Deli-dollar offers route to business funding

PASTRAMI ON rye might not sound like an alternative to hard cash but in one American town, sandwiches are replacing dollar bills.

Frank Tortoriello runs a deli in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1989 he wanted to move to larger premises but the bank would not lend him the $4,500 he needed, so he simply printed his own money.

He did not forge dollar bills - he launched "deli dollars" which customers could buy for $8 and, at phased periods, cash in for $10 of food. He sold the lot in a month and raised $5,000. "Frank's customers were backing his loan because they felt they were helping him beat the bank and he was paying them back in sandwiches," says David Boyle, an alternative economist who details many other new forms of currency in his book, Funny Money. Something strange then happened - the deli dollars started acting like real money.

"Parents passed them on to their student children to make sure they were eating properly," said Mr Boyle. "Employers passed them to workers as Christmas gifts. "The minister ate at the deli and soon notes started turning up in his collection box. Even the bank which refused Frank a loan in the first place circulated deli dollars."

Frank Tortoriello's story has a feel-good folksy air to it, but alternative currencies are now used by major companies through customer loyalty programmes, phone cards and air miles. "Suddenly everybody is issuing their own money," said Mr Boyle. "Take air miles - this is a currency issued by airlines which you can spend on an array of goods and services and which disappears when you've spent it. It doesn't carry on in circulation; it just gets deleted."

In the US, bartering between businesses and professionals is now worth $8bn a year, say the futurologists Ira Matathia and Marian Salzman, of the consultancy group Y&R Brand Futures. They add: "At the centre of the industry - which is growing at 15 per cent a year - is the National Association of Trade Exchanges, an association of business owners and professionals who have joined together to trade surplus goods and service."

Ms Matathia and Ms Salzman believe bartering will grow because the Internet has opened once-unthinkable global trading possibilities. But new money does not have to be about business. Community groups are involved. A Washington law professor, Edgar Cahn, was responsible for the launch of "time dollars", based on volunteer help in the community. Individuals register with their time dollar project what work they will do - from roofing to driving someone to the shops - and the things they need done in return.

"You can spend your time dollars on services from other people in the system," said Mr Boyle. "Or you could give it to an elderly relative who might need it more. Or you can keep it for a rainy day."

Time dollars or Lets (Local Enterprise Trading Systems) are now used in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. In the UK, there are 450 Lets networks with 40,000 members. The London borough of Greenwich has a full-time Lets development officer. Lets members offer everything from gardening to massage. Liz Shephard, of LetsLink UK said: "Lets offers a unique form of self-help and mutual aid, encouraging people to exchange services, time and occasional goods on an equitable basis."

The system is not without problems. The Department of Social Security has indicated credits earned through Lets should be treated as having monetary value for the purposes of calculating state benefits. Lets is lobbying the Government to clarify the situation.

Another potential problem is that the services on offer may be limited. Sarah Fox was involved in a Lets scheme. "It was all a bit fey and hippie- dippy," she said. "It was great in theory but there are only so many massages that you want. I needed a decorator and someone to lay a patio but no one could offer that."

But Mr Boyle said: "There are Lets schemes in many countries and if Lets wasn't useful, people wouldn't join." He believes society is over- reliant on money, which can disappear overnight. "We need to underpin our lives by experimenting with new kinds of money, with different values embedded in them, which are more reliable in difficult times," he said. "It worked for Frank Tortoriello."

Funny Money: In Search of Alternative Cash' is published by HarperCollins at pounds 14.99

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Direct Marketing Manager - B2C, Financial Services - Slough

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity h...

Carlton Senior Appointments: Sr Wealth Manager - San Francisco - Inv AdvisoryFirm

$125 - $175 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Senior Wealth Manager – In...

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum