Some Calgary businesses have reverted to the age-old system of bartering in order to cut costs during this economic downturn  but with a modern upgrade.

"Times are tough right now. I don't have an extra $5,000 kicking around," said locksmith Bob Hopkins, owner of RNR Lockworks.

He typically cuts keys for real estate agents when new owners move into a home. But sales have dropped in the past year, stretching his finances thin.

"What do you do? You can only put so much on your credit card to keep your company afloat."

So Hopkins has found a way to trim spending by bartering. He's a member of eXmerce — a trade system that allows him to exchange goods and services with other businesses without using cash. 

Members earn and spend "trade-dollars" to barter with.

"That money that you would've spent, you get to keep in your wallet," said Hopkins.

Business members include locksmiths, fitness clubs and cleaning services. The exchange is based on cost or time, and not the mark-up that a typical consumer would pay.

The Calgary-based bartering business has seen membership grow by roughly 160 per cent since last year. 

"What's important is a business owner [should] try to identify where in your business you are currently spending cash, and how is it that you can leverage barter to offset some of those business cash expenses," said eXmerce founder Nelson Liem.

Nelson Liem

Nelson Liem is the founder of eXmerce, a bartering company based in Calgary that connects businesses with each other. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

Liem says bartering also helps businesses clear old inventory, and introduces new businesses to each other.

Saving money is the best part of bartering according to Hopkins.

"Every little bit helps that you can keep in your pocket."

Revenue Canada considers barter income equivalent to cash which can be written off as a business expense when filing tax returns.