If we have an event similar to the nationwide power outage portrayed in American Blackout, there is little doubt that we will eventually have widespread panic, looting and rioting by people who either don’t care or are driven to criminal behavior because of fear or need. The duration of the hypothetical scenario in American Blackout was only 10 days, but for events lasting longer as in a societal breakdown caused by an economic collapse, we could be looking at years of chaos. With no formal way to purchase anything using what would at that time be worthless paper, people would need to revert to bartering.
I have discussed potential risks with bartering in the past that I still feel would be valid, but assuming that barter was the only form of commerce you could use I wanted to write down my thoughts on what I felt would be the best bartering items to have on hand. If you could stock up on prepping items now with an eye toward a future without money, what would be the best items to have on hand for barter with someone else?
Before I get into that, let me quickly explain what bartering is to those who don’t know. Bartering is simply exchanging goods or services for other goods or services. It is trading without using money. An example of this is I have a neighbor who has a large and productive garden and he has tons of beautiful vegetables that he grows like nobody’s business. I on the other hand have chickens that lay a good number of eggs each day. He has vegetables and my garden is lagging this year. I have eggs and he doesn’t have any source of protein. In a barter situation, I could negotiate with him some of my eggs for some of his vegetables. We would both work out an equitable amount of each (vegetables and eggs) and trade. The terms would be up to us and I would be free to set my prices as low or high as I wanted. My neighbor would be able to do the same.
This concept isn’t new and bartering was actually the way people purchased things for a very long time. Bartering continues to this day, but you can’t go into a Wal-Mart and say, “How about I cut your grass for all these groceries?”. Bartering would work best in small communities with people who know each other I think. Of course outsiders would be able to barter too, but then we get into that risky part of bartering I spoke about in my other post.
Bartering isn’t limited to goods. Services in the form of work or skilled trades can be bartered too. If we had the same grid-down economic collapse scenario I was talking about and my neighbor needed his roof repaired on his house. I could barter my carpentry skills for those vegetables too. One issue I can see coming up quickly in a long term catastrophe would be services of a more personal and physical nature. When you have nothing to trade but your body, I can see very bad things happening and this isn’t a plot from a movie either.
What am I trading for?
Now, we know what bartering is and how it’s done, but before you start stocking up on items you intend to use for barter, you have to ask yourself what you want to barter for? If you have barter items, the implication is that you would trade these for something you don’t have. If you are already planning to trade for something you don’t have, wouldn’t it make more sense to get that item you want instead of purchasing bartering supplies? Maybe that doesn’t work for all things and you would rather be safe than sorry. OK, I understand that, but the supplies listed below aren’t probably going to get you big ticket items. If you plan to barter for guns or ammo, you better have something very valuable to the people you expect to trade with.
- Food – This one along with some of the others is a tough one. There will be people without food and I know that decent people will part with something of theirs that you want for food. Maybe if someone is desperate enough, they will barter a weapon for a big chunk of food to feed their family.
- Water filters – Clean water is so simple, but immensely important. Disease is one of the quickest killers in any type of natural disaster. People in Haiti quickly succumbed to disease in the quake of 2010 because they had no clean drinking water and sanitation was a major problem. Having some simple water filters like LifeStraw or gravity fed systems like the PointONE could be highly valuable.
- Ammo – This probably goes without saying, but ammo will be more valuable than even Gold I think if we really live to see TEOTWAWKI. The supply and pricing is still not back to the levels we enjoyed a couple of years ago. I don’t know if they ever would, but I can always use a little more.
- First aid – Antibiotics – Medicine is hard to stock up on unless you have a very understanding doctor. Fortunately, there are sources for antibiotics you can take advantage of now and stock up before the hospitals are overflowing with people.
- Toilet Paper – Feminine napkins – One of the first small wins in my quest to convince my wife that stocking up on some things wasn’t crazy. All she had to picture was not having some of life’s necessities on hand and that changed her mind about stocking up. A smarter alternative I think would be something like the Diva Cup that is reusable. Takes up much less space than 20 years of pads…
- Candles – Candles are cheap and you can store them just about anywhere and forget about them. I have several boxes of candles in my supplies and these provide light and potentially warmth to someone who has nothing.
- Batteries – Another no-brainer. If you have devices like radios, flashlights, walkies-talkies you will want to have batteries on hand. Bonus if these are rechargeable like Sanyo Eneloop.
- Propane – Small propane canisters like the kind for camping grills or lanterns are relatively cheap and could make an excellent barter item.
- Alcohol – Cigarettes – I don’t know how long cigarettes would store. If you kept them in a freezer they might last longer, but I wouldn’t devote a lot of space to something I can’t use, although I have said that if zombies take over the world I will probably take up smoking again. Alcohol on the other hand has a few uses. Buy small pint bottles and these may enable you to barter for something really needed if all other sources are gone.
- Books – Resource books and even fiction books. Without our modern distractions, a good book will be welcome to someone who has the time to chill out or who needs to learn something.
What about toiletry items for hygiene and cleaning up? I have heard others talk about that and I am sure someone would want those if the situation were ever so dire that people valued getting clean more than eating or protection but I think that is of limited value.
What other ideas do you have? What if anything are you stocking up on to use as barter?