Print Your Own Local Money: Making a Community while Making a Living

Twenty-five years ago in Ithaca, New York, we began to gain control of the social and environmental effects of commerce by issuing over $110,000 of our own local paper money. Thousands of purchases and many new friendships have been made with this cash, and several million dollars value of local trading has been added to the Grassroots National Product.

We printed our own money because we watched Federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars. Ithaca’s HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforce community trading and expand commerce which is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice.

Here’s how it works: the Ithaca HOUR is Ithaca’s $10.00 bill, because, back then, ten dollars per hour was the average of wages/salaries in Tompkins County. These HOUR notes, in five denominations, buy plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, roofing, nursing, chiropractic, child care, car and bike repair, food, eyeglasses, firewood, gifts, and thousands of other goods and services. Our credit union accepts them for mortgage and loan fees. People pay rent with HOURS. The best restaurants in town take them, as do movie theaters, bowling alleys, two large locally-owned grocery stores, our local hospital, many garage sales, 55 farmer’s market vendors, the Chamber of Commerce, and 300 other businesses. Hundreds more have earned and spent HOURS who are not in the HOUR Town directory.

Ithaca’s HOURly minimum wage lifts the lowest paid up without knocking down higher wages. For example, several of Ithaca’s organic farmers paid the highest common farm labor wages in the world: $10.00 of spending power per HOUR. These farmers benefit by the HOUR’s loyalty to local agriculture. On the other hand, dentists, massage therapists and lawyers charging more than the $10.00 average per hour are permitted to collect several HOURS hourly.

But we heard increasingly of professional services provided for our equitable wage.

Everyone who agreed to accept HOURS was paid two HOURS ($20.00) for being listed in the HOURS directory. Every year they could apply to be paid two additional HOURS, as reward for continuing participation. This is how we gradually and carefully increased the per capita supply of our money.

Once issued, anyone may earn and spend HOURS, whether signed up or not, and hundreds have done so.

The HOUR’s thousand listings offer a portrait of our community’s capability, bringing into the marketplace time and skills not employed by the conventional market. Residents are proud of income gained by doing work they enjoy. We encounter each other as fellow Ithacans, rather than as winners and losers scrambling for dollars.

The Success Stories of 300 participants published in HOUR Town testified to the acts of generosity and community that our system prompts. We’re making a community while making a living. As we do so, we relieve the social desperation which has led to compulsive shopping and wasted resources.

At the same time Ithaca’s locally-owned stores, which keep more wealth local, make sales and get spending power they otherwise would not have. And over $10,000 of local currency has been donated to over 100 community organizations so far, by the elected HOUR board of directors.

As we discover new ways to provide for each other, we replace dependence on imports. Yet our greater self-reliance, rather than isolating Ithaca, gives us more potential to reach outward with ecological export industry. We can capitalize new businesses with loans of our own cash. HOUR loans are made without interest charges.

We regard Ithaca’s HOURS as real money, backed by real people, real time, real skills and tools. Dollars, by contrast, are funny money, backed no longer by gold or silver but by less than nothing- $8.4 trillion of national debt.

Ithaca’s money honors local features we respect, like native flowers, powerful waterfalls, crafts, farms and our children. Our commemorative HOUR is the first paper money in the U.S. to honor an African-American.

Multi-colored HOURS, some printed on locally-made watermarked cattail (marsh reed) paper, or handmade hemp paper, some with non-xeroxable thermal ink, all with serial numbers, are harder to counterfeit than dollars.

Local currency is a lot of fun, and it’s legal. HOURS are taxable income when traded for professional goods or services.

Local currency is also lots of work and responsibility. The HOUR system grew huge while there was a paid Networker on the street, daily promoting, facilitating and troubleshooting circulation. Today it has become a paper/ecash hybrid called IthaCash. To give other communities a boost, the book Hometown Money is available.

It explains step-by-step start-up. and maintenance of an HOURS system, and includes forms, laws, articles, procedures, insights. It’s been sent to over 2,000 communities in 50 states and beyond, and our example has become international.