Should You Plan to Barter in a Collapsed Economy?

If our economy ever does collapse and the dollars we’ve saved become worthless, one thing is for sure, a system of bartering will emerge, along with a black market. As you stock up on food and other goods, you may have had the thought, “This would be good for bartering.” Prepper bartering is a very popular topic on most prepper forums and blogs. But is it something worth planning and prepping for?

The weaknesses of barter

Most people think barter is merely I’ll trade you this for that. In a pure, simple sense that is so. However, where the rubber meets the road, where theory smacks hard into the face of reality, it isn’t nearly that simple and easy. There are definite drawbacks.

Let’s use the realistic example of a parent in search of an antiobiotic for his child. If he’s lucky enough, he’ll come upon an acquaintance who happens to have a stash of antibiotics, maybe even fish antibiotics that are available in livestock stores or on Amazon. The parent explains his need and requests a week’s worth of amoxicillin.

The owner of that antibiotic now has to make a tough decision. His own loved ones may be in need of those pills somewhere down the road. It may be impossible to purchase any more in the near future, but perhaps this desperate parent has something of value to trade.

Here is where bartering gets interesting because now the parent has to think of things he’s willing to give up in order to acquire amoxillin. Food? A Berkey water purifier? Gold or silver? A firearm? Ammunition? What?

He can offer any number of items in trade but until the owner of the Amoxicillin decides he wants something that is offered, the trade isn’t going to happen. In my situation, I’d be thinking:

  • Food? We already have a year’s worth, and I don’t need any more.
  • A Berkey? Got that, plus a few other water purifiers.
  • Gold or silver? Maybe, but how much am I willing to lose?
  • A firearm? I could always use another but look at what I’m giving up: a drug that could save my own life or my child’s life someday. Not sure it’s worth it.
  • Ammo? Same reasoning as above.

The trade for amoxicillin in this case may be dead in the water and the parent in search of the drug may have to move on and find someone else with that drug stashed away somewhere.

So is prepper bartering something you can count on as a survival strategy? Obviously not. There’s no substitute for being very well prepared yourself and thinking ahead to what you might need.

By the way, if the proposed barter runs into a dead end, guess who is vulnerable to robbery or worse? Yep. The guy who let it be known that he has a supply of life saving drugs. Not smart and may very well become a major reason why many people simply won’t turn to barter. It reveals what they have during a time in which scarcity is the rule.

See also  Getting Home the Hard Way

If you DO want to prep for barter…

First, make sure you are stocked up with the basics for yourself and your family before worrying about adding items for barter. Consider these points:

  • Do you have extra funds to purchase barter goods?
  • What percentage of your prep budget will go into buying barter goods?
  • Do you have room to stock up on items specific for barter?

The next steps are:

  • Review lists of barter goods and consider costs. What items can you most afford and do you have room to store them?
  • Think about which potential barter goods can double as useful items for you if you need to raid that stash. Example: if you never, ever drink alcohol, then maybe you shouldn’t stock up on dozens of bottles of liquor.
  • Consider stocking only items whose uses you know very well. The more you know about them, and thus their usefulness and value, the better a deal you can haggle.
  • Prioritize your shopping list, but be prepared to deviate if a great deal pops up.
  • Look for your chosen items on sale, clearance, or have coupons. Over-the-counter drugs, nutritional supplements, and cosmetics often show up in clearance aisles.

What to buy for your barter stash

Most barter items fall into two main categories: comfort/luxuries and survival essentials.

Imagine living for weeks or months without a bar of soap or a bottle of shampoo. After weeks without electricity, imagine the incredible value a pack of matches might have. Other suggestions in the comfort/luxuries category are:

  • Nail polish
  • Lipstick
  • Feminine hygiene
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Paperback books
  • Hygiene supplies: soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo
  • Candy, chocolate, chewing gum
  • Anything that will help make life more pleasant
  • Coffee
  • Baby wipes
  • Spices
  • Candy, chocolate

Among essentials that would be welcome in a barter exchange:

  • Ammunition
  • Long-term food
  • Water filter/purification
  • Seeds (Read this article about mini seed banks specific for bartering.)
  • Batteries
  • First Aid supplies, many are on this list
  • Tools
  • Vitamins
  • Over the counter medications and medical supplies
  • Baby supplies: diapers, formula, baby clothes
  • Camping gear
  • Insect repellant
  • Matches, fire starters

You can read long lists of barter-able items here. Remember that skills and knowledge are great for bartering and won’t impact what you have stored away.

