Trade: The Yin Currency I Love to Use

written by Bari Tessler July 31, 2017
Trade The Yin Currency I Love to Use

Imagine you’re sitting across a cafe table from a dear friend. As you tuck into your flaky, buttery croissant, you wince a bit and rub your left shoulder.

She notices — of course — because she’s a massage therapist. You’ve never been on her table, though, because your graphic design business is new and cash is tight.

“I know!” your friend smiles. “Let’s do a trade! You design my business cards, I give you a massage. Whaddya say?”

Well … what do you say? How can you know if this is a wonderful, supportive idea for you … or one that simply doesn’t work with your current cashflow and lifestyle? And if you do decide to do the trade, what things should you consider to make sure it doesn’t end up feeling imbalanced and weird to you … but stays a “heck, yes!” to you both?

Trade is a highly personal issue — AND a big, systems-level one.

Of course, trade needs to feel good to you for it to work well — and that personal, subjective side of things is the main thrust of this article. But first, a quick glance at the larger, “macro” side of this issue.

Many years ago, I had the chance to meet Bernard Lietaer — the visionary economist who created the Euro system. He completely blew my mind open (read the full story here), especially around this idea of trade and “complementary currencies.”

Bernard calls traditional currencies — like the dollar, yen, or euro — “yang currencies.” Trade, on the other hand — and gifting, bartering, etc — he calls “yin currencies.” These are forms of exchange separate from the standard currency. They’re often more feminine, cooperative, and community-driven.

What’s more? Most successful cultures throughout history have used a mixture of both yin and yang currencies, at the same time. This is still happening in some parts of the world, today, which I think is so cool! (Read some great examples here.)

Simply naming that trade is a different, separate form of exchange — and that it’s often more feminine and cooperative — has been helpful for me. Of course I would be drawn to this! And it works on a completely different set of rules than cash exchange — which we need to learn about, honor, and feel into to make trade work for us.

After all: trade doesn’t work for everyone. It depends on the type of work you do, the kind of services you offer, your current lifestyle tier, how your community operates, and on and on. There’s a lot to consider!

I’ve had a love-nope-love affair with trade over the years.

I’ve thought a lot about all of this, over the years. And I’ve also used trade, experimented with it, to varying degrees of success and challenge. I’ve finally fine-tuned my relationship to trade well enough that I feel really, really good about 99% of them — so I’m really excited to share my journey and decision-making framework with you!

My initial love affair with trade

When I first started my Conscious Bookkeeping work in 2001, I lived in a community (the Bay Area) that really supported trade. This was wonderful for me, because my business was new and there were a lot of items and services I didn’t have the cashflow for.

Trade was a way for me to receive some things I needed or wanted in a way that (in theory) felt great to both parties. In this phase, I made a wishlist of things I was dreaming of for my life and business that I didn’t have the funds for: a new website, flyers, massage and acupuncture, house cleaning, etc. Then, I’d find a dream person to fill that role/service and work out a trade for participation in my course.

Here’s how I did it back then. I was charging $50-$75 per hour for QuickBooks training and $100 for financial therapy. So I’d learn what my trading partner charged per hour and figure out an “equal” trade, based on our different rates. Looks good in theory, right?

Sometimes this worked really well — and I was able to receive some wonderful services and give my services to folks who didn’t have the cashflow for them at the time. But sometimes, this really crashed and burned.

You see, an acupuncturist might charge $85 per hour, while a house cleaner charged $25 per hour. If we all were presenting our hourly rate and trying to be “fair,” this often set the stage for some sticky conversations around our value. Since we were switching from dollars to trade, should we stick to these hourly rates, or trade more equitably? Was one person’s time more valuable than another’s, because they charged more for it? Eeek!

My 10-year kibosh on all trade

After a few years of experimenting with trade — with some successes and some challenges — I decided to take a break from it.

Sure, some of this was motivated by how awkward some of the trades I’d done had felt. But saying no to trades also felt like a really important, positive step for my business and money relationship.

