A Wise Prepper’s Guide to Bartering Skills and Supplies

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Bartering is a way to exchange goods or services without using money. It has successfully helped communities thrive for thousands of years and may prove highly valuable during a crisis. Living in a “currency based” economy we may have lost this valuable skill.

How do I prepare to successfully barter in a disaster scenario? To successfully barter during a crisis you must develop a set of basic skills, build physical resources, and develop good working relationships today. The safest and most successful bartering occurs between friends and neighbors.

In this article, we will help you understand the basics of bartering so you can learn to barter for the services and supplies that you may want or need. These are handy skills to use every day, not just when the world falls apart around you.

What Exactly is Bartering?

Bartering is an ancient practice of exchanging goods and services to meet needs. The mighty dollar (or other currency) may be the most popular method of transacting business, but it is not the only way to do business.

Bartering can be an exchange of energy or resources. In other words skills or services or stuff that you have or need. Bartering works best in a relationship where trust has been established. These are just a few examples of bartering.

  • I make a quilt for you and you fix the brakes on my car. No money is exchanged, and both parties agree on the terms and benefit from the specialized skills.
  • I let you milk my cow on Tuesdays in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables from your garden. Both parties agree on the terms, both parties benefit from exchanging their excess home production.
  • We exchange 5 gallons of gasoline for basic food storage including a #10 can of potato flakes, rice, pinto beans, and a pound of salt. Both parties agree and have their needs satisfied.

Honesty and follow-through is critical to successful bartering today and in the future. Perhaps this is why history is full of sayings like “a man’s word is his bond” and why covenants were so highly regarded anciently. Keep your promises or bartering will not be successful for you in the long run.

When Is Bartering Useful?

Bartering is not the most efficient form of economy. Cash allows us to trade our services or resources and purchase anything we want. Bartering limits us to the available products from people who also want the goods or services we have to trade.

Recognizing that limitation, there are still times when bartering may be the only way to secure necessary supplies and services. Bartering is frequently used when the currency is unstable or difficult to obtain or the supply chain has been disrupted.

We have found bartering to be quite useful in our everyday life although we don’t usually label it as bartering. Most of the time it feels more like friends helping each other out rather than official agreements. It doesn’t have to always be an “equal” exchange but it should always be fair.

A natural disaster offers many opportunities for bartering as well as just helping each other out. After Katrina, one woman shared a story with me from her neighborhood.

She explained that one person had baby formula to share while another shared some convenience foods. One had a generator with fuel and could provide temporary power while others provided physical labor. Her experience showed her the goodness of people and yet the news only reported the worst in people.

  • California is currently experiencing a widespread power outage that may provide many opportunities to trade resources as well as skills.
  • Severe winter storms provide opportunities to barter while travel is limited.
  • An earthquake will present numerous barter opportunities as victims wait for help to arrive and supply lines to be re-established. There will also be many chances for successful bartering in the restoration process.

Bartering is frequently envisioned in “end of the world” and “worst-case” scenario events. Bartering is not usually a “life-and-death” exchange. While the risk of that scenario may be real, the probability of experiencing several “lesser” events is much greater.

Bartering is an effective tool for all of these scenarios, including when I run out of eggs today and trade my neighbor a Snickers bar for 3 eggs. Stop thinking with cash and start thinking trade.

Dangers of Bartering

There are some dangers associated with bartering. Bartering with trusted friends and neighbors lessens this risk. It is a good idea to clearly understand the character of an individual before making the decision to barter with them. It may be best to avoid bartering all together with unscrupulous people.

Bartering may require you to disclose at least part of your resources, which may turn you into a target for those who do not have your best interests at heart. You have the right to your property. By disclosing your inventory, suddenly you may be put in a position to physically defend your resources. This position can be avoided through operational security and appearing to be in the same situation as everyone else around you.

Be very careful not to put your family in danger. Don’t give away knowledge of your secret stash while trying to trade for something insignificant. It is better to learn to live without than to risk discovery.