The bottom line is to give this some thought, don’t over-spend, and keep your eyes open for bargains.

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16 thoughts on “Should You Plan to Barter in a Collapsed Economy?”

  1. I wouldn’t barter anything in the short run. On the other hand, after the “dust settles”, there will be the possibility of bartering skills and certain renewable assets like seeds and livestock offspring. My feeling is that anything non-renewable that is worth storing for “just in case” is going to be kept for my own use!

  2. I do not believe it will be safe enough post event to barter, therefore this does not form part of my plans.
    why use up valuable storage space for “barter goods” when you can use that same space for stuff you really need?
    everything will eventually run out anyway so learn to live without it.

    1. I’m not a fan of COUNTING on barter in an economic collapse, which is what many preppers fully expect.

      1. I think it will be a long time post event before barter will even be possible never mind safe, i’m not talking weeks or even months but probably years.
        depends on what the event is and what the survival rate is, might not be anyone to barter with, ever thought of that? if your counting on barter for survival you might be out of luck.

        1. Those are very good points. I’ve prepped a bit for barter but only with items I know we will use ourselves. I would probably never be willing to part with anything that our lives would depend on.

          1. everything will run out eventually anyway, if someone relies solely on barter for survival then what then?
            its just delaying the inevitable.
            skills and knowledge are more important than any amount of stored goods, with those we can survive for a lifetime.

          2. I see supplies, gear, and such as things that buy me time. The food, if it lasts 6 months, a year, whatever, gives me that much time to find other sources, expand my garden, etc. And, interestingly, I need skills for that to happen!

  3. Government Mule

    Stay away from cigarettes, alcohol and other “vice” items. Sure, they’ll be in great demand, but –
    – People who have addictions are unpredictable and will become desperate to feed their habits. They’ll remember that you have what they need. You have now put yourself and your family in danger because the addicts will do anything to get a fix.

    – Do you really want to become the “pusher”? There are plenty of helpful, useful barter items you can stockpile. Why enter the world of addictions simply because you can?

  4. I would never weapons or ammo; why put into someone’s hands the means to destroy you? And I’ve never known alcohol to increase anyone’s ability to make better decisions. Both are recipes for disaster. For barter I would recommend toilet paper, toothbrushes & toothpaste. Inexpensive & don’t take up a lot of room.

  5. Daniel Nelson

    Great advice, thank you. I store alcohol for more than bartering.One thing every needs is entertainment.Once everything settles down a bit I thought about setting up a tavern,after the bottles give homemade brew would take it’s place.It is a tried and true occupation no matter what.What do you think?

  6. I have zero problems in using .22LR ammo in five round packs for barter. Yes, if necessary I will do it, already have a few thousand rounds sealed up, ready-to-go.
    .22LR is the most used caliber in the USA, so, I’ve got some to barter should it become necessary, it will be invaluable to our friends and family who need to trade.

  7. A suggestion to a pre-barter conversation that I plan on using, “what are you looking for, and what do you have to trade for it”, then inform the other party that you will “try” to find it and will get back to them. Never disclose what you actually have and/or where you have it. Always best to trade away from your home and always have your own backup and escape plan should things go south. Never go to a meeting by yourself or unarmed.

  8. I think another aspect to look at is the “good will” aspect. A pack of cigarettes or a bottle of vodka might be enough to get a seat at the campfire or make a new friend (or friends). making some kind of connection with other people or groups could certainly be helpful.
    As has been stated straight up barter is going to be tough the “would you trade me that gas can for these tampons” situation always comes to mind.

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