I was committed to breaking through my “money ceilings” and part of this meant no longer trading my time, products, or services. It was sometimes hard to say no to a wonderful artist or healer — but it also felt empowering for me to earn more money and give this back to my community in cash form.

Why I started trading again

Once I’d run my year-long Art of Money program for a few years, I found myself in an entirely new place with time, money, and business. My business has gone through 4 main models over the past 16 years, and this latest one (with my year-long program) is the most sustainable, by far. That’s why I slowly starting saying yes to a few of the trade requests that came in.

But I knew: this round of trade needed to be different. I needed to get really clear about what I would (and wouldn’t) trade for and exactly how it would look. I needed to get really choosy and give myself full permission to say no if it didn’t feel really right. I’m happy to say I’ve had some truly wonderful trade experiences lately because of this!

Here’s some of my thinking around this — and how you can apply it to your own trades (should you use them).

Get clear: what of yours are you willing to trade?

After lots of experimenting and fine-tuning, I no longer do trades for my private financial therapy sessions. This one-on-one time simply feels too precious to me, and after many years of experimenting, I’ve learned it feels much, much better for me to get paid in money, not trade, for this.

However, it feels wonderful for me to offer my year-long program as a trade! That way, I know my partner can fully enjoy all of the material I’ve spent years creating and fine-tuning — and I can support them inside the community. This is a clear trade, with precise pricing and a very specific container — and it has worked beautifully for my trades.

What are you a big NO to trading for? What feels good to you to trade for? Give yourself permission to honor this!

What (from others) are you willing to trade for?

I now have a much clearer protocol around what I will trade for. I no longer trade for private sessions of any kind — massage, acupuncture, healing sessions, etc. I used to do this, but I consistently found it to be the most prone to getting wonky and challenging. It was this sort of trade (around hourly rates and private sessions) that would lead to convoluted, stressful negotiations.

That said, I’m now much clearer about what I will say YES to! I say YES to trades for art, jewelry, and lotions/potions. These trades feel so good to me, because I love supporting artists, artisans, and crafters. Their art supports me so much, so I love finding creative, feminine ways to support them back. Trading with them feels like a wonderful infinity loop of giving and receiving, giving and receiving.

Sometimes, an artist will share that they’ve followed my work and wanted to take my course for years and years. Hearing their enthusiasm and knowing how ready they are to receive this trade often really helps me say yes! So, I consider the other side of this trade equation, too.

Of course, I also take into account my personal preferences, tastes, and desires. If it’s a trade for artwork, do I like their art? If they’re offering lotions/potions/oils (which I LOVE), am I craving these, or do I have plenty for now?

Sometimes, I’ll say yes to a trade (even if it’s not my style) if I have someone in mind who it would be perfect for, and I can pass it along as a gift. I recently did a trade like this and was able to gift a dear person in my life some jewelry that was exactly her style, which felt so good!

What feels icky/odd/off to you to receive, in a trade? What feels absolutely wonderful for you to receive, in a trade?

Feel into your timing

At some points in our lives / year / cashflow, trades will feel better or more challenging than others. That’s totally normal! It’s good to notice this and honor it.

For me, the best time to say YES to a trade is when my year-long program is starting up (since that’s what I’ll offer in return). Other points in the year are a little trickier for trade. So, I’ve started putting out the word in January (registration time) that now’s a great time to talk about a trade with me. This past year, I said yes to 13 trades — more than ever before!

Here’s the Facebook post I shared towards the end of Art of Money registration this year, inviting trade proposals:

I always reserve a couple of spots for TRADE for The Art of Money, year-long program.
I did so much trade when I was starting out 16 years ago.
It was a great way to start my business.
Some trades worked and some didn’t.
I learned a lot and then stopped doing them for many years.


But I truly love supporting this kind of exchange, it deeply satisfies my desire for more Yin Currency, and in offering additional options for sharing resources in all different economies.


In the last few years, I opened up again to this exchange because I’ve been presented with some great ones. I’ve had to be really choosy but when it matched a need + want, I have said YES, and I’ve had some great experiences because of it.


