Survival Bartering: The Pros and Cons

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Survival Bartering-BarterTo trade by exchange of commodities rather than by the use of money.

Much has been written about the use of barter in a post SHTF/TEOTWAWKI* scenario. Barter is presumed to be the norm for conducting common transactions, especially at the beginning of the event (see Chile 1982, Argentina 2001). None of these discussions describe the true difficulties of using barter for containing daily common supplies and needs. This is survival bartering – when your very life may depend on your bartering skills.

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. “Barter” is plainly not the same thing as “money” — just using things like matches, seeds, clean water, rounds of ammunition in place of coins and paper money.

The difference between survival bartering and using money

Like it or not, good or bad, “money”, as we have come to know it, is an effective means of exchange. We exchange money for the product and services we want. “Money” is very effective is because it is very generic. The currency we receive (or pay out) in exchange for products and services can be used to obtain whatever other products and services we want, when we want them (all other things being equal). We do not need to know exactly what we are going to use the money for when we receive it.

We can exchange money for food or clothing or medicine or fuel or transportation or entertainment, or simply hold on to it (save) for another day. “Money” doesn’t get stale or expire or simply go bad after some period of time (ignoring inflation and devaluation for the moment).

By contrast, when you are considering a barter exchange, you must consider at that exact moment what it is you reasonably expect to do with whatever item(s) you are receiving in the exchange. It is highly risky to accept an item whose usefulness to you isn’t clear.

This has obvious draw backs

You may not need an item today but need it tomorrow and now the opportunity to acquire it is gone.
You may take an item in exchange thinking it will useful but turns out it isn’t.
You may take the greater risk of accepting an item in exchange hope to re-exchange it later for something else, but that doesn’t pan out either.

For example, many web sites and blogs state that .22 ammunition will be the “new currency” in a post SHTF environment. To me, .22 ammo is only good if I have a .22 firearm. If not, I either don’t accept the exchange, or take on additional risk by accepting something I may (or may not) be able re-barter later for something I do need.

Another example: Consider a post-natural disaster scenario like Katrina. Suppose someone comes to you with a brand new big screen TV wanting to trade it for food. In more normal times the TV has value because you can use it right away. But after a disaster it might be weeks or even months before power and cable is restored to your area so what good is a big screen TV?

What exactly to store as barter items?

The answer is simple: It largely doesn’t matter.

There is no real way of know what exactly will be of exchangeable value in a post-SHTF scenario. Some items will probably always have a level of demand such as food, water, medical, defenses, fuel, etc. But those would likely be the last things you want to trade instead of keeping for your own use.

Websites and videos are full of suggestions for this or that  to accumulate for barter such as tobacco, alcohol, ammunition, salt, sugar, batteries, candles, needles and thread, even tooth brushes and dental floss!  In one video I recently saw the guy claimed to have over 50,000 (yes!) nails of all kinds stored for both his own building use and for barter. On another website it was posted that someone had stored so much TP in anticipation of Y2K problems that it took several years after Y2K to use it all up! Imagine the storage space need for all that!

There is also geography to be considered. Some items may have greater value to people in urban areas while people in rural areas put greater value on different items. Someone in a more Northern location will value warm clothes more than someone in Florida.

The reality is you simply cannot turn your home and pantry into an extension of WalMart. No one has enough money and space to allow that. If you are going to collect items with the intention of using them for barter, be sure they are things you can use yourself in your own life should the exchange value not be as significant as you imagined pre-SHTF (not to mention if a SHTF event never occurs at all).

Barter exchange has been around since the start of humanity. There is no reason to think that would change. But bartering for products and services is far different from our present currency exchange systems that requires a very different understanding of how markets work in order to be successful. It should not be thought of as just the same as using dollars or other paper currency.

Guest post by Master Po, originally posted February 7, 2011.

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

19 thoughts on “Survival Bartering: The Pros and Cons”

    1. Agreed. However, skills also follow the same rules as material items: a person must have need if your skill at that time to make the trade. For example, you may be a good teacher but if I have no children that does me no good. Or you may be a good auto mechanic but if fuel is scarce chances are autos won’t be used much.

