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Trade Policy : Members of Free for All swap services, from baby-sitting to teeth-cleaning to memory training.

January 14, 1994|GERI COOK

TARZANA — Trading skills--instead of paying cash--is one way to save big money. Name a service, and a member of the bartering service Free for All probably can provide it.

Many bartering services come and go, but Free for All has been around for almost 20 years. It offers everything from teeth-cleaning, dog-walking, baby-sitting, tutoring or translation to private investigation, piano lessons, photo-tinting, songwriting, typing, memory training or computer instruction.

This system differs significantly from conventional bartering because members freely share services--they don't have to balance out what they use against what they give. Members enjoy as many listed services as they want, without limit, but are encouraged to put in as much as they take out.

Director Richard Johnson started the organization in 1975 as a special-interest group within MENSA, the society for people with high IQs, but after two years set up shop independently. Membership, which has vacillated between 100 and 350 over the years, stands at 175 participants.

"We get our members largely by word of mouth. Free for All makes very little profit; I mainly offer it as a service to the community," Johnson says.

The one-time registration fee, which covers all adults in a household, is $54. Annual dues are $44. The registration form asks for the specific number of hours that can be worked, which can be changed, during the year.

Six-year member Lily Vickson of Santa Monica, who lists child care as her primary service, signed up for six hours a week. "I keep track of my hours, and at the end of the year, I turn in a list of members I have provided child care for, along with the services I have used," Vickson says.

Last year, Vickson received about $250 worth of services. "I've belonged to other groups where they worked with bartering dollars and always came out on the short end of the stick," Vickson says.

Dean Strickler of Sylmar offers driving as a service. "I'm not overwhelmed with requests . . . maybe once a month or so. But I've used a dental service, have had a psychic reading and instruction on how to work my VCR."

Free for All services are outlined in an indexed and cross-referenced 17-page Freedom Directory that lists members and services, with addresses and phone numbers. Updates are issued every three months, and an accompanying newsletter lists social gatherings and special offers for members. A "no-risk guarantee" promises a full refund. The list of services provided by members exceeds 250, and the latest service update added 12 new categories.

I suppose I might use a variety of them during the year, but if all I get for my $98 is computer instruction, it's already a bargain.

Where and When

What: Free for All bartering service.

Location: P.O. Box 571214, Tarzana, 91357.

Cost: One-time $54 registration fee, $44 annual dues.

Call: (818) 708-SAVE.

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