After a customer paid for a haircut with beef and potatoes, a family-run barber shop in southwestern Ontario began accepting other food offers in exchange for a fresh cut — which may not be that unusual given the high cost of things these days.

In fact, Toronto-based financial planner Shannon Lee Simmons says there’s a growing interest in bartering, driven by a tough economy.

“Bartering is an amazing way to offset the costs in your life,” said Simmons.

It did the trick for Justin Newhook, a 36-year-old factory worker in Stratford, Ont. He recently went for a haircut at the new barbershop in town, and was pleasantly surprised when owner Rosso Villamil said he could pay what he wanted.

Instead of saying, “What can I afford?” I’ll often think, “How can I get that?” It’s a different perspective.– Shannon Lee Simmons, Toronto financial planner

But Newhook didn’t give up and insisted on knowing the price, said Villamil, who along with his family runs two other barber shops in southwestern Ontario, in Ingersoll and Woodstock. “So in a funny way, I said, ‘OK, if you want to bring potatoes and meat.'” 

“I kind of thought he was joking, but I just kind of wanted to go with it,” laughed Newhook in an interview on CBC Radio’s London Morning.

So Newhook stopped off at the grocery store and picked up a bag of yellow potatoes and a Styrofoam tray of ground beef. It cost him about $18 — a steal for meat, he said.

“It was a good haircut, too.”

Like a lot of people, Newhook has noticed life has become expensive, especially groceries.

“It’s draining the bank account a little bit more,” he said. “Like a hundred bucks for two to three bags [of groceries]?”

The meat and potatoes story has other customers inquiring if they can pay with food. One man offered a shepherd’s pie and a woman said she could pay in tacos, said Rosso Villamil’s son Leonardo, who works with his dad.

“We already message them, ‘Yeah, if you want to come, come!'” said Rosso.

“Because I’m a Colombian and back home from my roots, my parents, they teach me the best economy is to give,” he said.

He’s also considering offering haircuts for food donations for new Canadians and those in need in his community. “That’s why we have to give and serve.”

Villamil operates three barber shops in Ontario, in Ingersoll, Woodstock and now in Stratford. (Submitted by Leonardo Villamil )

People turn to bartering to save money

“The world is turning dark with the economy and everything,” Rocco said. “I think we have to come back to the beginning, like trade. Maybe this is an opportunity to start to trade with people.”

According to Simmons, it’s not a bad idea. 

In 2010, Simmons launched the year-long Barber Babes Project, and offered financial services to 300 women in exchange for their goods and services.

“When I feel like I need something or want something in my life, instead of saying, ‘What can I afford?’ I’ll often think, ‘How can I get that?’ It’s a different perspective,” said Simmons.

A number of other customers have also been requesting haircuts by bartering. While the family-run business doesn't plan on accepting food as payment in every case, they're willing to work with clients.
A number of other customers have also been requesting haircuts by bartering. While the family-run business doesn’t plan to accept food as payment in every case, they’re willing to work with clients. (Submitted by Leonardo Villamil)

Simmons said she’s come across a range of people interested in bartering during these tough economic times. “I’m hearing it from my clients and I’m seeing people starting to get curious about it, and I’m also seeing it naturally happening.

“People don’t have enough cash to just do the convenient thing. Money makes things convenient. Bartering is not convenient.”

It’s all about what you have and the time you have, not necessarily your skill set, she said, giving suggestions like offering to paint someone’s fence or allowing someone to use your vehicle. Parents are excellent at bartering, often trading children’s items through social media, said Simmons.

“It’s good for the environment. It’s good for your wallet,” she said.

“It’s good for your soul because you’re out there with your community and you’re less reliant on cash in a time when cash flow is really strapped,” said Simmons.



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