Chuck Bell has been paid in cupcakes. This is uncommon for a contractor.

The 33-year-old works in what he calls a "gift-based economy," taking building or contracting jobs and asking only what people think he should be paid as an exchange of gifts and services. That means he's been paid anywhere from "way too much" to yes, cupcakes.

A gift-based economy is an idea based on a book called Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein, which traces the history of money from ancient bartering systems to modern capitalism. Now, Bell and his cohort Brian Clow are taking the concept to the rest of the city with the first ever Hamilton gift circle.

The idea is simple — a group of people get together bi-weekly to share gifts that will help people in their everyday lives. The idea has found roots in other communities — Toronto has four weekly gift circles, and others have popped up in Guelph and London, Ont., too.

"The idea is amazing," Bell told CBC Hamilton. "When I give people stuff, it makes me happy."

The meetings go something like this:

  1. People sit in a circle and introduce themselves
  2. One at a time, the express thanks for a gift given to them the previous week
  3. Then they explain a need they have
  4. People offer gifts to suit those needs

Bell and Clow met after a Toronto gift circle meeting. This particular meeting was all young entrepreneurs, so the services offered all pertained to their businesses.

But not all meetings are like that. In some cases, it can be as simple as a ride to the airport. Others are bigger gestures — like a new car.

"One woman came in at a Toronto gift circle and said 'my car broke this week,'" Bell said. "And a woman gave her a 2012 Honda Civic."

"It was a gift from her heart, but it changed someone's life."

Neither Bell nor Clow are expecting that kind of heft at the first Hamilton meeting. Common types of gifts involve planters, tools, or services — like massage therapists offering a massage.

"People pick it up really quickly," Clow said. "All we're doing is helping people come together and share."

"Receiving is the part I struggle with," Bell said. "It's like on Christmas morning when you realize that you'd rather give gifts to your mom than get them."

The first Hamilton gift circle meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Mulberry Coffeehouse on James Street North. Anyone interested can check out the Hamilton Gift Circle page on The whole thing promises to be low-key and enjoyable, Clow says.

"I've not heard of anyone who hasn't had a good experience."