SHTF Bartering

updated by Tara Dodrill 04/16/2018

Bartering is going to be one of those skills that will almost guarantee that you and your family will not only survive, but thrive in a post-apocalyptic world. One of the most dreaded things post-disaster, following the initial death-toll, after subsequent deaths due to lack of food, water and various pandemics will be the uselessness of money. The banking system is going to be seriously crippled. Cash in hand is going to be pretty much useless too (at least at first) because no one will want it.

Everyone will want the physical items that will help them survive even if it’s just for a couple more days.

Gold and silver are good, even money might be worth something eventually, but having food, water, guns, ammo, and the ability to fix things (and people!) is going to open more doors than any gold bar.

What is Bartering? A Quick Definition

In short, bartering is the exchange of goods and services without the use of a currency such as money, bitcoin, or precious metals. The premise is that both parties need the physical goods or services directly, as opposed to accepting a currency which then must be traded off in a subsequent transaction.

Why Aren’t We Using Bartering Right Now?

We used to barter exclusively, a long-long time ago. But bartering proved very inefficient, hence the need for a currency. Let’s say for example, that you need a basket of tomatoes from someone and that person needs beef.

You have a cow. If you give him the entire cow, that’s going to be worth a lot more than the tomatoes. IF he gives you enough tomatoes to compensate for the cow, you’re going to have much more than you need and most of the tomatoes will spoil unless you barter them for something else. That means, of course, that you’re going to have to find someone who wants your extra tomatoes.

Problems, problems, problems. The need for currency was born. But good currency can’t be just anything. Good currency has to be finite and divisible.

Gold and silver are finite and somewhat scarce, that’s why it made good currency. In addition, the fact that it doesn’t spoil made it great for jewelry (and an increase in social status for those who wore it).

Gold coins were also divisible. That meant that instead of giving a whole coin for a cow, you could cut a piece of the coin and give only a part of it.

One of the coins that gained a lot of traction in the 16 and 17 centuries throughout Europe was the Spanish real. It was also called the “piece of eight” or “silver dollars”. Since one such coin was worth 8 reals, it was often cut into 8 pieces that looked similar to these:

pieces of eight


What to Stockpile

Here’s a quick list of items with a long shelf-life that you may want to stockpile even though you won’t be using them yourself. If you have enough storage space and you can get them cheaper than anyone else, then why not? It’s going to be fantastic to have leverage, in the form of bartering potential, on the rest of your community post-SHTF.

