How to Barter for Survival (not just a list): 100+
Editor’s Note: This resource has been updated and revised for 2018.
Do you know how to barter? In preparedness circles, the term barter is used a lot when describing a post SHTF situation when goods and services may no longer be available through normal channels. According to Wikipedia, ”barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money”.
A lot of people think of bartering as something to do when they are down an out, perhaps unemployed, or low on cash. But nothing could be further from the truth. Bartering has been around for eons and is simply a smart way to acquire goods and services under the radar screen.
Today I would like to share some very simple tips for bartering as well as my own suggested list of items and skills that may be useful for barter in a post-collapse economy.
Types of Socio-Economic Collapse Worth Prepping For
Unfortunately we live in a world where the banking system is very susceptible to cyber attacks. It has been proven all too many times that our computer systems are not safe. There are so many ways to glean information and those that want to cause trouble or extort money from others.
Fiat Currency Crisis
In the United States, the only thing backing our money, in reality, is the confidence of people and business. There is no gold or silver to back it up whatsoever. Government spending is high and the US Treasury keeps printing more money. The more money that is in circulation, the less your dollar is worth. If money is worth less, then it may stop being accepted for goods, services, and more.
Further Resource: You may be interested in learning more about alternative currencies as well. This article compares Bitcoin to Gold (there are pros and cons to each).
No country is immune to natural disasters and they cannot be predicted. Some areas are more prone to natural disasters than others. For example, if you live in an area with an active volcano, seismic activity, hurricanes (see recent lessons learned from Hurricane Maria, flooding, etc.), then you are at a higher risk for a crisis that has a major impact on the economy.
Man Made Disasters
Just look what happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima. There are a lot of nuclear power plants that are running on outdated technologies. In fact, some of these nuclear power plants are well past the lifespan they were designed for. What happens if we have a meltdown? One thing a lot of people do not realize is that nuclear power plants have very little power back up.
If the electrical grid goes down for an extended time period, a meltdown can be inevitable because most nuclear facilities have a maximum of 1 month of diesel power back up on hand. After that, all bets are off. Any nuclear event can have a major impact on the Gross Domestic Product and consumer confidence, which can lead to a currency crisis.
There is also the scenario that some areas become completely uninhabitable and not possible to use for any type of production. Farmland that feeds a lot of people could be useless for many, many generations to come.
How does simple barter work?
In simple barter, you look for someone who is looking for particular kinds of goods or services in exchange for goods or services that you may want. For example, let’s say you do plumbing work but you need some gardening equipment. A simple barter would be exchanging some plumbing repairs for a used plow or rototiller.
Getting started is easy. One of the simplest things to do is to put up a small ad on the local community bulletin board, perhaps at the grocery store or bowling alley. (And by the way, I don’t know why but bowling alley’s are particularly good for this sort of thing.) You can also peruse Craigslist or the Little Nickel want ads for people trying to sell the item you need. The next step is to simply phone them ask and suggest a trade.
One of the very best ways to barter, though, is to put the word out among like-minded friends, relatives, and neighbors. Let them know what you have for trade and see what they offer in return. What I am describing here is bartering in its most simplistic form but I think you get the gist.
Beyond simple bartering, there are more complicated and dare I say sophisticated scenarios such as three-way barters and barter clubs. But that gets beyond the scope of this article which is merely to get you into the bartering mindset
The Best Items to Use For Barter in a Post-Collapse World
There are a lot of different opinions as to what items will be best for barter in a post-collapse world where the underground economy may be the only viable economy for the passing of goods and services. That said, consider this a starting point as you begin to acquire goods for barter.
There are plenty of reasons and economic collapse could happen. A lot of people assume that this is political but there are plenty of other reasons a collapse could occur.
What You Can Do To Be Prepared
There are a lot of items that people are very used to having. What we take for granted, as being the basics can seem like major luxuries during an economic collapse. Here at Backdoor Survival we want you to be educated and prepared for such circumstances so we have compiled this list of supplies that we feel are worth it to have on hand for bartering for the items you don’t have.
Food is important but water is first on the list of concerns during any type of collapse or economic distress. While you can live without food for quite some time, no water for a few days can be the end of anyone.
