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  • Writer's pictureNoel Williams

The Timebanking Definition Explained for Beginners

Watch what represents timebanking concept and timebanking definition

Whether you have heard about timebanking and would like to know more, or are completely new to the subject entirely, this piece will serve as an introduction to the timebanking definition.

Way back in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew plagued southern Florida, the Miami-based largest time bank in the US at that time made headlines responding to the disaster. They had taken action way before the arrival of the Red Cross and National Guard.

Fast forward to the present day and there are hundreds of timebanks around the world, including countries such as the US, France, Argentina, South Korea, Australia, Italy, and New Zealand. And they are still operating under the same old principles. Their usefulness in society keeps popping up now and then, which is perhaps one of the reasons you are wondering what time banks are. Well, here’s all you need to know.

We look at why people do it, and how you too can get involved. As you will learn, timebanking is not only something that can satisfy an individual’s needs but can help an entire community become stronger and more bonded in a group where no one person is more valuable than another.

In this article we will cover the topics to explain the term timebanking:

What is Timebanking?

Simply put, timebanking is a currency system where time replaces dollars and cents. Members of a timebank contribute hours of service in exchange for time credits that can be used for whatever services they may need and are available.

The key to a timebank is nothing more than a group of people (community) who come together in agreeance that services will be exchanged for time credits; time credits that can then be used on services from other community members.

For the most part, that is the extent of it. Timebanking is not particularly complicated, but like any other currency system throughout history, there needs to be a set of guidelines outlining what is acceptable. In other words, you should ask yourself what services can be performed to earn time credits? It is also important to understand that timebanking is not a new concept and is already rich in history. You can read about the history of timebanking here.

While different timebanks adopt their own specific rules, there are five “core values” of timebanking that were derived by a man named Edgar Cahn, who is generally regarded as the champion of modern timebanking.

Timebanking’s 5 Core Values

Timebanking’s basic five principles, coupled with a brief explanation as to what they mean, are listed below:

TimeBanking's 5 core values Infographic

Basic Principles of Timebanking Definition Explained

In his book No More Throw-Away People, Edgar Cahn outlines the following five values that have gained worldwide adoption as the guiding principles of time banking:

  1. Everyone is an Asset: all members of a time bank must be viewed as valuable individuals who have something to contribute, setting aside the value of their services in fiat currency.

  2. Redefining work: while the money economy considers “work” something you do to earn money, time banks focus especially on the kind of activities that you simply can’t put a price on. For example, bringing up children, caring for one another, social activism, and creating a better neighborhood.

  3. Reciprocity: exchanging of time is a give-and-take scenario. Every member of the timebank has to put in their hours by working for others as well as receive services from fellow members. That way, everyone is empowered rather than creating resentment within the group.

  4. Social Networks: for a time bank to work effectively, it has to be a network of mutual support. Stronger bonds are formed amongst the members as they help each other in various ways. Eventually, the whole community is held together by strong ties amongst participants.

  5. Respect for Others: time bank members show respect for one another, even though cultural, political, and faith differences may still exist.

Giving and Receiving Within a Timebank

As an example, it is always easy to paint the picture of ‘Person A’ performing a service for ‘Person B’. While many timebank exchanges may fit the (1:1) model, there are a few other timebanking transaction models that include more than 1 person.

With that said, there are generally 4 types of transactions:

type of timebanking definitions infographic

Types of timebanking definitions briefly explained using ‘Mary’ as a timebank member:

  • (1:1) – A timebank exchange between 2 people. A (1:1) exchange could be something as simple as community member Mary mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor.

  • (1:Many) – A timebank exchange where 1 person helps many people. Mary could earn credits by planting a small garden that will then be used by several different community members. This type of exchange can be defined as (1:Many).

  • (Many:1) – Conversely, community members could come together to decorate a community member’s house for the holiday season; this would constitute a (Many:1) exchange.

  • (Many:Many) – A timebank exchange where many people help many others. This could be played out in the form of a group of community members planning, organizing, and running an annual carnival that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Tracking Services and Time Credits

Most timebanks boast an online platform whereby members can create a profile that outlines the services they can offer and/or the services they may require.

These online marketplaces coordinate the service exchange and, once completed, also facilitate the exchange of time credits. Much like an online bank account keeps tabs on the dollars and cents in an account, a timebank’s online interface will keep track of your time credit balance.

One of the best timebanking platforms out there right now is Nomos, an easy-to-use app and website that is bringing timebanks from across the world onto one platform. With Nomos, tons of local communities and their timebanks can exist simultaneously in one place where timebank members new and old can easily find services, track time credits, and so much more.

Rather than scour the internet and find a bunch of different timebanking websites that do not correlate with one another, Nomos brings all timebanks to one platform that makes the lives of those running and participating in the timebank easier than ever before.

Why the Need for a Timebank? The Failures of Fiscal Monoculture

You’ve heard phrases like “money is everything” and “money runs the world”? The sad reality of the world’s economic status quo is that nearly everything revolves around money — talk of cost-benefit analyses, evaluation of ROI, risk assessment, salaries, and so on.

Money is often the only measure of value in everything we do, and for good reason: it facilitates all sorts of exchange of products and services beyond geographical boundaries and supports development, and is the backbone to market forces such as consumerism. Yet over-relying on this single measure of value exposes us to so many risks:

  • We use the GDP every time we want to talk about economic well-being, but this limits our choices and power for solving our problems or advancing our values. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, “It measures all the things but that which makes our lives worthwhile.”

  • We neglect the “core economy”. This is a term used by economist Neva Goodwin to describe the social force with which we establish safe neighborhoods, raise our children, care for the elderly, grow social justice, preserve the environment, and everything else that we value as a better life for the whole society. These values are not represented as much in our GDP calculations and are constantly threatened by monetary transactions.

