For 16 years Judy Arendt made sure her 119-year-old Victorian row house in Allentown, Pa., was well maintained — ripping up carpets, stripping wallpaper and repairing ceiling cracks. But now Arendt, 61, is sidelined by osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, and living on a small pension.
So how does she keep up the old place now? She turns to her savings at the local time bank.
The Community Exchange, an initiative of the Lehigh Valley Health Network, runs on a simple concept: For each hour of service that members give, they earn an hour’s worth of alternative currency known as time dollars, which can be traded for services from other members.
Arendt joined the time bank four years ago, earning time dollars by driving other members to medical appointments. When she recently needed housepainting done, she withdrew 36 hours of credits to hire a 12-member work crew for three hours.
At an estimated $15 an hour for labor, the job would have otherwise cost $540, Arendt says. Minus the time investment, the project “only cost me for the paint.”
Time banking is the brainchild of law professor Edgar Cahn, whose books Time Dollars and No More Throw-Away People describe how trading services — everything from haircuts and dance lessons to weatherization and health care — can strengthen communities.
About 270 time exchanges exist nationwide; memberships range from a few dozen to several thousand. Models vary, but all time banks rely on the collective power of members who deposit and withdraw hours from a central account, often managed with sophisticated software tools.