendar current. With that in mind, our initial strategy was to keep three weeks in August open, knowing that we would only take a vacation for two weeks. In the end I had to turn down the guests who wanted to stay as we were returning home.
  8. Review your guests. While this step happens after your initial listing, it is essential to your first impression with potential guests. Sometimes you won’t have too many details to give, but if your guests left your place in great shape, make sure to give them a great review. We’ve been very lucky with all but one group (who seemed to use our place for a fraternity reunion…leaving us with three cases of beer and three huge bottles of booze…I don’t want to know how much they drank over the long weekend! I’ll share more in my “Lesson Learned” post).

I hope this helps get you started on your AirBnB hosting journey…let me know if you have any tips of your own or more questions. If you decide to host, please use our Airbnb host referral link.

Happy hosting!


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Family-friendly Budget Template

Try our Family Budget Template

Just as my twin sister, Miel, disentangles her finances from her recent divorce, I feel like I’m starting from scratch again with our budget.

After my family bought our dream house and Hubby got his dream job, now it’s my job to create a new budget. In hindsight I know that I should have done this months ago, but I was too busy unpacking, settling in, paying contractors, and celebrating the holidays. Now nearly six months after our move, I am finally ready to create our new family budget.

The good news is that I have an awesome budget template to start from…it’s actually one that Miel helped me create for this blog five years ago. We made the budget template specifically for families and all the expenses that come with them. It’s also easy to personalize our budget template. It’s nice to see that it’s still as valid and important of a tool.

I know that my family will benefit from the time and energy that I put into creating and consistently updating our budget. When I’ve been really “good” at updating it, we’ve been able to save more quickly than I ever imagined.

Truthfully, it’s been a source of tension lately, since we don’t have a current calculation of our exact monthly bills, which changed a fair amount when we moved. We also spent a toooon of money on home repairs when we first moved in, which I’ll save for another post soon.

Yet, I know that I also have mixed feelings, not wanting to focus on our lack of money and to plan for things that our current budget doesn’t actually allow for. That’s where I think gratitude comes in, and by acknowledging how you are currently providing for your family makes a difference. To put things in perspective, I was in the grocery store when I overheard a Dad saying to his son how he had to work for an hour to earn $10, enough to buy a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. Even when money might seem tight, I know that practicing gratitude helps me feel abundant.

Have you used our budget template? Do you update it daily, weekly or monthly?

Happy budgeting!


PS I’m going to post a Google Doc version for everyone else who has moved their finances to the cloud, like me.

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