Camping & Survival

Prepping Skills 101: Bartering and Trading

Picture shows a shelf full of medicine.

Since 1996, Heidemarie Schwermer from Dortmund Germany has lived without money. In 1994, Schwermer established a local exchange group called “Gib und Nimm” (Give and Take) where people traded goods and services such as clothing, appliances, and babysitting. Two years later, she decided to try a year living without money giving up all she owned except a suitcase full of clothes to live a life on the barter system. Over 16 years later, she still lives without money. Living without money is hard to imagine in our country right now. However, trading and bartering is making a come back. Websites such as Cragislist make it easy by offering a free space where people can post ads for goods and services. Bartering is still alive and well and has been for years. A 1995 United Nations Human Development Report found that bartering around the world equaled to $16 trillion if currency had been involved in the trade of goods and services.

This picture shows a gun, freeze-dried food, and gun magazines.
Freeze-dried ice cream is a perfect bartering item. Picture courtesy of Zorin Denu.
Bartering was the way of life worldwide before the invention of money. Bartering is simply the exchange of goods or services between people without using any form of money. The barter system dates back to 6000 B.C. by the Mesopotamia tribes. As communities and governments developed, so did standards in barter items, such as Indian wampum and salt—paid as wages to Roman soldiers. Items such as shells, wampum, and salt became primitive forms of currency.

Throughout history, people have returned to the barter system when money has become scarce or lost its value. During the Great Depression and a long recession during the 1980s, Americans returned to a system in which people traded goods and services without the exchange of currency.

Many Americans are losing faith in the American dollar and believe economic collapse is inevitable. Only time will tell if that will happen, but David A. Stockman, former Republican Congressman and President Ronald Reagan’s budget director has said, “The future is bleak.” If our paper money becomes meaningless do you know how and what to barter? The more you prep, the less you will need to barter. However, depending on how bad and how long SHTF lasts, it is inevitable you will probably need more goods such as ammo and food, or a service such as a midwife or mechanic you didn’t include in your preps.

 Medicine and first aid skills will be in high demand.
Medicine and first aid skills will be in high demand.
To barter successfully, you will need both goods and skills of value that others need and want. The first rule is to proceed with caution! Be weary of those who are in desperate need of the basics such as food and water. People in survival mode are capable of anything. Although, I like to imagine a SHTF world where we all get along, trust and help each other, reality will most likely be opposite. Both parties must be satisfied for bartering to be successful. Even though you may think one is unprepared, and may not have anything of value to you, they may offer a skilled service such as medical care or construction.

Another extremely important aspect of bartering during SHTF is absolutely, positively not to reveal too much. You do not want people to know exactly what you have and how much you have.

When we barter, we give up something we find less valuable than what we receive. Value, though, is relative and subjective. Cigarettes or coffee will be more valuable to certain people than others. Even if you don’t drink caffeine or smoke, others will and vices such as those will be in high demand. Stock up on items that you know will be valuable trade commodities.

Can you prepare to barter? Of course, you can! If you have room for extra preps, make a separate area for specific barter items.

Items in demand will be:

  • Animals such as chickens, rabbits, and goats
  • Food and water
  • Ammunition
  • Guns/weapons
  • Seeds
  • Sugar
  • Flour, wheat, rice and other grains
  • Vices such as alcohol, tobacco and sweets
  • Gas/oil
  • Medicine
  • Toilet paper
  • Luxury items such as lotions, make up, and personal hygiene products

Not only will goods be in demand, but services as well. Invest in learning or expanding your skills such as medical, plumbing, gardening, farming, animal husbandry, teaching, gunsmithing, construction, and woodwork.

If you are crafty, you can also start working on projects to use as barter items. Such as knitting scarves and hats for colder weather or making stuffed animal toys for children.

What do you think good bartering items will be? Have you included those in your preps? Tell us about it in the comment section.

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Comments (26)

  1. Fuel and modes of transportation will always be needed. Pure, clean drinking water could be a high priority if ground water becomes contaminated. As for ammo, I often wonder about how much I may need vs. how much I can carry.

  2. The fact remains that people are animals when they get desperate they will act like animals. So don’t be naive about protecting what you have family, preps,ect… The nice church family down the street will be as desperate as the strangers. Be prepared to do something you prayed you wouldn’t ever have to. And have a plan in place to live another day to fight another day. We will all need to use common sense and that seems to be in short supply these days, as the state of our country shows we don’t really think about the results till we are dealing with the result.