While it is impractical to expect to be able to put back expensive backpacking water filters, Lifestraws are a remarkably good deal. For $20 you get a filter that fits into your pocket and can give you 1000 liters of clean water. At this price, you could put back 10 of these for $200.
Besides the trade value, these straws could literally save the life of a lot of people. Even if someone is drinking 3 liters of water a day, a Lifestraw would last 330 days.
Some businesses such as Camping Survival offer discounts if you buy more than one Lifestraw at a time so you can cut your costs a bit.
Extra Food and a lot of it
A lot of people have never known what it is like to do without food for more than 12 hours and that is a fact. During an economic collapse, most grocery stores will have bare shelves within 2-3 days with some items being bought up even quicker than that once people have even the slightest clue what is going on.
You need to have your food ahead of time and some extra for barter. If you plan on helping out a family member then you need to tally them in when determining how much food you need.
During an economic collapse, it is crucial to have calorie dense nutritious foods available. Those on special diets can have an especially hard time getting what they need during a crisis so if you are in this position you need to plan your emergency food accordingly.
Ready to eat items are good to have on hand for those times when cooking is not practical or even possible.
Just remember to take care of your own food needs first and then put back extra for trade. Food is the most important thing you need to put back as it will be in the shortest supply.
As stated before, grocery stores only have enough to keep food on shelves for a day or two at most without regular delivery. Panic and crisis can cause shelves to be bare within a few hours.
NOTE: To Stock up on long-term survival food, check out our top recommend brands here.
As a society, we are very reliant on antibiotics to fight infections. The problem is that not all infections respond to the same antibiotic. Gathering some information about what each type of antibiotic treats is crucial to have during any crisis.
That being said you need to have a variety of antibiotics on hand for you and your family as well as for trade. That $20 bottle of antibiotics is priceless in a real collapse because it can literally be the difference between life and death.
I suggest getting a mixed pack of antibiotics or possibly two mixed packs so you have one for your own self and family and a whole other pack for trade and barter. Camping Survival based in North Carolina offers very good prices, free shipping, and mixed packs that make putting back these essential antibiotics quite easy.
When buying antibiotics they will be labeled for fish or even birds but they are the same drugs given to people. The main thing to pay attention to is the exact milligrams of each pill. A 250-milligram bottle of pills is going to be cheaper than the 500-milligram bottles but you will have to take twice as many to get the same effect.
Disinfectants and Bandages
Triple Antibiotic Ointment such as Neosporin, Curad Silver Solution, and Bacitracin ointments are all recommended. Silver gel might not be as well known to some readers but it is worth mentioning that it is effective against some antibiotic resistant bacteria like the dreaded MRSA.
Amazon has a good deal on this but you may be able to do just as well at a local store. We have a small chain pharmacy and misc. store called Fred’s nearby that has it for a mere $4 a tube.
Colloidal Silver works the same way as the silver solution but is more concentrated and in liquid form so you can always put back some of that as well.
Bandages are important for protecting against infection and further injury. You should have everything from Band-Aids in various sizes to rolls of gauze and tape. I speak from experience when I say you can never have enough gauze and tape. For most wounds this is all you need barring the use of blood stop powder.
During difficult economic times, it can be hard to keep diets balanced. Multi-Vitamins can fill the gap in nutrition and ensure that someone doesn’t suffer vitamin and mineral deficiency that can lead to medical conditions.
Any multivitamin is better than not taking one at all, but if you can include high-quality brands it is ideal over the generic options. Cheaper vitamins don’t always offer the highest quality ingredients so your body can have a harder time absorbing them.
offers quality vitamins in both small and large bottles. On Amazon, a 150 supply on vitamins is about $40 or a mere $8 per month. For trade purposes, I suggest getting some smaller 30-60 day supply bottles.
Further Reading: You can learn more about the best vitamins and supplements for hard times here.
Blood Stop Powder
Cuts and scrapes are common but when one is quite bad or if you just need to get it stopped quick, blood stop powder is a blessing.
