Banking your time to save you money

Echo Park in Los Angeles.

Dr. Edgar Cahn, founder of Time Banks.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: And we have one more banking story. I promise. And this one won't take a lot of your time. The time it will take, well, that's valuable, isn't it? I mean, time is money. So what if you could deposit and withdraw things like good deeds, or special skills, in a bank? In some communities you can. It's called -- duh -- time banking. Paul Rockower spent some time learning about it.


Paul Rockower: That's Carrie Grace, busy on the sewing machine hemming clothes.

CARRIE GRACE: And we just fit the jeans and he's happy with them. So now I'm gonna just put a gold stitching around the bottom of the jeans edge.

She won't be paid for this work. Carrie's a member of the Echo Park Time Bank in Los Angeles, and she'll earn something called Time Dollars instead.

Grace: I, in turn, will use my Time Dollars that I make to have a guy in the Time Banking network with us, come over and give my cat a diabetic shot once a day.

Carrie does costume work for movies and TV shows, and the hours are really long. Her cat, Jean Grey, recently became diabetic and need shots twice a day. Carrie's not always home to give them.

Grace: This has been a real lifesaver for me. Instead of paying someone through the veterinarian office or leaving work, which -- I really -- it's impossible for me to do.

She's not just trading sewing for pet care. Carrie can go online to the Echo Park Time Bank website and browse lots of listings of what other members can do for her. I caught up with one of the bank's co-founders, Lisa Gerstein.

Lisa Gerstein: Say I cut your hair for two hours, it's a long hair cut, you would give me two Time Dollars with which I could go back into the community and get basically any other service that anybody in the community had to offer. So that's carpentry. That's legal services. That's babysitting.

The Echo Park Time Bank has 75 members. That's triple what it had six months ago. Membership is limited to certain ZIP codes. The organizers want to balance growth with maintaining an intimate group. They get together for potlucks and other events to socialize and strengthen the network. You'll find time banks in 44 states and in 32 countries. The nonprofit Time Banks USA offers start-up kits for communities that express an interest. Dr. Edgar Cahn is its founder and CEO.

Edgar Cahn: There are two ways to value time. One is the market value. But for all of us there are domains in our life that are beyond market value. Family, neighborhood, community are critical. They may be invisible, they may not be part of the GDP, but they may be the most important asset we have.

Cahn says Time Banking is about teaching communities to meet their own needs:

Cahn: I remember when Time Banking got started, a priest saying to his congregation, "I have good news for you and bad news for you, and I can sum it up in the same sentence: We have no money, all we have is each other."

And during an economic downturn, time banks can be especially appealing. Echo Park Time Bank co-founder Autumn Rooney has seen a spike in membership since the financial crisis began.

Autumn Rooney: There's a lot of people who are losing their jobs right now and having financial problems. And this can be a real relief for people in small ways, and it's just a very timely thing to be creating Time Bank right now.

Ed Collom: It's reasonable that we would expect to see a rise in these local currency systems in tough economic times.

Professor Ed Collom is a sociologist at the University of Southern Maine. He studies social movements like time banking.

Collom: The idea is that time is valuable. And a lot of people have extra time to give and to do productive things. But many people don't have extra money to buy even the basic necessities.

And that's where time banks step in with their own brand of financial bailout.

In Los Angeles, I'm Paul Rockower for Marketplace Money.

Dr. Edgar Cahn, founder of Time Banks.

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