  • Vices – Pick your poison here, folks. Cigarettes (buy and grow tobacco plants) alcohol, coffee and pop (soda for those of you not from Ohio) and similar pleasure inducing or legally addictive substances.
  • toilet paper
  • Footwear – Boots, shoes, shoe and boot laces, sole inserts, cut rubber to repair worn out soles – stockpile a variety of both adult and child sizes
  • Outerwear – Our clothing will wear out a lot faster during a SHTF situation due to rugged daily use. Staying warm and dry will also be a constant priority to both maintain good health and to complete potentially life-saving tasks. Search yard sales and clearance racks for coats, winter gloves, hats, scarves, work gloves, and not outerwear, but thick socks and thermal underwear, as well.
  • sewing kits
  • Gardening – Heirloom seeds, started plants, manual tools, drip water irrigation system, natural pesticides, etc.
  • glue
  • Fire Starters – Stockpile matches, manufactured and homemade fire starters, and extra firewood to use for barter.
  • Personal Hygiene – You are likely already stockpiling most if not all of these items for personal use. Start buying a few more each week to increase your post-SHTF bartering options: soap, feminine pads and tampons, diapers (cloth ones too) toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner (learn how to make your own natural versions) toilet paper is too bulky to store much of, buy pesticide pump sprayers to be used as bidets, condoms, morning after pills, etc.
  • Solar Lights – Buying landscaping solar lights for your local Dollar Tree of similar store can be used in place of flashlights – which require batteries. Eventually the solar lights will stop functioning, but not for a vastly extended amount of time, They are safer to use inside that candles, which pose a fire hazard and constantly need replaced.
  • tampons
  • duct tape
  • Hand Tools – Manual drills, hacksaws, bolt cutters, scythes, two-man timber saws, manual lawn mowers, etc. Don’t forget to purchase multiple super cheap manual can openers, it is shocking how many people do not keep several of these in a kitchen drawer.
  • knives
  • honey (infinite shelf life)
  • shoe laces
  • Livestock Feed – Hay and straw only keep so long, and would have to be rotated out of your prepper stockpile to avoid waste. Stock up on feed for livestock both big and small and store in airtight containers or an old refrigerator turned on its side to keep bugs out and the feed safe to consume for several years. Pour diatomaceous dirt into the feed to help prevent any bug infestation.
  • motor oil
  • livestock (for breeding purposes)
  • baby diapers
  • matches
  • Vitamins – Stockpile both manufactured and natural nutritional supplements. Most spices have at least some medicinal value. Learn how to make your own medications and purchase a low-cost gel capsule maker (manual tool) to create your own vitamins and other medications using common spices and honey.
  • zip lock bags
  • tools
  • gas cans
  • Batteries – Stockpile batteries in all sizes, especially those commonly used in flashlights and handheld radios.
  • Handheld Radios – These will replace smartphones as the devices held in the hands of Americans after a SHTF scenario. Keeping in contact with loved ones when they are out hunting, fishing, or scavenging for goods, and to communicate with the outside world to get news about a roving horde of violent marauders, a spreading illness, and bad weather, can make a life of death difference in a SHTF world.
  • anything that works on solar power (calculators, phone chargers etc.)
  • Canning Supplies – Once grocery store shelves are gathering dust, folks will have to go back to the time when Americans preserved their own food – or risk starvation, especially during the winter months. Stockpile Mason jars, lids, rings, and other water bath and pressure canning equipment.
  • clocks
  • Comfort Items – Do not discount how valuable comfort items will be during a long-term disaster, especially as survivors start to rebuild their lives. Hit yard sales, flea markets, and dollar stores to buy: coloring books, crayons, tiny toys, fingernail polish, hair pretties, mirrors, perfume, body lotion, stuffed toys, dolls, story books, etc.
  • blacksmithing
  • Fuel – Parting with even a little bit of your own fuel stockpile would require perhaps a dire need. But, purchasing more gasoline, diesel fuel, 2-cycle oil, kerosene, and propane than you think you will need, along with stabilizer, will give you a commodity that will truly be worth its weight in gold. Learning how to make your own biodiesel fuel and stockpiling the supplies to create it, would also be well worth the financial and time investment required.
  • nail clippers
  • combs
  • Cast Iron Cookware – Far too many people do not own any cookware designed to be placed over an open fire and used. Cast iron and camping cookware items will be in high demand by anyone who does not want to attempt to survive the apocalypse eating only raw food – or drinking creek water without at least boiling it first.
  • guns
  • ammo
  • paper, pencils and pencil sharpeners
  • canteens
  • pots
  • Water – Potable water, water purification tablets, rainwater collection systems, and water filters
  • fire starter kits
  • razor blades
  • Bags – Any time you find a great deal or have extra money, invest it in bags of all types and dimension. Food storage bags, garbage bags, backpacks, canvas totes, etc. Basically anything type of bag that goods can be carried in on the body for transient survivors, to and from an emerging marketplace, to pack the garden harvest, etc.
  • Medicine – prescription, over-the-counter, and natural remedies
  • Fishing Gear – I would never recommend using guns, ammo, bows, or even a machete for barter. Trading a weapon that could be used against your family just does not make good sense. Fishing gear on the other hand, can still allow a survivor to search for food without posing any harm to you and your loved ones.
  • First Aid – bandages, salves, burn cream, gauze, antiseptic wash, etc.
  • condoms
  • Salt – Perhaps the best natural food preserver known to man.
  • Sugar – Grow sugar beets, stevia, and stockpile sugar to trade as a morale booster item – this will be especially in demand during the rebuilding stage when survivors are settling into the new normal.
  • Blankets – Stockpile mylar emergency blankets, standard blanket bedding, sleeping bags, and even tarps to be used a body warmers for bartering purposes.
  • Food – Dehydrate and can a portion of the yield from your garden and barnyard to barter with if/when you feel your family’s food supply is stable. Buying long-term storage food for barter is a great idea if you have deep pockets, but you can cheaply make beef jerky, powdered eggs, powdered milk, etc. in your own kitchen for a fraction of the cost.
  • … and many more!

In fact, if you think about it, a lot of the items that we take for granted today are going to have huge bartering value. Another way of putting this is that you should hoard anything you can within the limits of your available space. Don’t go to the extreme of becoming an actual “hoarder”.

Think Outside the Box

A lot of people argue that you should only stockpile items with a long shelf life. And I’ve given you quite a list of such items. But why not take things further?

For example, I have a feeling eggs are going to have a lot of value post-SHTF. But you can’t start stockpiling them now, can you? They are fragile and unless stored carefully, they have a pretty short shelf-life. You could raise chickens so that you have a steady supply of fresh eggs available for bartering post-SHTF.

The point I’m trying to make is that everything can be used for bartering purposes: fruit, veggies, energy, labor, various skills. In a word: EVERYTHING. If you can store it properly or figure out how to have a steady supply when it’s needed.

Stockpile Items That Have multiple Uses

It makes sense, doesn’t it? The more uses an item has, the higher likelihood of someone needing it. Here’s a quick list of things that have dozens of uses in a survival situation:

  • duct tape (making a spear, starting a fire, fixing broken pipes, etc.)
  • dental floss (can be used as a fishing line, shoelace, trip wire, etc.)
  • baking soda (to make toothpaste, for cleaning)
  • paracord (to build shelters, tie animals, etc.)
  • condoms (for birth control, to hold water, etc.)
  • bandanas (to protect mouth and nose, filter water, as a splint, etc.)
  • … and on and on.

Keep These in Mind

Bartering is nothing without the crucial skill of negotiation. If you don’t know how to negotiate, you will easily get double crossed or, worse, even killed! Think about it, what if the ammo your get is full of duds? What if the food is poisoned?