You don’t have to get a jar of powder necessarily but there are a lot of Band-Aids and bandages or wound dressings that come with it. The Curad Blood Stop Packets take care of most minor cuts such as those you get when preparing food or similar.
Battle dressings are what you need for major trauma and they can be a literal lifesaver. They are not cheap medical supplies but they make a good trade item during a major crisis.
Gold Or Silver Chains Made With Links
This may seem like an odd one but consider this scenario. You need something but cash and cards are not worth anything due to an economic collapse. Fiat currency such as the dollar is just paper. Gold and silver have always had some value but with a single gold or silver coin being worth so much, it is more practical to do business with a small amount of precious metal. Gold chains can be taken apart a link at a time and be used to trade for what you need when your paper money is worthless.
Further Reading: What prepper’s should consider when buying gold and silver for survival.
While having some toilet paper on hand if you have space is a great idea, long term it is not the best use of space. Some survival minded types have suggested using bidet bottles to help toilet paper go further or to use when none is available. There is no question that toilet paper is going to be a very desirable thing, but don’t take up too much of your storage with it.
If you are going to put it back I suggest ordering the 27 roll packs of Scott Tissuevia Amazon. You can put 4 packs of 27 in a fairly small space and the cost will only be about $70. Don’t waste money on the rolls that have little on them because they take up too much space.
Further Reading: Are you really Toilet Paper Prepared?
Toothpaste and Brushes
Dental health is important and toothpaste and toothbrushes may be cheap now but they could easily get to be hard to find during an economic collapse. Individually packed and multiple packs of brushes are good to have on hand. Even if there is no crisis this is something you are going to use regularly regardless of any crisis at hand.
Toothpaste is not expensive. A few dozen tubes of name brand toothpaste will cost $60-$70 if you are careful with your shopping practices.
Us ladies are used to disposable feminine products and during an economic collapse. A pack of maxi pads or tampons is under $4 so putting back $100 worth of these supplies means 25 packs which goes a long way. This can be stored in a very small storage tote but be invaluable as a trade item.
People love their vices and we all have them. Alcohol, in particular, is an item that always has outstanding trade value. Name brand liquor such as Smirnoff, Jack Daniels, Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Tanqueray Gin, etc. are all appealing and will fetch top trade value during difficult times. 750 ml or if you can get them at a reasonable cost 375 mL bottles are your best bet for trade.
Liquor is the best alcohol to put back from a space savings and practical standpoint. Beer is good but it is a lot of water and takes up a lot of space, making it more of a luxury and it doesn’t keep indefinitely like liquor will. During an economic collapse, any alcohol will be sought after and appreciated by a lot of people.
Although there is often a lot in the news about how a lot of people eat too much salt in their diet, an economic collapse can quickly turn the table on salt. During past difficult economic times such as the Civil War, salt was hard to come by. You have to have some salt to survive and it is essential for food preservation as well. You can even sanitize wounds with it although it is painful. That being said it is much better than suffering a catastrophic or even fatal infection.
The cheapest way to put back salt is either buying containers of iodized salt and sealing them in waterproof containers. If you want to put back a large quantity on the cheap for food preservation then go to your local hardware or home improvement store and get the 40 lb. or 50 lb. bags of water softener salt. These are only about $5 and you can do a lot with that much salt.
Dog & Cat Food
There are more dogs and cats in the United States than people. Everyone loves their pets but all too few think about how they will feed them in the event of a true economic collapse. Those of us with larger dogs have to put a lot of food back to do six months but those with small dogs can keep 100-200 lbs. of dog food on hand to get them through some tough times. Here is my method for dog food storage.
Further Reading: Pet Survival Kits and Products
Vacuum Seal Method
While it may not be the most practical for those that have larger pets, you can use a vacuum sealer device to make sure dog or cat food stays good for a long time. Those 3-5 lbs. bags of dog or cat food work best for this. You can also always dump out the contents of dog food and repackage with a vacuum sealer device and bags.
During an economic collapse the enjoyment that electronic methods of entertainment such as Netflix and digital devices provide are not going to be available all the time or even at all. This means you need some old-fashioned ways to entertain. Here are some suggestions.
Drawing, writing, playing some games and more can be done with pen and paper. This also doubles as being useful for communications.
