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Prepping Skills 101: Bartering and Trading

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Article first appeared at Cheaper than Dirt.

Since 1996, Heidemarie Schwermer from Dortmund Germany has lived without money. In 1994, Schwermer established a local exchange group called “Gib und Nimm” (Give and Take) where people traded goods and services such as clothing, appliances, and babysitting. Two years later, she decided to try a year living without money giving up all she owned except a suitcase full of clothes to live a life on the barter system. Over 16 years later, she still lives without money.

Living without money is hard to imagine in our country right now. However, trading and bartering is making a come back. Websites such as Cragislist make it easy by offering a free space where people can post ads for goods and services. Bartering is still alive and well and has been for years. A 1995 United Nations Human Development Report found that bartering around the world equaled to $16 trillion if currency had been involved in the trade of goods and services.

This picture shows a gun, freeze-dried food, and gun magazines.

Freeze-dried ice cream is a perfect bartering item. Picture courtesy of Zorin Denu.

Bartering was the way of life worldwide before the invention of money. Bartering is simply the exchange of goods or services between people without using any form of money. The barter system dates back to 6000 B.C. by the Mesopotamia tribes. As communities and governments developed, so did standards in barter items, such as Indian wampum and salt—paid as wages to Roman soldiers. Items such as shells, wampum, and salt became primitive forms of currency.

Throughout history, people have returned to the barter system when money has become scarce or lost its value. During the Great Depression and a long recession during the 1980s, Americans returned to a system in which people traded goods and services without the exchange of currency.

Many Americans are losing faith in the American dollar and believe economic collapse is inevitable. Only time will tell if that will happen, but David A. Stockman, former Republican Congressman and President Ronald Reagan’s budget director has said, “The future is bleak.” If our paper money becomes meaningless do you know how and what to barter?

The more you prep, the less you will need to barter. However, depending on how bad and how long SHTF lasts, it is inevitable you will probably need more goods such as ammo and food, or a service such as a midwife or mechanic you didn’t include in your preps.

 Medicine and first aid skills will be in high demand.

Medicine and first aid skills will be in high demand.

To barter successfully, you will need both goods and skills of value that others need and want. The first rule is to proceed with caution! Be weary of those who are in desperate need of the basics such as food and water. People in survival mode are capable of anything. Although, I like to imagine a SHTF world where we all get along, trust and help each other, reality will most likely be opposite. Both parties must be satisfied for bartering to be successful. Even though you may think one is unprepared, and may not have anything of value to you, they may offer a skilled service such as medical care or construction.

Another extremely important aspect of bartering during SHTF is absolutely, positively not to reveal too much. You do not want people to know exactly what you have and how much you have.

When we barter, we give up something we find less valuable than what we receive. Value, though, is relative and subjective. Cigarettes or coffee will be more valuable to certain people than others. Even if you don’t drink caffeine or smoke, others will and vices such as those will be in high demand. Stock up on items that you know will be valuable trade commodities.

Can you prepare to barter? Of course, you can! If you have room for extra preps, make a separate area for specific barter items.

Items in demand will be:

  • Animals such as chickens, rabbits, and goats
  • Food and water
  • Ammunition
  • Guns/weapons
  • Seeds
  • Sugar
  • Flour, wheat, rice and other grains
  • Vices such as alcohol, tobacco and sweets
  • Gas/oil
  • Medicine
  • Toilet paper
  • Luxury items such as lotions, make up, and personal hygiene products

Not only will goods be in demand, but services as well. Invest in learning or expanding your skills such as medical, plumbing, gardening, farming, animal husbandry, teaching, gunsmithing, construction, and woodwork.

If you are crafty, you can also start working on projects to use as barter items. Such as knitting scarves and hats for colder weather or making stuffed animal toys for children.


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