Long before money became common, our ancestors acquired the things they needed by trading goods and services for things other people needed. And it is still economics in many parts of the world. So, how useful would bartering be to you in a SHTF situation?
Imagine a long-term serious SHTF situation such as a total grid down environment. Maybe at some point life will return to “normal” but for now you are going to survive on what you have. Nothing is being manufactured because there is no power. Nothing is being transported because there is no sufficient fuel. How do you get what you need if you do not already have it stocked? You trade the excess of what you have to others who need it for the excess that others have that you need. That’s called bartering. Sounds simple, right? Maybe. And maybe not.
Stockpiling for Barter Before SHTF
Many people suggest that you should stockpile certain items with a view to using them for barter material. This sounds reasonable but I think there are a few issues you might want to consider. First of all, anything that will be valuable to someone else is also going to be valuable to you. Just how do you figure “excess”? You may be sitting on a 5 year supply of foodstuffs that you feel flexible in trading some of, but what if the disaster lasts 6 years? How much food, medicine, ammunition and other “critical ” items can you stock up in order to have “excess” to trade? How much space do you have, and can you protect all of this stuff from a bunch of starving have not’s? And if you have the funds, space, and ability to stock up that much stuff, exactly what are you going to need to trade for anyway? The problem with stockpiling large quantities is that if the SHTF situation goes seriously long-term, you are going to need those items yourself.
Short Term vs. Long Term
In the short-term, trading your excess items to those who did not prepare in exchange for certain items might be useful. It depends on the nature of the disaster and the possibilities of things eventually returning to normal. For example, much of Western Europe was occupied by the Nazis in WW2. Farmers in those areas were required to turn over much of their food produce to the Germans. But most rural folks have a knack for having “extra”. People who lived in the cities would travel to the country to visit “friends and relatives” bringing suitcases of silverware, gold jewelry and other “valuable” that were no longer valuable to starving people. The would trade them for things that did have value such as food stuffs to stay alive. After the war, when the national economies returned to a state of normal many of these farmers became rather well off selling the items they traded for because they were now valuable again.
In the long-term, especially if we reach TEOTWAWKI, bartering is going to become the new economy. People will be trading for things they don’t necessarily need in order to trade them later to people who do need them.
What’s Going To Be Valuable?
Anything people need, or perceive that they need, to stay alive will have the highest value. Food, water, medicine, medical supplies, and ammunition will all be things high on the survival list and can be bartered in the short-term for things you need. Personally, I would be damned careful in bartering weapons or ammunition. The people you are dealing with may simply want them to take the rest of what you have. This should be limited to people you know and at least have a small measure of trust in. Additionally, luxury items, especially cigarettes and alcohol, can be easily moved. But in the long run, I believe that the most valuable trade items you can use will not be the things that you have. It will be the things that you can do. The more skills you have, the more valuable you will be to others. Not much different from today except money will not be the exchange medium. The guy or gal who is a proficient hunter can trade extra meat to the guy or gal with nursing skills for medical help. The ex professional soldier or experienced law enforcement or security professional can organize the defense of a community of people lacking those skills. People who have learned the skills of 19th century living will be very valuable to any community. Can you make soap, or clothes from scratch? Can you repair damaged firearms? Make a bow and arrows? Make serviceable knives from scrap metal? Dress a hog? Do you know how to make moonshine? (both for medical and social uses)Start learning some useful skills now. Your masters degree in IT security probably won’t mean much in a grid down world with no internet. Learn to barter useful skills and not necessarily the things you have that you may need down the road
Learning to Barter
Bartering is a psychological experience in good times. A real art form in bad. You need to understand the art of negotiation. Practice now. Flea markets and garage sales are great places to pick up items for prepping very cheap, as well as giving you experiencing in trading and bartering. Learn to barter your skills now. When you contract with another professional such as a lawyer or plumber, see if you have skills they need and try to work an exchange. It is estimated that the United States already has a massive underground economy based on barter. The money you save can be used to prep with.
Dealing With Desperate People and Security
Some of the people you will be bartering with are going to be desperate. Hurt, hungry, ill, or worse yet with a child in any of those categories. When you are a have and you are dealing with desperate have not’s, it can be easy to seriously take advantage of people. Don’t. Taking a man’s last food in exchange for that bit of medicine his dying daughter needs is not conducive to making friends. And if his daughter dies anyway, don’t be surprised if he comes back with murder in his heart. Desperate people are not rational. People are going to dislike you for having what they need to begin with. Don’t compound it by taking advantage of them. Be honest and fair. Don’t give the impression that you have anything more than what you brought to trade. Give the impression that you are as desperate as the person you are trading with.Have someone with you, and deal on neutral ground. The more public, the better. Be armed, even if it is concealed. Listen to your gut instincts. It something doesn’t feel right. it probably isn’t. Make sure you aren’t followed going home, and if you are being followed, lose them before you get home.
Effective bartering can help you get the things you need, and can even help you thrive in adverse situations. But in a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI it can be a dangerous experience. Ask any drug dealer who experienced a deal gone bad.