Regular old playing cards or some other card games are very cheap and it doesn’t take up much space to put back a dozen decks.
During the holidays plenty of stores or Amazon have cheap traditional board games on sale. A few of these can be a good trade item to have. The sets that are 7 games in 1 are particularly nice to have.
LED Flashlights & Batteries
Flashlights should be an essential part of any disaster kit. Thankfully we have inexpensive LED flashlights that are readily available. Usually when you buy these, if batteries are included, they are packaged outside of the flashlight. If the batteries are already in the flashlights then you should remove them for long-term storage.
Further Reading: Learn about the best EDC Flashlights to look for.
Means To Make Fire
Lighter and matches are worth a lot during any disaster. A 50 pack of Bic lighters is about $50 but in an emergency situation they can be worth far more than you could imagine. Matches are good to have as well but if they get wet or damp you are out of luck.
Further Reading: Learn about the best easy to use fire starters here.
A Full Running List of Barter Items Worth Stockpiling
In no particular order, consider accumulating some of the following items for barter purposes. And keep in mind that in a post-collapse world, the items do not necessarily have to be new, but simply serviceable.
One thing you will notice that I have not included firearms or ammo and for good reason. In a post-collapse society, you might not know your barter partners well and may run the risk that they will use these items against you so that they can steal the rest of your stuff. One person’s opinion, anyway. (Here is another view on this matter.)
Poor Man’s Barter Items
If resources are limited, here are a few “poor man’s barter items” to get started with on any budget.
A Caveat for Businesses
As you get started with bartering in a pre-collapse world – and after all, like any other survival skill, you should hone your skills now – keep in mind that in the United States, the IRS does have some rules for business bartering and most certainly, states probably do as well as it pertains to Business and Occupation taxes. Just something to keep in mind.
How to Barter: The Art and Skill of Bartering and Giving Freely, by Donna
This will not be a list of extra items to store for bartering when times get tough.
We’ve all probably read through those suggested lists, given it some thought, and taken appropriate steps to have at least some of those items on hand.
Sometimes we check things off on our preparedness and bartering to do lists, which can be a great habit, but:
These are all questions worth considering in advance of a situation and have been well discussed on this site previously.
Just what does it mean to barter anyway? It’s just trading goods or services without the exchange of money, right?
Technically that’s right but there is more to consider, especially when times and relationships become unpredictable or unsafe. Or there are situations where you have the skills and know-how to make a difference.
There is probably someone in your life with whom you have already created a bartering relationship. I know that I have. I have a friend who is a retired hairdresser. When I asked if she’d be willing to trim my hair, she agreed.
After the haircut she refused payment – she was just doing it as a friend, she said. I wanted to do something nice for her and so later in the week I stopped by her house and gave her a jar of my canned chicken, a pint of red pepper relish and a jar of applesauce.
She was thrilled, and so was I. We have been doing this for about five years now and it works for us. We both feel good about the “deal” and about one another.
That exchange met the criteria of a barter transaction. Goods and services were exchanged without money. However, there was a subtle difference. It didn’t begin as a barter deal. We knew and respected one another and neither of us wanted to “make the better deal” or come out ahead. This situation made me stop and reflect on what a real barter system could be like, at least some of the time.
On another occasion, I was asked to babysit one day a week for a family member’s child. I was happy to do it. A few months later, my car had a brake problem and this busy husband took my car to his home garage hydraulic lift and did the full break job. He would not accept payment.
Services were exchanged without money. Barter! No one called it barter, it was merely helping out another person, but in this process we both learned more about a real barter “relationship” and about one another.
We often think of bartering as something tangible that is traded in a shortage situation, so we stock up on things like flashlights, ammo, water filters, batteries, toilet paper, soap, extra food and the list goes on. Planning for that kind of bartering is needed since it may help to sustain us in hard times.
In the prepper community, we put a heavy emphasis on preparing ourselves and our families. Nothing wrong there at all. That is what we need to do. By preparing ourselves, we are able to be more self-sufficient, thus putting less strain on possible limited resources later on.
