Ideally, the best items to store for bartering will have these features:
1. inexpensive now
2. anticipated high value later
3. store easily
4. useful if retained, not bartered
Now I generally think of bartering as something I might do with people I know, at least as acquaintances or neighbors. I think that in a time of disaster, when necessities are in short supply, it might be dangerous to barter with persons you don’t know. But we can all use our own good judgment on that point.
Also, if an item is too valuable, it becomes useless for bartering, in my opinion. For example, if you have gold coins, and then some economic disaster suddenly makes gold go through the roof (more so than already), each coin becomes too valuable. A one ounce coin would be worth so much that no one would have anything of approximately equal value to trade for it.
In no particular order, here are my thoughts on good items to store for bartering:
A. Gardening Seeds
As soon as there is a food shortage, or a disruption in the food supply, or the like, everyone is going to have the same idea. Why don’t I grow some of my own food? And the stores will quickly sell out of gardening seeds. Suddenly this inexpensive ubiquitous item, which is small and easy to store, will become valuable and difficult to find. If you have bought seeds in bulk, you can divide them into small packets, print up a few instructions to get a new gardener started, and you have a valuable item for bartering or sale. (Note that some States have laws regarding the sale of gardening seeds. Complicated burdensome unnecessary laws, in my view.)
Various types of gardening equipment might also be useful for bartering. But seeds have great value in a small space, and are very inexpensive at the present time. The only other gardening-related barter-able item that I can think of, which would be more useful to trade than seeds, would be knowledge. If you know how to grow food crops — not the usual salad fixings that people often grow in gardens — this knowledge and experience could be traded for goods that you might need (including the good will of your neighbors).
B. Water Purification Equipment
I’m not thinking of water purification tablets, as these are too expensive for the amount of water that they purify. I suggest not storing more than a couple of weeks’ worth of tablets, if that much. Water purification equipment is a better choice. However, compared to gardening seeds, water purifying devices are much more expensive. You could probably buy and store one or two extra devices, which would also be useful for your own family should the need arise.
But a better option is to learn how to make your own water distillation device. This is one of the goals of the Solar Oven Design series of articles that you may have seen here at Prep-Blog. The solar oven can be used to heat the water, so as to pasteurize it. Or the design can be used to produce water vapor, and then the vapor can be condensed in a separate container to produce distilled water, hopefully a few gallons a day. Knowing how to build this type of device (in one version or another) is barter-able knowledge. You could also build devices and sell or trade them to anyone who has need.
Like I said, I would only barter with people I know. And I’d be extra cautious about bartering with ammunition: friends, relatives, and well-known neighbors only. But if there is a medium or long-term disaster that results in a sudden increase in lawlessness, ammunition will be in short supply. The most common calibers for ammo are generally also the most common calibers for guns: 9mm, .22LR, .223 and a few others.
Ammo is currently fairly inexpensive, especially in .22 long rifle, and will likely increase sharply in value when the SHTF. It is relatively easy to store: keep dry, cool, and secure from kids, teens, and irresponsible adults. It is also useful even if retained, not bartered. They say you can never have too much ammunition. While that is not literally true, extra ammo is useful for private sale or barter. (If you are going to own, sell, or barter firearms or ammo, know your local laws!)
D. Cooking Equipment and Fuel
If there is an extended power outage, people are going to need another means of cooking, apart from their usual oven/range top. But is a propane grill the answer? Not long term. You will run out of propane, and when you try to buy more, the stores will all be sold out. The demand will suddenly outpace retain supply, wholesale supply, and manufacturing. The same will likely be true for any commercial source of fuel, including charcoal briquettes, butane, and alcohol. Sure, you could gather some kindling and firewood for cooking over an open flame. But that is a short-term occasional solution only.
A solar oven is one good option. You don’t need fuel, just a sunny day. But there are disadvantages too: lower cooking temperatures, inability to cook early in the day, late in the day, or on cloudy or rainy days. Solar ovens are a long-term solution, but only for occasional use.
Another possibility is the alcohol stove. This type of cooking equipment is often used in backpacking and camping. The typical alcohol stove is small (often less than 3″ in diameter and in height) and lightweight (a few ounces, sometimes less than one ounce). I’ve been researching this topic, and will be posting a review of an inexpensive commercially-available alcohol stove, as well as a review of a book on making your own alcohol fuel (sometime in June). You can also make your own alcohol stove out of metal cans or metal bottles. There are a myriad of YouTube videos dedicated to this topic. Just do a search on “alcohol stove” and you will see what you mean.
If some disaster disrupts the food supply system, food will go up in price and down in availability. So if you can grow your own food, you have a valuable commodity. A bumper crop can be used for food, storage, as well as sale/barter. If your crop does not do as well as hoped, you still have food for your own use. That is why it is better to have more land, and plant a larger crop than needed. Extra food need not go to waste.
On the other hand, stored food is a different matter. You can only store so much food. Once you need to start using that food, because of some disruption in the commercial food supply, you cannot easily replenish your stores. So stored food is generally not a good barter item, unless you have too much of food ‘A’ and your neighbor has too much of food ‘B’.
Other items that might be useful for barter: books on any topic in self-sufficiency, firewood, tools, solar-anything, batteries (especially rechargeable), walkie-talkies, coffee, and more. If you have any suggestions for good barter items, feel free to comment.