Time is money

Time is money
Brittany Rask, left, of Rochester, Minn. cleans the work bench area in the garage of Lana Brown of NW Rochester, Minn. Wednesday night October 31, 2012. Both belong to Time Traders and exchange time doing chores and tasks others don't want to do or need help with.

When Sandy and John MacLaughlin wanted to learn how to eat with chopsticks, they didn’t just order some Chinese and fumble their way through the fried rice. The Rochester couple bartered some of their time to bring in an expert to help them master the art of eating Oriental food.

"We advertised that we wanted someone to teach us how to use chopsticks," said Sandy. "This nice young man came over, we ordered some Chinese food, and we all shared a meal."

The MacLaughlins' chopstick sensei came courtesy of Time Trader, a time-bartering service run through Family Service Rochester. Part of TimeBanks USA, Time Trader boasts more than 250 members in southeastern Minnesota who trade their services one hour at a time.

Edgar Cahn, a law professor from Washington, D.C., started TimeBanks USA to give people a complementary currency to cash in order to purchase services. In a time bank, people earn time dollars for each hour of service, then spend that credit to get services from other members.

"Everyone’s time is valued the same," said Jennifer Harveland, who administers the program at FSR. "It’s one way to be creative in the economy and get the things you need."


According to a November 2011 article by Cahn in Yes Magazine, there are more than 300 Time Banks in the United States with more than 30,000 members. Those individual TimeBanks range in size from a few members in a new, start-up chapter to more than 2,000 members.

"My family and I went on a two-week vacation and left our dog in another Time Trader’s home," said Harveland, who also participates in Time Trader. "It was a very effective way for us to get our dog care and know it’d be safe and happy. It really can be a tremendous money savings."

For Lana Brown, the benefits of Time Trader were more tangible. When a broken foot kept her from clearing her snow all winter, she spent some time dollars to get a helping hand.

"When I had broken my foot, there was this young man, he volunteered to shovel my snow," she said. He would even ask if she needed anything from the grocery store before coming over, she said.

The injury also kept Brown from driving so she spent some of her banked time to get rides to and from doctor appointments. While she couldn’t get Time Trader members to cover all her rides, in one month she spent about $50 on taxis — each ride costing $7 each way — but would have spent close to $200 without the time dollars.

Brown has been a Time Trader member for about four years, she said. She earns time dollars by teaching people to sew, sewing clothes and delivering meals to people who have had surgery. "I’m going to restring a necklace for someone to earn a time dollar," she said.

She likes to keep about 10 time dollars in the bank for emergencies. "I don’t know when something will come up I need help with," Brown said, though she plans to spend a few banked hours to get someone to organize her workbench and garage.

One of the benefits of Time Trader is that anyone can participate if they have a skill or some time to invest, Harveland said. "Everyone is an asset and has assets," she said. And the services many people buy with their time, she said, are things on which they would normally not spend money.


For the MacLaughlins, the biggest benefit of Time Traders is the adventure of it all. Aside from the night of chopsticks, Sandy has learned how to make mozzarella and ricotta cheeses from a Time Trader. Another time, said John — who drives people to medical appointments to earn the couple’s hours — they found an artist to carve a likeness of their granddaughter into the side of a watermelon, her favorite fruit, for her birthday.

"I think the bottom line is that everyone, whatever they do, is of equal value," Sandy said. "Hour for hour: that equity of time is very appealing."

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