My husband and I regularly teach classes to friends and neighbors about what to consider when striving to be more self-reliant. In this way, we are making our neighborhood more independent. We all know each other better, skill-sets are known and shared, and trust is forged.
However, this article is two-fold.
1. Your Skills
Think of your own list of based on skill sets.
This kind of unnamed barter happens every day. People help other people in need. That is just the way most of us operate although we hear all of the horror stories on the news of people looting and taking advantage of strained situations. My experience has been that most folks are more than willing to lend a hand, noted by the selfless giving during disasters, even to the risk of one’s own life.
What are the skills you don’t have? What skills would you have to rely on someone else to provide for you? Can you learn at least something about that skill now?
How about basic plumbing or small engine repair, perhaps the old-fashion skill of darning or mending clothing? In a crisis situation, people probably won’t be purchasing new items, but old ones will eventually need repair.
Is that a skill you might learn now so that you are in a better position to use that to help others and in the process trade that for something your family needs or simply do it to be helpful, expecting nothing in return?
There was a “barter” that happened to me very recently. I’ll share it with you here. A friend who was retiring and moving out of state told us he had a cord or so of wood, already cut and we were welcome to come and get it within the next two weeks.
This amount of firewood would provide a nice cushion for our winter’s supply. During this time, both my husband and I were a bit under the weather and realized that we probably could not get the wood in the time specified.
Then today I was talking with a friend and asked if he’d like the wood since we couldn’t get it. He said that within that time frame he and his teenaged son would pick up the wood, bring it to our home and stack it! He did not have to do that but was more than willing to take a Saturday morning and do it for us.
He told me that they were looking to fell some trees on their property soon. I offered him our hydraulic wood splitter, which thrilled him. Not strictly barter, just being helpful and building relationships.
2. So What is Bartering?
Some of this may sound counter-intuitive and contrary to our common thoughts of bartering but think of the recent disasters that have happened like mass shootings, floods, wildfires, hurricanes. Thousands of volunteers from around the country gathered to give assistance in whatever way they could.
Neighbors whose property was not damaged as extensively, gave food and shelter freely, expecting nothing in return. They pulled together, helped and uplifted one another.
Is this bartering?
Perhaps not in the true definition of the word. But I would argue that each person who has been helped and each person providing the help, came away with something of great value that will prepare them for even more difficult times and challenges.
One gave their time, substance, and energy freely and the other gave their heartfelt gratitude. It will be a time neither will soon forget. We never know if we will be the giver of help or the receiver if it. This kind of “bartering” builds trust and hope.
Those who exploit others vulnerability to get gain are fewer than we are lead to believe by news media. Acts of real heroism and selflessness take place in every crisis.People just want to help and give; they think about others and step up to do whatever is needed.
To Sum It Up:
Building relationships of trust now can be the backbone of safe “bartering” practices both now and in the future. Learning to recognize our strengths and increasing our skill-sets will be helpful to our family and friends and will provide for a more independent, self-reliant life.
Just by reading Backdoor Survival and talking with others in the self-reliant community we can all develop more knowledge and share the skills we already have developed. Together, we are a community of learners and givers.
Probably most readers have already experienced the kinds of natural give and take “bartering” that we’ve discussed in this article and have developed, to some degree, the respect and trust that is an essential part of safe bartering.
You have already given without thought of return. These are the relationships that can provide the support we will all need at some time in our lives. It just pays to think about bartering from this angle and lay the foundation and build the trust that will be helpful now and in any crisis situation.
An added plus in pulling together is the added uplift it can give when things begin to look bleak. That is not to be discounted.
The Final Word on Bartering in a Post-Collapse World
Times can get tough. We need only look back to the recent recession! And many have had their retirement funds decimated by the sneaky (and dare we say corrupt?) Wall Street types. Perhaps you have a useful skill. Or perhaps you have a healthy flock of egg-laying chickens that provide more than you can consume. Whatever you have in excess capacity, now is the time to learn to trade your skill or extra commodities for something you either need or covet. In relatively “good times”, now is the time to prepare…
There are lots of resources online, at the libraries, and in eBooks to help you acquire bartering skills. Start small but start now, beginning with those items that you have the least access to currently.
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