What I have said yes to recently..
Art: mixed media, fine art, hand-made blankets/pillows and the like.
I’ve had some amazing trades with artists.
More of that please.


Last year, I was offered facial lotion.
Do you know how much I love products/oils/lotions?!
I got care-packages in the mail with home-made lotions + chocolate.
I was in heaven.


In the past, I did trades with local healers, ie: acupuncturist.
That was fabulous.


But I now have a regular acupuncturist + other healers in place.
If you have been thinking about Art of Money 2017,
(we start tomorrow, February 1st)…
And you have a trade that you would like to present to me,
given what I have shared above,
please send me a note at [email protected]
and feel free to share a note below in this thread.


**Please do not send me a FB Message as I will miss it.


I can’t guarantee that I’ll say yes,
but I would be very honored to consider it.
And, if it matches a need + want and I have slots open,
I will say YES and it will be a beautiful exchange for both of us.
With my dearest appreciation,


** Please note:  I have to be able to say no thank you, I’m not interested in that type of art (it’s just a preference thing) or I don’t need anymore oils or whatever you are offering that doesn’t work for me. I know this can be hard to receive a no, but the trade won’t work if both parties are not happy or excited about the trade.

Are there certain times of the year when it’s easier for you to say yes to a trade? Are there some when it’s harder? What about your overall phase of life — are you in a point right now that makes it much harder or easier for you to trade than, say, five years ago?

Learn the art of the elegant “no”

Sometimes, I’ve said no to trades (for art or jewelry) because it’s simply not my taste or style (when I can’t think of someone perfect to gift it to).

I’ve had to learn to say “no, thank you” to trade offers. This can be really challenging, especially because I know how hard it can be to receive that no.

But trades don’t work if both parties aren’t happy and excited about the trade. This makes your “no” really, really important!

Do you have full permission (within yourself) to say no? Can you feel how that makes your YES (if it comes) even more valuable? Can you say no in a clear but compassionate way?

Work out those details

In the past few years, I’ve done trades of all sorts. Some arrived at my door once — voila. Others came in the form of care packages, spread over the course of many months (oh, I love those!!) Trades can look all different ways, so it’s really important to iron out those details ahead of time.

Now, when I set up a trade, I make sure to come to a simple agreement around how this will look and unfold, over time. I share with my trading partner the price of my year-long program and invite them to feel into what feels good to them to trade for that. If they’ll be sending multiple packages over the year, we work out ahead of time about when they’ll arrive (and what we’ll do if this stops).

I also make sure to ask people I’m trading with if I have their permission to share that we’re doing a trade. I get so excited about participating in this yin currency exchange — and about the wonderful things we get to give and receive — that I often want to spread the word. However, I always want to respect people’s privacy around this, too. Some say yes, some say no … and it’s all good.

Dear ,

​Your trade proposal was the first to come in and I have such a big YES to yours!
​I’m so excited.
​​I’m open to everything that you make.
​I really love all of that stuff.
​+ the fact that you have wanted to take the course for years, I have a big YES to trade with you.
​Thank you~

​So, we would need to come up with a general agreement.
​When I trade for my year-long program, the trade is $88.00 x 12 = $1050.00.

​$1050.00 = whatever felt equivalent and good + right on your end.

​You will need to come up with what works within that framework and the amount of products on your end and how often you want to send me a care package. I certainly don’t need you to map it out by the penny. And, I can share my preferences (my son loves salve and things like this).

​I did a trade last year for lotions, salves, etc, and she worked out the pricing on her end and told me how many packages she could send. And, it was always thrilling to open the package and be delighted by what was inside. She knew some of my desires and likes, but it was mostly a surprise each time.

​How does this all sound?

​As soon as we come to a simple agreement (we can continue to work out the details) my team will get you signed up for The Art of Money 2017.

​I’m looking forward to it so much.