    God help us one and all.

  3. Just a quick mention. Along with water goes the thing that goes hand in hand. Fire! Buy fire starting steels, or even flint,..if you can find it. It’s of great importants to us (and others) exp. What are you gonna do with that rabbit you just shot? Feed it to your kids raw? Matches,…eahh,..maybe. only if they are the waterproof type. But like I said; Maagn. Fire starters, flint of any kind. Again; we forget. Not utilities, no lights after dark, when we may need to do something, or travel. You can decontaminate water by boiling, hot water helps diinfect wounds. Hot beverages will bring core temp up, after a cold night. Even batteries (though they have limited shelf-life), be smart, get rid of the “low hangiing fruit” first thing, for something with a longer shelf life that won’t look so appealing at first. If the SHTF crises doesn’t last long, no biggie, you’re out something thats cbeap to sqirrel away right now. Plus if you have enough horded away; use flashlights when you only need light, if you still have an abundance,…there are lots of nifty things you can do with them. Some for good, some for,…well you know? Another time,..another article 🙂
    Peace and Safety,..Everyone. Last note I’ll leave you with: Remember, nomatter how bad things get,..we can still have a choice to be decent human beings toward each other. Whatever that means to you when you’re in the Suck….

  4. I see that a lot of people mention booze. I agree but don’t bother with whiskey or vodka, etc. They are about 80-90 proof or 40-45% alcohol. The rest of the bottle is essentially flavored water. Buy Everclear or Goldengrain. at 95%, they are essentially pure alcohol. You can mix them with whatever you want to make an alcoholic beverage but you don’t have to carry the extra weight of the water in 80 proof liquors. These grain alcohols also have two other uses, they burn exceptionally well AND they are an excellent antiseptic.

  5. Storage of water, or a good purification system are essential. Store the food you ordinarily eat. What good is food if nobody likes it (barter bait I guess). Vitamins.. Vitamin C maintains a useable potency for as long as 20 years (Even when the packaging says it is much less and scurvy will kill you too). Rotate your stores. Don’t just store and forget. If you rotate it, use it replace it, and you will always know what you have, and what you things will want to increase in storage. Get ammo of any type or size, but you really need to be aware of who you trade with and for what. Trade the ammo in smaller amounts than the store bought box. I agree with the earlier post #4. See what became valuable and what became worthless. Where will you get water if SHTF? Utilities may stop and that includes water pumping stations or purification plants.

  6. Small rifle primers. When ammo went scarce, people were pushed into reloading. Primers and powder are great things to keep on hand, they are affordable and if needed can be “traded” to get some of your spent brass reloaded. I like storing coffee and I also keep Kool-Aid packets and sugar. Kool-Aid is good forever and the sugar we just cycle through as we use it regularly. I also have tons of tools. These are great, as people will pay a premium for a tool they need to fix that important item. Fuel is a B!t@# to store, diesel stores way better than gasoline. Keep powdered chlorine as well, this is basically bleach and can be used in small amounts for eons to purify water. Just having a gun doesn’t mean squat, practice using it as a LAST resort. I suggest investing more into a high powered flashlight, pepper spray and non-lethal defense tools. Trust me, the last thing you want to have on your conscience or record is killing someone. Even in a post-apocoalyptic world, killing humans has consequences. However, killing wild game can mean saving your family from starvation.
    Oh and lastly duct tape.

  7. In reply to number 10, you also need the list of where they live, as the siding on their house can work well for fire wood!

  8. I started buying 1 oz silver bullion a few months ago. Having cash in the bank is
    useless. Something that goes along with this is buying a good safe. I keep guns, ammo, silver and documents in there. Don’t tell your neighbors what you have or where you have it.

