Medium of Exchange

An intermediary instrument or system that simplifies the sale, purchase, or trade of goods and services

Author: Parul Gupta
Parul Gupta
Parul Gupta
Working as a Chief Editor, customer support, and content moderator at Wall Street Oasis.
Reviewed By: Sara De Meyer
Sara De Meyer
Sara De Meyer
Undergraduate economics-finance student double-minoring in French and Mandarin, with experience in finance education, regulatory reporting, economic analysis, and financial modeling. Beginning at BNP Paribas in July 2024.
Last Updated:March 4, 2024

What Is a Medium of Exchange?

The medium of exchange is an intermediary instrument or system that simplifies the sale, purchase, or trade of goods and services. In other words, it is any item widely accepted in exchange for goods and services.

It is anything accepted as a measure of value and a standard of exchange of goods and services in a particular country, region, or place.

While currency is the most common medium of exchange in modern societies, historically, various items such as stones, salt, and gold have also served as mediums of exchange.

The origin of the medium of exchange is believed to have emerged in ancient times as a response to the limitations of the barter system, though specific historical origins may vary.

A medium of exchange facilitates greater efficiency in an economy by streamlining trading activities and enhancing transaction speed and satisfaction.

Key Takeaways

  • The Medium of Exchange acts as an intermediary tool facilitating the exchange of goods and services, encompassing any universally accepted item used for transactions, such as currency or precious metals.
  • A medium of exchange must possess certain characteristics like shared value, accessibility, and portability, facilitate transactions, indicate universal value, retain value over time, and provide a measurement unit for pricing and negotiation.
  • It simplifies trade by eliminating the need for bartering, operates through mutual agreement, and fosters economic efficiency and stability by providing a common transaction standard.

Purposes of a Medium of Exchange

Its purpose is:

  1. Facilitating the exchange:  A medium of exchange facilitates transactions by providing a universally accepted means of settling economic exchanges. 
  2. Acting as a universal value indicator: A medium of exchange, understood universally regardless of location, facilitates global trade by providing a common basis for assessing value.
  3. Storing value: A medium of exchange retains its value over time, allowing for continuous trading. Besides money, other assets can serve as mediums of exchange if their value remains stable or appreciates over time.
  4. Measurement unit: A medium of exchange serves as a unit of account, facilitating price calculation and negotiation. Currency, the primary medium of exchange, has revolutionized modern economic dynamics through standardization, enabling faster trade. Essential qualities of a medium of exchange include reliability, interchangeability, and intrinsic value.

Characteristics of a Medium of Exchange

The characteristics of a medium of exchange include:

  1. Shared value
  2. Widely accessible
  3. Minimal upkeep expenses
  4. Easily identifiable
  5. Portable
  6. Uniform
  7. Divisible
  8. Resistant to counterfeiting
  9. Significant market worth relative to size and weight

The market evaluates the value of goods and services using the medium of exchange as a standard unit of measurement. It provides a stable measure that facilitates negotiation between parties, reducing the need for direct bartering.


Price determination is essential for promoting fairness in exchanges, fostering economic growth, enhancing welfare, and facilitating efficient resource allocation.

How a Medium of Exchange Works

A Medium of Exchange facilitates transactions by serving as a universally accepted means of trade for goods and services. It operates through mutual agreement among participants within an economy.

When individuals possess goods or services to offer, they exchange them for the medium, which holds agreed-upon value.

This medium can take various forms, such as currency, precious metals, or digital tokens. Parties accept it in transactions because of its widespread recognition and agreed value.

It simplifies trade by eliminating the need for bartering and allows for smoother economic transactions.

Additionally, its divisibility enables transactions of varying sizes. A reliable medium, resistant to counterfeiting, and easily transportable, it fosters trust and confidence in trade.


A Medium of Exchange facilitates economic activity by providing a common standard for transactions, ensuring economic efficiency and stability.

Currency as a Medium of Exchange

Money serves as a medium of exchange, allowing anyone who possesses it to engage in market transactions. A consumer makes an adequate bid in response to an asking price while purchasing a good or service.

The benefits of using money are:

  • Money resolves the double coincidence of wants by separating the act of selling from the act of purchasing. Individuals can sell goods for money to anyone interested and purchase goods from any seller.
  • Money serves as a unit of account, providing a standard to measure the exchange value of commodities and facilitating business accounting.
  • Money is often available in convenient denominations, making it easy to store and transport.
  • Money acts as a standard of deferred payment, enabling the creation of contracts involving future payments.
  • Money contributes to consumer satisfaction and producer profit by providing freedom of choice, empowering individuals to pursue goals such as entrepreneurship or homeownership, and ensuring financial security.
  • Money promotes economic specialization, facilitates production and consumption planning, and enables the smooth exchange of goods and services.


Examples of money include commodity money, representative money, cryptocurrency, and fiat money, which can be further classified as money with intrinsic value or without inherent value.

Money with Intrinsic Value

The two types of money with intrinsic value are:

1. Commodity money

Its value comes from an economic good, usually a resource with whole or substantial fungibility. These objects have value in buying goods or use in themselves, i.e., intrinsic value.

Commodity money is typically durable, divisible, relatively rare, and easily exchangeable, making it the type of money with inherent value.

Examples of commodity money include gold, silver, copper, salt, tea, peppercorns, barley, alcohol, silk, nails, candy, etc. In pre-revolutionary America, commodities such as wampum, maize, beaver pelts, iron nails, and tobacco were used as money."

Gold and other metals were used in the price system as durable and easily warehoused stores of value.


Animal furs converted into beaver pelts created a viable currency in the economy where precious metals were not used. 

In Canada, fur traders established pelts as the standard currency. They also showed exchange rates between goods: 5 pounds of sugar for a beaver pelt, one pair of shoes for one, 20 fish hooks per beaver pelt, etc.

2. Representative money

Representative money is any medium of exchange that represents something of value but has little or no intrinsic value of its own. It can exist in physical (printed) or digital forms, and its face value is typically supported by something of intrinsic value.

It can represent a claim on a commodity, such as a gold certificate or silver certificate, or have a face value greater than its intrinsic value. Historically, many government-produced banknotes and coins were backed by reserves of gold and silver.

The first evidence of this dates back to Tang Dynasty China when traders began using receipts from deposit shops, where they held their goods and heavy commodity money instead of coins.

Money without Intrinsic Value

The two types of money without intrinsic value are:

1. Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency created using cryptographic techniques and distributed through a decentralized computer network.

It does not rely on any central authority to maintain or uphold it. The data of individual coin ownership is recorded in a digital ledger that controls the creation of additional coins.

Cryptocurrencies often operate on decentralized networks utilizing blockchain technology. These are virtual currencies that facilitate secure online transactions without requiring intermediaries.

These are commonly available in Bitcoin and can be mined or purchased from cryptocurrency exchanges. The rising value of cryptocurrencies has made them popular trading assets.

2. Fiat money

Fiat money is a currency not backed by any physical commodity and does not possess intrinsic value. They are declared by legal proclamation from the government to serve as a means for sufficient payments for any monetary debt.

Most countries utilize paper-based fiat currency, which functions solely as a medium of exchange. Fiat money cannot be converted into a physical commodity like commodity-backed money.

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