Richer by the hour

Any two neighbours - you and I - appreciating the advantages of trading skills at minimal cost could come to an agreement regarding mutual assistance around the home:

  • we’ll dispense with payment between ourselves by keeping account of the hours we work;
  • we’ll regard your time and mine as having equal value;
  • we’ll ensure that any imbalance is kept within limits.

Time spent working as a neighbour constitutes a credit currency, designed to ensure that both parties are treated fairly. Each trading account begins at zero. When I ‘buy’ your time, no money changes hands: your account is credited and mine debited; no matter how much we trade, the combined accounts’ total remains forever zero.

A time credit agreement need not be limited to two parties. A whole district embracing a single agreement creates a Time Bank, each member sharing skills with others. With the time credit I gain for the work I do, I can buy someone else’s time to get the service I need. Or I can buy someone else’s time without any prior time credit - trading could never begin otherwise.

A Time Bank is an equitable bank. In marked contrast to commercial bank lending practice, time banking doesn’t result in profit or loss to any party from any delay between earning and spending credit. Time credit is reciprocal, creating personal and community wealth in a way that cannot be matched by an interest-burdened economy.

I am reminded daily that what I have to contribute is needed and valued. I see the elderly and those with special needs able to live independently. I feel richer for new learning. My jobs are getting done. Anonymous strangers I would never have otherwise met have become friendly neighbours.

Although members can sign up, organise trades with other members and record the hours traded directly online, not everyone can manage these tasks without help. A coordinator provides an essential personal approach to the tasks of management: maintaining a database of participants, matching requests for help to available skills, helping members to recognise their skills and capabilities, recruiting individuals and organisations, showing them how time banking works, and listing their skills and the services they would like to receive.

Time Bank accounts do not need the rigorous credit and debit limits of commercial credit accounts. The coordinator helps members whose debits are mounting to find ways of repaying the work done for them, and invites members whose credits are unused or unwanted to transfer them to a credit pool where they can be used by community groups or someone frail or unwell.

Time Banking works at its best within a wider reciprocal credit economy. For example, time credit is not sufficient payment for a coordinator, partly because its usefulness is restricted by the money economy. Although Time Banking is tax-exempt, a current IRD requirement for retaining the exempt status is that Time Bankers offer services other than those that are part of their money-paid work.