Save Money by Joining a Time Bank
When you work for a living, you trade your time and expertise for money. But time banks allow you to trade time for other peoples’ time. In the process, you can save money and engage in your local community in rewarding ways.
A time bank is an organization that manages a shared economy based on time-based currency. More importantly, it’s a community of members that perform services for each other and bank credits for each hour of time spent. Time banks provide a centralized place to record hours in the bank and members (as well as their available skills), typically using the software.
Time banks facilitate many-to-many time-sharing, and every hour has the same “value”:
- Many-to-many: Unlike barter or other systems, where you trade directly with another party, time banking allows for flexibility and storing value. You can spend an hour helping another member and record that hour in the time bank. Whenever you need services from a time bank (whether that’s next week or next year), you can select from any available member—not just the person you helped earlier.
- Global: Time banks thrive in local communities, but they can also work across the globe. Depending on the banks involved, you may be able to get services (or lodging, on your next vacation) from somebody in a different time bank in another country.
- Equal value: Time banks, as the name suggests, value time, and one hour of service equals one credit for the bank. It doesn’t matter if members typically charge $12 per hour or $120 per hour for the services they provide—because members trade hours. That can be particularly beneficial when you are short on funds, but you need expensive services.
- Creativity: While time is the primary currency in a time bank, some banks get creative about crediting hours. For example, a local farmer might provide goat’s milk to members at an exchange rate of one hour per quart. If you have unique resources but a lack of time, ask your local time bank to consider creative ways to participate.
- Community: While you can certainly save money with a time bank, you may find the community aspect even more rewarding. Cynthia Harwood, Executive Director at Time Bank of the Rockies in Montrose, CO, explains that members can join together and perform “mob jobs”—completing yard work or home modifications when a member gets injured, for example. That’s more enjoyable than working solo, and members might have pizza and beer together after the work is done. Members can also donate hours to others.
Ways to Save Money With Time Banking
Because you spend time instead of money to receive services, time banks are inherently thrifty. And under the right conditions, you might experience significant savings. Harwood provides just a few examples of how your time can come back to you:
- Transportation: Although ride-sharing apps keep transportation costs low, they still cost money, and they aren’t available everywhere. Time bank members can get you to the doctor or the airport without the need to spend money. Plus, driving other time bank members around is an easy way to build your own time bank balance.
- Expensive services: Timebank members may provide services that are otherwise unaffordable for you. For example, Harwood describes a member who offers a limited number of facials each month to time bank members. Those facials typically cost $80, but they’re available for one hour of your time bank balance.
- Lodging: Going somewhere? If your time bank coordinates with other banks, it may be possible to stay in another city (or another country) by using your hours. Depending on where you go, that could bring significant savings over hotels and other lodging options. Plus, as with some Airbnb locations, you may stay in a “real” home instead of a standard hotel.
- Avoid debt: There’s good debt and bad debt, and then there’s time debt. Some time banks allow members to use more hours than they have available, effectively owing time to the bank. But unlike financial debts, you avoid paying interest charges and damage to your credit scores. In many cases, you need services anyway, so borrowing from a time bank to get things done may be better than putting services on your credit card.
- Childcare: Babysitting coops are nothing new, but time banks provide another way to coordinate childcare. Parents can trade with each other, or they can draw on other members in the time bank when the need arises.
How to Start Banking With Time
To get started with time banking, search for local banks through Timebanks.org or hourworld.org. If there are none, you can start your own, although it takes time and effort for things to really get going. Harwood explains that the ideal size of a time bank depends on the community, but “the key is active members.” Some people are enamored with the time banking concept and eager to offer services, but they don’t follow through when somebody wants to take them up on the offer.
Time banks often use software to track hours and services available. Those programs may be free, but some charge a modest fee for each member. You also need somebody to run the time bank, onboard new members, share information and keep everybody involved so that the bank stays top-of-mind for members. Members need to think of the time bank first when they need services—otherwise, the community can lose steam.