  • Lastly, we have become increasingly dependent on intrinsic rewards (such as being able to purchase goods, services, or property) while leaving out extrinsic benefits. Examples of extrinsic rewards would be taking a lesser-paying job for the sake of personal satisfaction, such as being able to help the needy or solve social injustices.

Benefits of Timebanking

Timebanking social programs are not only a phenomenon in the United States but a global community. It is a way to fight back against the rule of money and consumerism with a community service that helps everyone involved.

A key benefit is that it helps to regain social justice in many communities. Rather than throw away people skills due to unemployment, even those that struggle to find full-time employment can use timebanking as a way to maintain their home, get private tuition for themselves or their children, and get to know people within their community.

Here are just some of the benefits timebanks USA report:

  • Budget Relief: a time bank allows you to receive the services you need even when money is tight.

  • Tax savings: no one will be taxing your time dollars which cuts out centralized control over your earnings and helps part-time workers unable to find full-time work carry out job tasks without worrying about their income surpassing tax thresholds. This is perfectly legal.

  • More reward from the work you love: sometimes doing what you love never earns you money, or at least not enough. You could enjoy teaching, nursing, or redecorating but instead, you practice law for the sake of paying the bills. Timebanking can reward your skills and provide job satisfaction for applying your job skills to help people via a timebank community, plus you could also accept tasks such as teaching, nursing, or redecorating and start doing what you love.

  • Deeper bonds with neighbors: taking on timebanking tasks often helps members meet new friends and certain tasks will bring friends together regularly. On the contrary, receiving services such as a drive to the airport from a stranger is only a business transaction. While you might never encounter the airport driver again, timebanking means a friend could drive you. You can read more about communal togetherness and the benefits of timebanks for local economies here.

  • Strengthens Communities: as most time banks are a group of people from the local neighborhood, it can strengthen relationships within that community. The relationship amongst members of the timebank can lead to community service projects that build resilience against negative changing forces such as large eco-destructive construction projects, and community projects can help clean up areas of the community neglected by government authorities.

  • You get to help others!

Timebanking Definition – A Small Case Study

In short, the timebanking definition is a procedure of bartering services and time. Let us take a look at a simple example of swapping time using timebanking as the medium of exchange.

An accountant may need home repair services such as plumbing while the plumber needs an accountant to balance his/her books for the new tax year. Both parties could agree that they swap an hour of service plumbing for an hour of time bookkeeping.

Another way for the accountant to get his plumbing fixed or installed is to contact his/her timebank community. As the accountant is already a member of a time bank, he/she earns credits by helping a local pet shop balance their books each month. If there is a plumber within the timebank community, our accountant can use his/her credits in exchange for the services of a plumber looking to earn time credits with the local time bank community.

Just from this scenario, you can see that the more people involved in a timebanking community, the wider the variety of services available. As the timebank community grows, the community will build a strong timebanking community that eliminates the concept of money.

Other Movements That Use Timebanking

There are other movements out there that work similarly to timebanking. Probably the best example of this would be the Permaculture niche. This is a popular movement and is very much alive and active right now. Now when you compare timebanking and Permaculture, it is amazing how similar the two are.


Permaculture gives us a noble example of communities working together and distributing time/energy to reach a common goal—survival. Everyone has tasks to work on throughout the day that contribute to the community so all members can stay healthy, eat, drink, stay warm, and have a roof over their head.

  • Everyone is voluntarily part of the community

  • Community works together to survive


Like timebanking communities, Permaculture movements do not use money as a currency. Everything from the structures to sleep in, heat such as fires, seating, communal areas, cutlery, food, and water all come from natural sources. Therefore, there is no need for money making them cashless societies.

  • Day-to-day utensils are natural

  • Naturally cultivated/sourced food and water


The concept of ‘time allocation’ is remarkably similar to ‘time swapping’ used in timebanking communities. Everyone in a Permaculture community has skills that contribute to the community. To make full use of those skills, community members agree on task allocation to certain individuals' to perform certain task. While multi-skilled community members can swap jobs each day to make their work more varied.

Adding to this, everyone stops for breaks at the same time. Such as breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as when it is time to relax or sleep. By doing this, all members contribute an equal amount of time, which is similar to time banking too.

  • Members swap tasks to vary their days

  • Everyone works and rests at the same time

Social Equality

As the concept of Permaculture is cashless, it means that no matter the task each member is assigned, they all contribute to the common goal of survival.

This means that no one task is more valuable than the other because in the grander scheme of things, the collaboration of all tasks creates the desired outcome which is community survival. If you take out one task from the equation no matter how big or small, and the entire community could fail.

Furthermore, everyone gets an equal amount through equal resource allocation so it does not matter who did which job, everyone receives the same. As a result, no one job is more valuable than the other, which is social equality.

In time banking, a lawyer who’s time may be worth $400 per hour could help someone with 2 hours of legal work while that person may spend 2 hours painting the lawyer’s house—a job that may be worth $30 per hour. Yet, the time swap is equal. Both the lawyer and the painter earn and spend 2 hours in their 1:1 time swap agreement, which is also social equality.

  • All resources allocated equally

  • No one job is worth more than the other

How to Get Involved

Getting involved in a timebank is as easy because today there are numerous timebank communities. All you need to do is reach out to one that is local to you. A quick internet search should tell you how close the nearest timebank is. Through that timebank’s homepage, you should find instructions on how to get involved. If not, simply use the contact detail provided to reach out to the timebank community directly.

If a timebank does not exist near you, why not create one yourself?

There are endless resources and software programs that can both offer the guidance and hands-on support that can turn a timebank idea into a timebank reality. Thanks to the existence of Nomos, getting involved in a current timebank—or even starting a timebank of your own—is simple.





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