You need to be able to tell if you’re falling into a trap because post-SHTF bartering is not at all like what takes place at flea markets or even between companies. Right now there are laws to protect us but after Doomsday, there might not be.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always trade what you don’t need. Things are going to be tough. Everyone is going to look for food, water, antibiotics, and so on, which is why you can’t afford to trade those. Taking food from your child’s mouth to help someone else might put that child in danger. Always trade your surplus items and items you know you won’t need.


  • Bring a gun with you
  • Bring someone to assist you
  • Make sure you don’t get followed on your way back home
  • Always do business with people you know or who have a good reputation
  • Always barter in a public location
  • Don’t let anyone know you have valuable things at home
  • Be aware of your body language. If you’re desperate, the last thing you want to do is to show it to them.

Now What?

Well, the best thing you could do is to learn and practice negotiation tactics. Remember, it’s all about getting what you want and not getting screwed over in the process.

Negotiation is an art and there are quite a few strategies to get what you want, including:

  • bluffing
  • talking in a pessimistic matter (I can’t afford it, I’m not sure it will work for me etc.)
  • using ultimatums (You either take it or leave it!)
  • and making future promises

Go to a modern day flea market and negotiate everything. Schedule a meeting with your boss and negotiate a raise. Use every argument you can to prove to him you deserve it, even if you’re not sure you do! The more you practice, the better you’ll become at negotiating and the easier it will be for you when the brown stuff hits the fan.

One More Thing…

Remember that you can also barter your skills. Plumbing, carpentry, fixing appliances, even dog-walking or taking care of babies can help you secure free food and water. All you have to give away is your time, which you’ll have plenty of post-collapse.

Good luck!

About Dan F. Sullivan

My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don't like taking orders. I'm taking matters into my own hands so I'm not just preparing, I'm going to a friggin' war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.


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    Thanks for the info in the article. I would suggest that those who are not experienced in negotiating, either check out the library or google on line for titles of reference material on negotiations. There is a lot out there. When the situation gets to the point that bartering becomes the medium of exchange, one wants to keep mistakes to a minimum.

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    When jobs were scarce in the sixties my Mother taught me how to start and run a second hand store. I had five hundred dollars upon being discharged from active service in the Navy. Having been trained in electronics I could repair most anything electrical. My Mother had so many skills having been raised on a farm she was a bottomless source of everything else. While most of our business was done with money we had customers who were dirt poor and we used trade to do business with them. Many had children and as children do they outgrow their clothing quickly and most of the clothing only needed washing to be usable. Mom mended the clothes and patched the knees to provide that extra months of serviceable ware. Many were able to provide the kids with clothing by trading in the old and a small fee buy other that would fit. Home goods like pots and pans and glasses and canning jars provided many with the means to stretch those valued dollars. In the years I had my store I never needed to paint the walls or cut wood for my pot belly stove or even sweep the floor. I even bartered a bike to a young man who couldn’t afford it to stop in every day after school to deliver packages to people who couldn’t carry the packages and their children too. Because I had a reputation of keeping my prices reasonable and the willingness to barter when needed I always had people standing at my door when I would open. Auctions are always a way for people to liquidate their belongings when needed and we operated this service for them. Having the trucks I could even deliver for any who could buy but wouldn’t normally because they had no way for transport. I always had many young strong people willing to take the jobs of hauling for some extra spending money. I would certainly teach all who wished to learn but today it would become very hard with all government regulation and taxes imposed by a government that thinks it has a right to a share of everything we do. Yes things were much simpler in my day. First rule the less government knows about you and what you do the better off you are. We have many people with talent and the ones that are useful are the ones that repair and make things last longer. If you plan to use your skills dont be afraid to try anything. The only people who succeed are the ones that try all the ways not to do a project till they find a way that works. No one is born with a skill. They are developed and cannot be issued with government permission on a piece of paper. Americans succeeded in building a prosperous nation because the cost of failure was too great. The first step anyone should do is remove the two words “I Cant” from your vocabulary. Good luck to those who believe you can because you can.

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    Your advice about the stuff we can barter is quite rational and acceptable, But I saw (I’ll not name it) on one website where they advise you to save and then barter with – Marijuana weeds. I find it extremely juvenile, idiotic and dangerous. Starting right from the ’60s, American people have seen how hippies, their drug culture and their later generations (i.e. drug addicts) (even now) have become physically, mentally, emotionally and of course financially so weak . I read and also believe that such persons wouldn’t be able to survive the coming apocalypse. My question is when all the things will be scarce, the life will be hard and demanding if you want to survive, why do you want to make those survivors weak again by this harmful addiction? Are such things productive, useful or healthy for them? How can you even suggest such foolish notion when the situation is so serious? This is in a very bad taste to suggest, even as a joke. A completely tasteless joke that could mislead immature preppers and thugs. This is what is called taking advantage of the vulnerability of people. Such advisors are either circus clowns, or selfish black marketers or ruthless opportunists. Self-indulgence like this has no place in the time when your very survival is at risk.

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