Bartering with addictive substances means that you will likely be dealing with people who have an addiction that is currently unsatisfied. In other words, these people may be irrational or in other ways dangerous to be around or deal with.

It also means these desperate people will likely be coming back for more and may bring their friends. Carefully consider whether you really want to be their “dealer.” If you store chocolate to barter rather than cigarettes, you may have a safer client base. But then again I get pretty ugly without my chocolate fix.

When you barter your supplies, you run the risk of losing something that you may need later. It is better to barter items you produce on your own or with your skills. Carefully determine if something is a want or a need before proceeding.

Best Bartering Is No Bartering

Carefully evaluate the needs of your family and build a plan that will meet those needs. Purchase the necessary tools and supplies and work to build important skills. Nurture an atmosphere of self-reliance and learn to take care of yourselves.

The reason you may want to barter in the first place is that you have a need that you are unable to meet with your own set of skills or supplies. The better you prepare for the needs of your family, the less likely you are to need to barter with others.

Know Your Bartering Community and Plan Accordingly

An internet search will yield random lists of “premium items to store for barter.” But these lists may not (and likely will not) accurately reflect what you should have on hand in a barter situation. Do a little bit of homework and make your own list.

What items would your friends and neighbors most likely be willing to sacrifice to obtain? We learned a lot about our needs when we lived off of our food storage and garden for 90 days without going to the store.

We have a solid storage program and the majority of our needs were met for the 3 months. The things that we missed the most were chocolate chips, convenience foods, real yogurt, and ice cream. We bartered produce from our garden to get fresh milk from a neighbor. We exchanged hot soup for a bag of chocolate chips.

It was interesting to witness the kindness and generosity of our friends and neighbors. These relationships have been nurtured. When disaster strikes our little town, we will do very well with the exception of a few outliers that every town has to deal with.

Take time and take notes of what your neighbors may want and need.

I was talking with a neighbor and learned that the family was a huge fan of Nutella. They raise pigs and just might be willing to trade a ham for a jar of Nutella.

Another neighbor is a beautician but expressed her inability to do anything with the foods that she had stored. That may work into trading haircuts for bread-making lessons or even just a loaf or two of fresh bread.

A little bit of skilled observation and planning allows you to be in a position not only to help your neighbors but to also better meet the needs of your family if you need to barter.

I frequently hear preppers talking about how they have stored cigarettes or liquor so that they can barter in a grid down survival scenario even when no one in the family smokes or drinks.

Personally, it doesn’t make sense to me to spend my precious resources on items that my family will not use in daily life or in an emergency. Our goal is to store everything that we need to be self-reliant. If we have unmet needs we can barter some of our excess supplies to fill those needs. I would have to be pretty desperate to use my chocolate to barter for anything else.

If you live in a neighborhood where alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and ammunition are highly sought after items, then your list will be a bit different from mine. Store what makes sense in your situation.

Top Bartering Skills and Goods

The bartering items with the highest value are those that meet the basic survival needs of water, food, shelter, fuel, and safety. Once those needs are met then people are interested in items that increase levels of comfort and satisfy other needs.

If you are still begging for that list of what you need for bartering, here are some items you may want to consider having on hand. Extra items may be used for bartering as the situation demands.

Most Valuable Prepper Skills for Barter

Trading labor for goods or services is a win for you. The greater your skill level, and the better your work ethic, the more potential you have to be successful and meet the needs of your family.

Consider learning these and other valuable skills that you may be able to barter.

Handyman skills, basic plumbing, small engine repair, mechanic skills, vehicle maintenance and repair, carpentry, blacksmithing, sewing, mending, knitting, crocheting, shoemaking, shoe repair, weaving, cooking, baking, bottling, drying, fermenting, raising livestock, fishing, hunting, gardening, food production and preservation, communication, electronics, self-defense, security, first aid, nursing, emergency response, alternative healing, conflict resolution, homemaking, financial management, transportation skills, heavy equipment operation, music, massage, entertainment, second language skills, and true friendship skills.

