The Delicate Art of the Friend Trade

The Delicate Art of the Friend Trade

When you’re short on money and long on time you get creative about paying for things. And a great, creative way to save money on goods and services is by trading for them with other goods and services.

I haven’t paid for a haircut in literally years. My hairstylist friend just happens to be a mom, so I trade babysitting for haircuts and we both walk away happy. This friend trade is a mutually beneficial arrangement: we both get something we really need, we both save money, and we both get the satisfaction of helping a sister in her hour of need.

But the friend trade is a delicate art. There’s no faster way to sour a friendship—and jeopardize your future trading opportunities—than to badly mishandle the intricacies of the friend trade.

Let’s examine how you can save money by navigating the waters of friend trading without being a total garbage person.

Make sure the trade is at least equal

As an editor, I get asked to edit things for friends all the time. A friend attending law school once asked me to edit a lengthy, heavily footnoted article she was submitting to a legal journal, a task for which I could have easily charged $300 or more. And in return she bought me… a six-pack of beer.

Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased. Not only did she grossly devalue my professional skills, but she took advantage of my friendship and robbed me of the opportunity to work for a paying client while I was busy editing her article. Next time she asks for my help, I think I’ll just be “too busy.”

Compare this to the friend who asked me to edit his resume and cover letter for a new job. He treated me to a three-course meal at the restaurant where he worked. And guys? The food was good. The value of the meal, even at his employee discount, was far more than the work I did for him, and it showed me just how much he appreciated my help and valued my friendship. I will absolutely trade favors with him again. (Oh, and he got the job.)

While it’s reasonable to expect a small “friend discount” when trading with your bosom bros, the keyword there is “small.” My law school friend gave herself a friend discount so steep that my services were practically free. And while it might have been an honest error, it still sowed the seeds of resentment.

The true spirit of the friend trade is one of equality and mutual respect. If you respect your friend and their work, why would you offer them anything less than what they’re worth? Why would you offer them less than what you would accept for your own valuable time and effort?

There’s an easy way to make sure a trade is equal. Think of the monetary value of what you’re asking for in trade, and then offer something of equal monetary value in return. If you’re not sure of the monetary value of your friend’s services, use your own hourly rate.

More on accurately valuing your time:

Be respectful of your friends’ time and priorities

I personally find it really hard to say no to a friend even when it will seriously inconvenience me or stress me out. I’m a busy bitch, but if I like you I will definitely try to squeeze you into my hectic schedule. Obviously this is… not the wisest way to run my life.

When asking a friend to trade services, make sure it’s truly a request and not a demand. Give your friend the opportunity and excuse to say no. “I know you’re super busy right now, so don’t feel pressured to say yes if you don’t have time or whatever. I have a couple of other people I can ask. But could you walk my dog tomorrow while I’m working late?”

Make sure they understand that you’re asking for a trade, not a favor. If they want to write it off as a favor and explicitly don’t expect anything in return, then great! But you should always make the offer. “Could you walk Muffin tomorrow? I’d love to make you dinner this weekend to show my gratitude!”

And never, ever guilt your friend into giving up her precious time, even if you feel like she owes you for that night you dragged her weepy ass home from the bar and agreed that yes, Fletcher the evil ex is indeed an asshole, please continue to verbally process your breakup at me. It will only instill resentment, and resentment is a friendship-killer.

Instead, accept your friend’s “No” graciously and honestly the first time it’s given.

Accept gifts graciously

When I got married I saved a lot of money by asking for trades and favors from friends. The photographer, baker, videographer, officiant, musician, and DJ were all friends or family members. And other friends helped by making decorations for the wedding. It is a testament to the kind of wonderful friends I have that many of them offered their help as a wedding gift, rather than expecting any payment in return.

But did I just dust off my hands and accept those favors unacknowledged? No. Because I’m not a human pile of Muffin shit. All of my friends received small, thoughtful gifts and personal letters by way of thanks. And when they’ve gotten married, I’ve enthusiastically offered my no-strings-attached help with whatever the hell they needed to make their special day the specialest.

The point being, if you don’t appreciate your friends, they’re not going to remain your friends for long. Recognize the time, trouble, and thought that went into a favor or gift and respond accordingly.

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