  9. History tells us that the most commonly bartered items are salt, toilet paper and booze. When people stock up on these items though they forget that they need these in smaller sizes. What good is trying to barter salt when all you have are 5 lb cartons? The smart way is to buy booze in PLASTIC pint bottles. The plastic keeps them from breakage and the pint is a good bartering size. Likewise with salt and pepper, I go to Sam’s Club or Cosco and buy packages containing disposable salt and pepper shakers – perfect for bartering. Travel size shampoo or soap containers, toothpaste, small tissue packets … you get the idea. Having these in smaller sizes not only makes them more easily traded, but the smaller sizes makes them more easily stored. Also, people think about hoearding gold. That is good, but gold is very high priced so you would end up with a $1000 bill when no one has any change. The smart thing to do is stock up on silver bullion coins. Lastly, ammuniton… any caliber doesn’t matter. There will be a ton of people looking for ammo and if you have the caliber that no one else has, then you are way ahead. I just make sure to keep all the AK-47 ammo I get in sealed cans stored away for my use only since the cans are air and water proof which makes them useable for decades for my nearly indestructable AK.

  10. Everyone has some good inputs to what is wanted and needed, but after water, basic food staples and the like, SALT is extremely important-in fact we can’t survive without it. So stock up and you will be a very desired barter partner. Also aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen and I like the idea of moonshine type booze-multifunctional.

  11. Good points on bartering, but here’s a few more to consider. The article makes bartering sound idyllic, but we have a money system because bartering is inefficient. If you can make a trade that’s fair to both parties, it’s all well and good. But often one or both of you will need to compromise: give up some value to get what you want. This is why gold, silver and possibly even nickel and copper coins will be used as a medium of exchange wherever possible.

    Another is you shouldn’t be stocking up on any barter item that you don’t personally use. If you plan to barter, and you should, simply stock up on more of the items you use. If you don’t drink alcohol or coffee, or smoke, storing these items are a waste of money. Money that you be spent on increasing your preps.

    The list above is a good list of items that will be in demand, especially among those that are ill-prepared. And except for the vices listed, you’re probably storing these items anyway. Just include more of them in your preps and you’ll be prepared for bartering them.

  12. Preppers It will be like life back in the 1800’s. Buy this and lots of extras. Heirloom Seeds. LOTS and Lots of Seeds. Buy a garden pull wagon for watering your plants. Then lots of hand tools, for planting gardens: Hoes, shovels, steel grading rakes, Lots of axes and hand band saws for preparing fire wood, Lots of Wood, not only for heat but for cooking. Tarps for covering the wood to avoid rotting. Buy NOW, several small duel cast iron stoves for cooking and heating, one for indoors and one for outdoor. Lots of Canning jar lids for canning and preserving seasonal food, pressure cooker for preserving meats, a dehydrator for making jerky, and study up on how to smoke meats for long term preservation. When SHTF- people will first select the lowest hanging fruit,so get that long reaching extension for retrieving fruit higher up in the tree. Plant various fruit trees on your property now. I have over 100 pineapple plants in my yard here in Florida. Study up on all aspects of raising chickens, rabbits, goats, and other farm animals. Learn how to make butter and cheese. You will see the small wild game disappear first, as well as domestic pets and any other low hanging fruit or food that will feed families. Stock up on Hunting and butcher knives and sharpener stones, lots and lots of Guns and Ammo, which will be the new currency, as Guns will out last us, and ammo will last for 40 years plus if stored in ammo cans with moisture absorbers. Forget the silver and gold, as you will see people trading a gold coin for hamburger. Just a few good prepping items, knowledge is power and will help you survive. Stay safe.

  13. I like the newsletter idea, but just be aware that running a generator frequently will almost certainly bring a lot of attention. If social chaos become rempant, you might want to make yourself as low-profile as possible. These 2 pretences seem to be at odds with one another; something to consider.

  14. If things get really bleak, BOOZE will be in high demand. I’m a very moderate drinker myself (borderline teetotaler) but I watch for good sales, then buy several cases of liquor at a time. Concentrate on things you won’t need yourself or can get along without. Avoid bartering food — if the crisis lasts a long time, you may wish you hadn’t. Simple, inexpensive, available things like matches, toilet paper, spices, tampons, vegetable seeds, ammo, tobacco, kids’ toys and anything that does not have an expiration date make good barter items. Buy all you can afford and hide it well.
    If you have good communication skills (and can spell), have a computer, printer and lots of paper a good skill would be to publish a local newsletter — news specific to your area — where to find needed things and words of encouragement. Since a collapse would probably mean loss of electricity, invest in a small generator or solar cells to power your computer and printer. You could “sell” your newsletters for perhaps one can of food per week.

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