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Bartering After SHTF- A Beginner’s Guide

I love bartering. I’ve been bartering since lunch period in elementary school, trading a chocolate milk pouch for a Lunchable pizza. I’ve bartered everything from CDs to subwoofers to paintball guns to high-end letterpress business cards from Lithuania.

People bartering

Sure, bartering has its downfalls. Situations like…

  • Louis needs a cow and has chickens to trade. How many chickens equal a cow? Are they egg laying chickens? How old is the cow? There are a lot of variables and it is almost never a completely even trade.
  • Jennifer needs wool and has beans to swap. Chris has wool but doesn’t need beans, he needs corn. So now Jennifer has to find someone with corn who needs beans. This can get very complicated quickly.

It’s easy to see why every culture has created some form of standardized currency to make these exchanges fair and simple.

But what happens when that currency fails?

In situations like hyperinflation, bartering would simply take the place of everyday transactions. Your life continues as normal, you just trade items instead of money.

However, in a situation like a disaster, the dynamic changes to where people are worried about just surviving. In cases like this, items like food, water, and medicine become high commodities. This is what you should be preparing for, just in case.

So what should you do to prepare for this type of situation? It’s actually pretty easy to get started. Remember, bartering is just about trading something of value for something else of value. Price isn’t the factor, need and usability are. Just like in the movies where the hero on the run trades an expensive watch for a phone call. That call can save their lives but the watch won’t, even though it costs exponentially more.

Preparing for a bartering economy doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t need to hoard rooms full of stores. Things as simple and cheap as canned food, Bic lighters, batteries, bottled water, etc can be worth quite a lot in times of crisis. Many of the items that are great for bartering after SHTF are things you should already be stocking up on in case of an emergency anyway. Here’s a short list of essential items (in no particular order) that will be worth their weight in gold if SHTF:

Trading goods

You might also find interesting our article about the best bartering items.

Short Term

  • Lighters
  • Water (and water filtration devices)
  • Canned food
  • Fresh food – fruits, vegetables, meat
  • Medicine – antibiotics, bandages, etc
  • Flashlights
  • Power – batteries, gas generator, solar generator, etc
  • Weapons – guns, ammo, etc
  • Tools – knives, pry bars, axes, shovels, etc
  • Clothing
  • Alcohol – disinfecting, fire, cooking, forgetting that SHTF
  • Cordage – depends on the situation
  • Duct tape

Longer Term

  • Seeds
  • Animals for food – chickens, goats, cows, fish, etc
  • Building materials
  • Coffee
  • Toiletries – Toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, soap, etc
  • Salt

This is in no way an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can think of plenty more.

The best part is that the majority of these items are inexpensive so next time you’re at the store, just pick up a couple extra things. You’ll have a decent collection in no time and it’ll only cost you ~$5 extra per shopping trip.

But what if you have to leave your home and cache of stores and can only grab your bug out bag? No worries. Remember, bartering is about trading something of value for something else of value. You can still provide value to someone with a service. That’s what you do when you go to work, right? Same principle. Here are some skills that will be valuable after a disaster that you could be learning right now:

  • Repair – small engine, sewing, firearms, etc
  • Medical – Treating wounds, diagnosing rashes, knowing which plants cure ailments, etc
  • Hunting – Can catch game to trade or go on hunting parties for a group
  • Building – Carpentry, welding, simple architecture, etc
  • Farming – Crops, livestock, animal husbandry, etc
  • Bushcraft – Shelter, foraging, trapping, fire building, tracking, navigation, etc
  • Cooking/Baking

These are skills that you could trade for one time supplies or exchange long term like being the camp cook or the hunter of the group.

Remember that society existed well before the invention of currency and can do so again without it. Bartering is one of our oldest skills and will continue to be important whether you’re trading pudding cups or cans of tuna.

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Evan Michaels is a writer for Know Prepare Survive, a survival site that covers prepping, homesteading, bug out bags, bushcraft skills, and more.

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