Time is Money—And It's a Good Thing

Participants in Aging Your Way community gatherings saw timebanking as a way to bring community members closer together.

How would you like to have someone weed your yard for free? Or tutor your child in math? Or de-bug your computer—again, for free?! Timebanking is one way to save you money. And it's happening here in Puget Sound. The only cost?  Some of your time.

Timebanking is simple. Instead of banking money, it tracks your time—time you spend sharing your talents and skills with neighbors and time they spend sharing with you. And since time is money, when you exchange your time for a service you'd otherwise have to pay for, you save!

The number one thing people say they envision in an ideal community is to be connected with their neighbors. Timebanking earns you and the community "interest" in the form of social capital: trust, involvement, and support.

For example, as a member of the Eastside Timebank, Barbee needed a ride to and from the airport. Dave took her and banked his hours in the timebank. John picked her up after her trip and brought her home and banked his hours. Now when Dave or John need something—like weed-pulling or a bicycle tune-up—they can surf the timebank to find an Eastside Timebank member who might be able to help them out. And so on, and so on.

Not only are these neighbors giving and receiving help without exchanging money, they are strengthening their communities and having fun. Everyone gives something. Everyone gets something.

The Eastside Timebank motto is "Building community, one ________ at a time." You fill in the blank.

Currently, there are two timebanks in King County. More timebanks are in the works.

Eastside Timebank, launched in January 2011, has 163 members. It serves primarily Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Mercer Island and is under the fiscal sponsorship of Senior Services. An average of 60 hours of service is currently exchanged each month.

To get started, Eastside Timebank worked with Timebanks USA, a nonprofit out of Washington, DC with deep expertise in cash-free currencies. Their founder, law professor Edgar Cahn, says that to flourish, a timebank must have a "talent exchange mindset," a quid-pro-quo spirit, and an online organizing tool such as Community Weaver software. Keeping track of all this on the back of an envelope just doesn’t work.

My colleague, Joanne Donohue, and I heard about timebanking in spring 2010 and attended a meeting in Kirkland with several Eastside residents. Around the same time, we were beginning to hear what local "boomers" (age 46–66) envisioned as a community that would support them as they age as we conducted Aging Your Way community gatherings throughout King County. At some of the meetings, participants discussed timebanking as a way to bring community members together—all ages, not just boomers and elders.

At the June 2010 Aging Your Way Gathering in Shoreline, a seed idea to start a timebank germinated and SWEL Timebank (Shoreline, Woodway, Edmonds, and Lake Forest Park) was born. It officially launched in November 2011 and has 53 members. Senior Services is the fiscal sponsor.

Jan, a SWEL Timebank member, spent time advising one timebank neighbor on how to de-clutter and re-organize. She's used her timebanked "credits" by having one neighbor help her move a dresser from Kirkland to Shoreline while another neighbor baked cookies for Jan to take to a meeting.

Eastside Timebank and SWEL Timebank work in similar fashion and they hold community orientation events to help people learn more. Both have a formal application process that includes a background check, reference checks, and a DMV check if the person wishes to offer services involving driving other members. There is a joining fee (which varies).

Shoreline, Woodway, Edmonds, and Lake Forest Park residents formed the SWEL Timebank as a result of discussions at an Aging Your Way gathering.

After approval, new members receive login privileges for the Community Weaver software. They set up a profile and list the services and skills they can offer other members. They also list the services they might need others to provide to them. Then they check for offers and requests, make contact through the website, give or receive the service, and record each exchange.

If community members do not have access to a computer, other members can help them stay connected and make exchanges. A key concept is that timebanking must be accessible to all community members, including those who cannot afford the joining fee, need help accessing or using a computer and/or whose first language is not English. After all, the whole point is to get connected and share talents and skills.

Although the service exchanges are free, funding is necessary to run the timebank itself—software licensing, logo and brochure design, printing, and website development and hosting. The largest ongoing cost is for a coordinator (approximately four to six hours per week). Sometimes neighbors donate hours to the timebank to cover these tasks, receiving timebank credit they can use right away.

To clarify, timebanking may sound like bartering but it's quite different. Unlike bartering, which is taxable and places a cash value on goods and services, timebank services are considered charitable acts informally traded among members of a group.

Regardless of market value, one hour of service from one member equals an hour of service from another member. Pulling weeds for one hour is worth exactly the same as a one hour music lesson or an hour of painting.

Three new timebanks are in the works. Discussions are underway in SW Seattle and on Vashon Island. For more information, contact joan@eastsidetimebank.org. Seattle's Central District has secured a web address for CD Timebank (currently under construction).

Everyone has something to give, so don't waste any more time—start banking your time, saving money, and earning "community interest" now! For more information, visit the Aging Your Way Local Economies webpage or contact Dori Gillam at dorig@seniorservices.org.

—Dori Gillam, Senior Services/Aging Your Way