This list contains only some of the skills that might be great for bartering. Build skills in areas that interest you and continue to learn new things. We composed a list of our top skillsets for self-reliance at Skills and Knowledge That Make Preppers Resilient and Self-Reliant.

Best Prepper Goods for Bartering

There are two main types of goods that you can barter; renewable and non-renewable. Some items are a one-time benefit, such as an extra shovel that you barter for goods. However, once that shovel is gone you may not be able to replace it.

Fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs, and meat have the potential to be bartered every year as you harvest your bounty. Make sure that you focus your potential bartering on items where there is both a market and a way that you can produce the goods yourself. Safeguard the supplies that you are not able to make on your own.

The list below is not in any particular order. All of these items may be of value.

Food

Eating is a basic survival need. Canned goods, dehydrated foods, freeze-dried foods, stored grains, honey, sugar (sweeteners will be critical for flavor and preservation properties), powdered milk, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, yeast, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, drink mixes, spices, condiments, vinegar, and every other food that your family enjoys eating.

Learn more about building your family food stores by reading these articles:

Sweets and Chocolate

Don’t limit survival foods to flour and salt. Semi-sweet chocolate chips are my preferred sin for storage. They satisfy the chocolate craving when other items are not available. Plain chocolate stores better than chocolate with nuts, caramel, or other deliciousness added. Most kinds of hard candy will store for a long time and satisfy a sweet tooth.

Cooking Supplies

Challenging times frequently means cooking from basics staples. Basic cooking and baking tools such as a manual can opener, wheat grinder, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, baking sheet liners, heavy pots and pans, cast iron ovens and skillets, baking dishes, spray bottles, thermometers, mixing bowls and spoons, measuring cups and spoons, hot pads, and recipe books will all be valuable assets.

Canning Supplies

Preserving the harvest takes on new importance when trips to the grocery store are not an option. Store canning tools and supplies, such as canning jars, canning lids and rings, water bath canner, pressure canner, canning recipe book, vinegar, canning salt, sugar, and lemon juice.

Sanitation Supplies

Basic supplies to take care of personal sanitation. Toilet paper is a highly prized item that is frequently reported to be a needed item in disaster scenarios.

Other supplies include liquid soap, bar soap, hand sanitizer, shampoo, laundry detergent, brushes, combs, nail clippers, cotton swabs, cotton balls, scissors, dental floss, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine products, condoms, diapers (adult and infant), baby wipes, disposable razors, fly swatters, garbage bags (all sizes), brooms, dustpans, mops, cleaning products, clothespins, clothesline, non-electric washing machine, lip balm, chapstick, petroleum jelly, and mouse traps. If you use it on a regular basis, you should stock it.

Disinfectant products, such as chlorine, are critically important in a disaster situation to avoid illness and the spread of diseases.

To learn more about preparing to take care of your sanitation needs in a disaster check out these articles:

Clean Drinking Water

Highly prized when unavailable, clean drinking water is a top survival need. Bottled water, water barrels, water filters, and purification tools, calcium hypochlorite, plastic buckets, pitchers, and storage containers are all very important resources. Clean drinking water is priceless.

We have created some great resources on water storage and disinfection that may be of interest to you.

Fire Building and Maintenance Tools

Fire is a basic survival element. Stock everything that you may need including fire starters, cigarette lighters, butane torch lighters, waterproof matches, flint and steel, striker, kindling, wood, newspapers, fuel, fireplace tools, and a battery-operated smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

Gardening Tools and Supplies

Growing your own food is one of the best ways to improve your level of self-reliance. You may want to stock some Non-GMO seeds, Non-Hybrid Seeds, shovels, turning forks, rakes, hoes, pitchforks, scythe, small hand tools, pruners, compost, pots, fertilizers, pesticides, and gardening books.

Get a little direction on growing your own food on our post, Best Strategies for Growing a Reliable Survival Garden.

Home Production

Your most valuable barter items include those that you can produce yourself because they are a renewable resource. You can barter garden produce, herbs, fruits, nuts, livestock, rabbits, chickens, fresh eggs, meat, animal feed, and even animal manure may be quite valuable.

