The economy is far more fragile than people realize. But it wouldn’t even take a total economic collapse to give bartering renewed popularity and prominence. A partial economic collapse will make ordinary necessities available only sporadically, at much higher prices, resulting in a need to barter. Alternately, any situation that makes money far less valuable, such as rapid inflation, will give the advantage to bartering. So when you are deciding which goods to store for your own use, consider storing some additional quantities or types of stuff that might be good for bartering. I have a few suggestions.
When the SHTF and the grocery store shelves are stripped bare, the unprepared (also known as unpreppers) will think to themselves, “I should start a garden to grow my own food!” Great idea! But by then it will be too late. The local sources of gardening seeds, fertilizer, and equipment will be sold out. Online sources too. Suddenly a dollar packet of seeds will be much more valuable.
So if you have enough seeds for your own survival garden, you could barter some stored seeds to your unprepped neighbors. You can also save seeds from each garden harvest, dry them, and barter those seeds as well.
As a barter item, seeds keep well, take up little space, and will be widely sought after. They should represent a good return on investment, in that they are cheap now, and they will be worth much more later.
Buy the kind with caffeine, freeze-dried, any major brand. Even if you don’t care for the stuff, coffee is going to be in short supply and high demand. Certain crops are easy to grow in the U.S., such as corn, wheat, soy, rice, etc. But coffee plants are tricky to grow and time-consuming to harvest. So the availability is always teetering on the edge of a cliff. Demand for coffee never goes down, even when people have little money, it’s one of the last things that people will give up. So price can easily skyrocket.
Coffee keeps well, takes up little space, and is very popular. You can’t go wrong storing some freeze dried coffee for bartering purposes.
Preppers tend to favor certain foods for storage: grains, dried beans and other legumes, canned goods, a few other things. But I think vegetable oil tends to get over-looked or under-valued. You need more dietary fat than you realize. Now, you are getting a lot of fat from foods like cheese, meat, junk food, restaurant food. But when you are eating from stored foods, most of those things are low in fat. So you will be using more veggie oil then, than you do now.
Vegetable oil is easy to store, but you have to keep an eye on the expiration dates. When the SHTF, it might be a good bartering item. Veggie oil makes your stored food much more palatable. You can use stored flour and some yeast to make fried dough. You can take rice, which can be tedious to eat frequently, and fry it up with a few veggies from the garden and a generous amount of oil, and make fried rice. Yes, you will want plenty of veggie oil, when the grocery store collapse occurs, and so will your neighbors. So it’s a good bartering item.
When the SHTF, the internet is probably going to get broke real quick. No power, means no internet, of course. But other stuff can happen. Suppose there is a major war somewhere. Well, in this day and age, hacking is a weapon of war. The enemy will try to cause harm to our society by hacking or by taking down the internet. So loss of the internet, for some period of time, or intermittent outages, may become a fact of life.
After a few days of being without the internet, people are going to remember that you can also get information from things called “books”. And those books are going to suddenly rise in value. Which topics will be most in demand? I think the useful subjects, like: gardening, home repair, car repair, self-defense, first aid and other medical books. But it might also be the case that works of fiction will be in demand as electronic forms of entertainment generally depend on power, internet, and cable services — which may not be up and running.
Disruptions to the food supply during a major disaster are highly likely. But stored food is always limited in variety and some nutrients. So I think it’s prudent to store a multivitamin or a few different supplements, for use when the SHTF. I like the One-A-Day Men’s Health multivitamin. But certain other supplements are also good: vitamin D, zinc, lycopene, etc.
A long-term disaster might also affect the healthcare system. So using a supplement will be important to reduce risk of illness in the first place. That’s a big advantage.
Will a multivitamin be suitable for bartering? I’m not sure. Some people will understand the usefulness of a supplement. But others will be so focused on necessities, that the importance of preventative health measures may be lost on them.
Now here’s an idea for an unusual bartering item: purified water. If you have water purification equipment, during a time when there is no power (for boiling water) and the tap water supply is contaminated, your purified water is valuable. You could trade a 2 liter bottle of purified water for whatever items your neighbors might offer. You could trade work in your garden for food and water. Yes, a combination of food plus purified water is probably the most enticing bartering item.
Questionable Bartering Items
This next list of items for bartering is questionable. I have some reservations about each one, for various reasons. I personally would think twice before bartering these things. But it’s worth discussing, and you can use your own judgment.
Guns and Ammo
First, obey all local, state, and federal laws on firearms and ammunition. I don’t know whether bartering these items is legal in your jurisdiction. So that is the first concern.
The other concern, which should be obvious, is that after you have bartered a gun and ammo for some food, the person can rob you at gunpoint of that food. Rookie mistake, am I right?
In some cases, though, it might be a reasonable trade. If you and your neighbor know each other well, and you both are well-armed anyway, you might trade some ammo that you have, for ammo that you need. They are no better armed before or after the deal. Just be very careful as desperate times can change people for the worse.
Most of the time, you are just better off keeping your guns and ammo off of the bartering market.
It is, of course, not legal to barter with prescription medications of any kind. But law and order might fall apart at some point. And then, if you need meds, what can you do? I don’t have any advice in that situation.
Antibiotics are perhaps a special case. You can buy antibiotics on the grey market, offered as fish antibiotics. They are the same antibiotics made and sold for human use.
I had a minor medical issue a few years ago. No physician would prescribe an antibiotic for me, though I was convinced that is what I needed. I eventually put myself on a fish antibiotic — type, dosage, and length of time as stated in online medical resources. And that cured the disorder completely. So, I’m sold on the idea. But it is not without its risks.
Marijuana is becoming legal in more states as time passes. Where I live, you can give away an ounce or less to a friend or family member legally. But you can’t sell it without all manner of crazy fees, permits, and a long licensing process. Bartering weed has got to be illegal (though I’m not a lawyer). So that’s why I wouldn’t recommend bartering weed. But who knows what the laws will be like in a few years.
The legality of bartering for cigarettes is questionable. But maybe you could fly under the radar if you are doing some low volume bartering. And once law and order breaks down, no one will care. But if you don’t smoke yourself, I’m not sure how much money and space you want to devote to cigarettes for bartering. I prefer items that I can also use, which will be bartered if I find I have more than I need.
When times are difficult, alcohol is in high demand. Hard liquor is worth more per ounce, so it takes up less room in storage. It is flammable, and prone to pilfering by pesky teenagers, so storage is tricky. I would think that hard liquor in medium sized bottles, would be best. Your bartering customer might not have anything of sufficient value to trade for a large bottle of high-quality vodka.
Again, the legality of bartering alcohol is questionable. You don’t have a liquor license, so I would keep this type of bartering for closer friends and family members. You don’t want people banging on your door at all hours, demanding a drink.
My personal preference is to barter with stored items that I will use myself, also. That strategy makes the most of limited money and storage space. I would shy away from bartering stuff that is in a legal grey (or not-so-grey) area, but maybe that’s just me. You can also barter with your work or your knowledge, to help a neighbor start a garden, for example. So there are many options. Keep prepping.