Are you ok if I ever mention that we are doing a trade? Or would you rather I keep it private? I don’t plan to share this in the main Art of Money FB community, although, if I receive a package from you and feel inspired to share on social media, can i mention this is a trade or leave it out?

​Sending my dearest wishes,


I always ask folks to send their trade proposals to my site at [email protected] or via my contact page: In the future, my team will be helping me more with the behind-the-scenes logistics of trades.

Think through the logistical details of your trade. What do you need to make crystal-clear? If it feels awkward to talk about now, it’s usually better to talk it through (because it’ll only be more awkward later!)

Some of my favorite recent trades!

This year, I received more trade proposals than ever before. I tried to evaluate all of them as a whole to make sure it’s a great fit for me (or someone I want to gift to). I ended up saying YES to 13 trades — more than ever before!

Two were for fine art. Four were for jewelry (some for me and some for gifts for those close in my life). Four trades were for lotions/potions/tinctures/oils. Some of these trades arrived in one fell swoop, while others arrived over the span of four to six care packages throughout the year (a truly special treat!).

I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to exchange and interact with artist friends and talented people in this way.

Art Trade with Clara Simond

We love this painting! It came to us all the way from Argentina from Clara Simond — which makes it the farthest distance I’ve ever done a trade! The paintings were rolled up in a blueprint tube, sent by airplane from Argentina to New York (with the artist’s sister), and then Fed-Exed to me in Boulder.

I hired a woman who works with museums to properly mount them, which was really cool. She flattened them (after their long journey in the tube) by gently humidifying them, then mounted them on Japanese paper using wheat starch paste. 7 weeks later, this amazing fish painting is on our wall, above our child’s day bed. (That’s my kitty boy, Oscar, posing for us!)

You can find Clara here:

Art Trade with Sarah Phelps

These art pieces are from Toronto-based artist Sarah Phelps. Oh, I just want to stay home and gaze into them! Sarah titled this series “sacred purpose,” and customized it just for me. I am in love.

I didn’t have original art in my home until four years ago, and it means the world to me to know the artist whose work is on my walls. I also particularly love trading with artists because I receive so much support from their work.

You can find Sarah here.

Potion/Lotion Trade with Danielle Marie Goldstein

This amazing package was filled with apothecary potions, elixirs, medicinals, and facial lotions. (This was the first of four care packages, plus an astrology reading.)

Oooh, I’m crazy about lotions, tinctures, and facial products! And I love being able to experiment with new ones. I adored this facial lotion. I took tiny shots of the flame-cider-tonic when I got sick (with honey, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, apple cider vinegar, and more). I also loved the nourishing body and embodiment elixirs — and my son and I both enjoyed the sleep elixir.

These beauties are from Danielle Marie Goldstein and her Ra Ma Kaur apothecary store:

Essential Oils and Jewelry Trade with Wild Woman

Receiving packages like this delights me to no end. I usually set aside some quiet time so I can be fully present to the experience. This package was filled with essential oils and jewelry from Wild Woman:

Jewelry Trade with Rachel Lubanowski

I felt like a kid in a candy store … but was a grown-up woman in a jewelry studio! Here are a few of the incredible pieces that I got from Rachel Lubanowski’s Grey Tangerine jewelry line. I love her jewelry and had so much fun going to her local studio here in Boulder.

This necklace is rose quartz. Of course, I did lots of Body Check-Ins to make sure I was staying connected and enjoying the whole experience.

Here are some more of the necklaces from Grey Tangerine. I love to layer them and I love to tuck one of the quartz crystals inside my shirt.

Wool Blankets and Pillow Trade with Trista Hill

These gorgeous, hand-made wool blankets and pillows were from Trista Hill, Knot Knot Yarnables.

Find her here:

Are you inspired?

It took a lot of fine-tuning and experimenting, but I love the place I’m in, now, with trades. Exchanging in these alternative, creative, YIN ways can feel so nourishing.

I hope this inspires you to feel into your own relationship to trade and yin currency. Please honor your needs, desires, and timing. And remember to have fun with it!

With my dearest wishes,

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