      1. Get you some black star sex links , no not being kinky, they are a cross between two other breeds and are very quiet and are egg laying machines, not your meat birds mind you but good layers. Go to Murrey hatchery online, I've had super success with them. They can sell you them as well as meat birds or some that will do both. Just don't have any roosters. General town chicken rules are: if no one can hear or smell'em you're good!

  1. Mike in Virginia

    I agree with the general gist of this article, and if I had to pick one particular generic barter-able category of items to stock up on, it would be food along with reasonably-sized portion containers. That is, you should have the necessary food reserves and zip-loc bags to make up one-pound bags of wheat, rice, corn, oats, grits, etc. Everybody needs to eat! But really, if we're down to bartering at this level, things have gotten really, really rotten, and it might be more reasonable to assume that some form of new currency will become popular, probably based on the good old standard for circulating coinage: silver. Stocking up on silver is a good idea anyway, given what's happening to our currency.

    1. If you're expecting to barter food then I'd go with larger quantities of smaller units (i.e. a case of small cans instead of 1 big can and bags). The reason being if you give food in home-made containers (bags or other non-commercially sealed containers) it can make people wonder: If you have enough food to put in a bag it must be coming from a larger source so how much more do you have?! That can make you a better target for a criminal. But if you are trading smaller units (say cans) the psychology isn't the same.

  2. BTW, if you have read or heard the comments from Ferfal in Argentina, he has reported that bartering really hasn't been all that widely implemented nor so successful where it has been done. Even in the post-economic collapse of 2001 Argentina currency and hard assets are still much more widely used than barter.

  3. As others, I agree.

    I would need to point out that the .22 ammo being a “new money” is pretty good advice.

    You pointed out that you would need to have a .22 for it to be valuable to you but that isn’t the case. Here is why:

    Ask anyone what the first gun they fired was and they would likely tell you it was a .22. I haven’t kept track but I would bet that 85% of the answers would be just that. There are more guns out there chambered to fire .22LR rounds than any other. It is fired not only in the rifles but also in most .22 pistols. But while there are many that require it most owners don’t have a large supply of the ammo….but as they will need ammo to hunt or defend themselves it will very quickly be in demand everywhere.

    What is also different about the .22 rounds from most others is that it is rim fire rather than center fire. This means it is not practical to reload them…once the round is fired, it’s gone for good. This makes them even MORE valuable for all those guns without ammo are only valuable as a club. And defending yourself with a club is not the preferred method and certainly not the weapon of choice for hunting.

    While a diverse collection of things would be good for barter I would think that IF you are buying something specifically for barter then .22 would be one of the strongest choices even if you don’t have anything that is chambered for it.

    And finally….one of the things I save for barter and use is beer bottles that are not the twist off cap type. AND, of course, the caps. They are good for beer but they can also store any other drink, both alcohol and non-alcoholic. We brew our own beer and make our own wine and mead. We like the beer bottles for both in such an EOTWAWKI scenario as each bottle is a serving and therefore doesn’t require keeping after it’s been opened (and as we envision using all of these more for cooking and flavoring it allows us to open a bottle for a meal, mix it into the cooking, and be done with it).

    We do not purchase these bottles outright…we only have them given to us or save the ones from the beer we buy for our own consumption. They don’t require storage inside so you don’t have to worry about space. I built a cheap, wooden box frame and put them all in there. When I need bottles for our latest brew I go out and just open up the box and pull out the bottles. The caps we need to store but those are super small and you can store thousands in a medium box on a closet shelf.

    And if you REALLY want to save on the storage you can buy Grolsch beer (swingtop lids) and a bunch of the rubber gaskets…which can be used over and over again.

    Do we have other barter stuff? Yeah…but only things we would also use ourselves. In fact the only thing I would recommend for barter that you wouldn’t use would be the .22LR ammo. There has also been a shortage of it….which means lots of people are feeling the economic pressures and feel something, somehow must be terribly wrong.

  4. Learn skills. Most barter will be labor or trade based. People who have skills in low tech areas such as alcohol production, herbal medicine, animal husbandry, and food production will be much in demand.

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  8. I did not see any mention of the Tax Implications of bartering (pre-apocalypse). consider barter a taxable event. So, do not go around advertising you’ll “barter services for…” on Craigslist and such or you may get audited.

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  11. Who would have ever thought that toilet paper would be a hot commodity?
    And elastic! I cannot find elastic to make masks and scrub caps.

    Be blessed,
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage

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