Baked goods may also be a valuable barter item if you plan for the ability to create them.

Power Production

Anything that produces our precious electricity can be valuable such as batteries, rechargeable batteries, solar panels, generators, phone chargers, and battery banks.

Alcohol

Alcohol can be used as a potable liquor, as a preservative, and as a fuel. The ability to distill alcohol might be something that you may want to add to your home production list if you can do it legally in your area. Alcohol stores indefinitely in a tightly sealed container and can be made from many products that would otherwise be wasted.

Communication Tools

Basic communication is another foundational need. Items that may be valuable include portable radios, solar-powered radios, two-way radios (walkie talkies), amateur radios, CB radio, satellite phones, cell phones, solar charging capability, and backup batteries.

Medical Supplies

Basic medications may be valuable bartering items. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and acetaminophen in both adult and infant formulations are high on the list. Antihistamines, anti-diarrheal, laxatives, suppositories, decongestants, antiemetics, antacids, antibiotic ointment, antifungal medication, and any other over-the-counter medications you use regularly.

We have created a helpful list of the over-the-counter medications that we stockpile on our post, Prepper Home Pharmacy: The Best Medications to Stockpile.

Antibiotics may also be valuable, however, it is illegal to dispense them without a license in many areas. There are so many other legal items to barter that it might be best just to avoid this item and save what you may have for your personal needs.

First aid supplies include; N95 respirators, masks, scissors, splints, crutches, braces, bandages, gauze, latex gloves, nitrile gloves, Epsom salt, reference books, and basic first aid supplies.

Medicinal Herbs

Many medicinal herbs grow like weeds and yet can be a great barter item. Dried herbs, tinctures, live plants, oils, and reference books are all valuable resources.

Survival Equipment

This is a catchall category for everything survival related. Many of these items may be highly valuable but better kept than bartered.

Weapons, ammunition, multi-tool, survival knives, hatchet, axe, pepper spray or mace, matches, butane lighters, compass, survival shovel, portable water filter, tactical pen, hammock, whistle, signal mirror, survival stove, gas mask, bivy sack, and paracord are just the beginning of a long list of handy survival items.

Camping Equipment

Be ready to evacuate or just live in your back yard if needed. Camping equipment makes this possible.

Valuable camping items include tents, shelters, cookstoves, portable heaters, lighting devices, fishing equipment, hunting equipment, tarps, heavy plastic, portable tables, and chairs along with any other items that make living outdoors possible.

Power Outage Cooking Devices

Cooking many foods is required to make them digestible. Power outage scenarios make Dutch ovens, charcoal ovens, propane stoves, alcohol stoves, solar cookers, camp stoves, barbeque grills, rocket stoves, thermal cookers, and open fire cooking tools very valuable.

We have a few tips for cooking when the power goes out on these posts.

Power Outage Heating Devices

It doesn’t take long in the winter to truly appreciate the ability to get warm. Propane heaters, alcohol heaters, kerosene heaters, and wood stoves are good options. However, I would have to be very desperate to barter any of these heaters.

Another heating device that can come in handy is a little electric heater. Not all crisis situations involve a power outage. The natural gas was out in New Mexico for a while and portable electric heaters were nowhere to be found.

Learn about our winter power experience and favorite heating devices in these articles.

Fuel

Fuel is one of the basic survival items and highly prized. Gasoline, diesel, propane, butane, charcoal, alcohol, wood, and wax are all valuable fuels that may be bartered. A generator gives you the ability to barter electricity.

Storing fuel for emergencies doesn’t have to be dangerous or difficult. Learn important tips in these posts.

Clothing and Footwear

Clothing is not usually a good barter item unless the situation continues for a long period of time. Children’s clothing is more in demand than adult clothing due to rapidly changing sizes.

Sewing and mending supplies (fabric, thread, pins, needles, safety pins, yarn, crochet hooks, knitting needles) are all good barter items.

Sturdy clothing for all seasons that is built to endure is perfect. Boots, shoes, shoelaces, Shoe Goo, and other shoe repair supplies should also be on the list.

Warm Clothing

Clothing is the first line of defense against cold weather. Blankets and sleeping bags, coats, parkas, jackets, sweaters, hoodies, scarves, neck warmers, mittens, gloves, trapper hats, Russian hats, ski cap, beanies, caps, slippers, boots, and leg warmers are good choices.

Lighting

Darkness is depressing and dangerous, which makes lighting devices precious resources. Flashlights, headlamps, lanterns, task lights, solar-powered lighting, candles, matches, and fuel (including batteries) to power them.

We created a resource that will help you determine your lighting needs, Brilliant Ideas to Literally Light Your World in a Power Outage.

Vitamins Supplements

Poor diets are commonplace in disaster scenarios. That makes vitamin supplements such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, and multivitamins literally lifesavers in compensating for vitamin deficiencies.

Learn more about storing vitamins and the actual shelf life of vitamins in our post; Shelf-Life of Vitamin Supplements in a Survival Food Supply.

Infant Needs

Babies have very specialized needs and many parents are desperate to have those needs met. Disposable diapers, cloth diapers, diaper pins, plastic pants, wipes, pediatric formulations of medication, diaper rash ointment, baby bottles, pacifiers, and baby clothes are just some of the items these little people need.

Hand Tools

Any tools that you may need to make important repairs or build shelter are valuable. Items such as a hatchet, saw, hacksaw, hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, pruners, a ratchet set, drills, bolt cutters, razor blades, box cutter, work gloves, and portable task lighting may be useful.

Basic Building or Repair Materials

Whether it is protecting your home before the hurricane hits or making temporary repairs after the earthquake, basic building materials are needed. Plywood, lumber, fasteners (nails, screws, bolts, etc.), construction adhesive, caulk and gun, duct tape, packing tape, 6 ml plastic sheeting, and basic tools are just the beginning.

Vehicle Maintenance Tools and Supplies

Keep a supply of all of the fluids (radiator, transmission, power steering, brake, coolant, grease, and washer fluid) along with the oil and filters that your vehicle may require to remain in working order. It may be wise to keep spare spark plug wires, hose clamps, belts, hoses, and silicone on hand. Basic vehicle repair tools such as a ratchet, socket set, screwdriver, and torque wrench are highly valuable.

Books

Every prepper should maintain a library of reference books. Books may be valuable especially those that are educational such as how-to books or reference manuals.

Vision Enhancements

The ability to see clearly is a basic need. Items that may be valuable for barter include reading glasses, sunglasses, safety glasses, eye drops, and contact solution.

Precious Metals

While not exactly bartering, precious metals may have a place in the economy when the traditional monetary system collapses. Silver coins, gold coins, and junk silver may be a good investment once all of your basic needs have been met.

Pet and Animal Supplies

Many pets are family members which makes their needs a valuable barter tool. These needs might include leashes, muzzles, pet porters, kennels, live traps, dry food, canned food, and livestock feed and supplies.

Entertainment

Boredom can be an issue, especially when it comes to energetic children or long quiet hours without electricity. Pens, pencils, crayons, markers, paper, pads, board games, cards, dice, musical instruments, sheet music, sporting equipment, and a good book of games are valuable.

Prepare for Your Needs First – Then Prepare to Barter and Share

There you have your list of important potential barter items. The greatest value these items have lies in their ability to meet the needs of your family. Not in bartering.

Remember, we are talking about real people with real needs. These needs don’t just disappear because a hurricane blew through town or the power went out. Plan for basic survival needs as well as personal preferences and desires.

Personally, I need chocolate in order for me to be a nice person. True fact. No matter how much Jonathan tells me that I don’t really need it, I DO! The problem is, I have never been able to build a year supply of chocolate. Somehow it just seems to disappear.

Plan well. Take reasonable steps to be self-reliant and meet the needs of your family. Store a little extra so that you are prepared to barter or share with those in need. Build relationships today, so that when disaster strikes, we will thrive together.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones

Kylene

Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.