If the economy collapses, society goes cashless, or something happens to make cash transactions impossible or undesirable, barter will be the way to obtain desired items. Barter involves offering goods or services in exchange for other goods or services. While it can take more than one barter to get to the desired result, it is usually possible to get there without any sort of money.
The most often used form of this is an item for an item. For example, if one neighbor grows tomatoes and another neighbor grows cucumbers, they can barter with each other and both end up with a delicious salad. Economists refer to this as a “double coincidence of wants.” This type of exchange is ideal but may not always be accessible.
Services may also be bartered. For example, a computer technician may offer a certain amount of work in exchange for a plumbing fix.
With this in mind, there are some items that are good to have available in case of a disaster or catastrophe that may be useful for bartering purposes. Of course, if they will be desirable to others, they will likely be useful to the person who owns them, as well, so it may be wise to be sure to have one (or some) to keep at the same time. Never barter away things that are needed for survival! If supplies of something become limited, move that item off the bartering list.
Bags and Backpacks
Carrying things will become very important if leaving home is a requirement. The best set of survival items are useless if they are not available, so carrying these items is imperative. Sturdy bags and backpacks will carry what is needed but can also be folded down into small packets to save for later or for trading.
Cleaning and Hygiene Products
No matter how long a situation lasts, there will be a need for cleaning items and bodies.
- Baby Items
Those with babies and toddlers will have a definite need for items such as diapers, wipes, diaper cream, bottles, formula, pacifiers, and a number of other baby-related items. Even families who do not have a baby might find it useful to store up some of these things for barter purposes; wipes and diaper cream can be useful even for older children and adults in some situations.
- Baking Soda and Vinegar
Simple, natural cleaning can be done with these. Baking soda cleans teeth well and can be used for scrubbing things, while vinegar cleans surfaces and other things.
If cleaning machines are still working, they will still need detergent, and if they are not working, hand-washing detergents will be necessary.
Whatever dishes are kept – camping dishes are more portable, but those staying at home will obviously use regular dishes – will need to be washed after use. Having the proper detergent makes this much easier.
Whenever clothes are worn, they will eventually become dirty and require washing. Laundry could be washed with plain soap or dish detergent, but laundry detergent is formulated specifically to get clothing clean and rinse out cleanly.
Nobody wants to have bad body odor, so deodorant is something that may be in greater demand than one might think. An advantage is that it is small and easy to store.
- Feminine Hygiene Items
Women’s cycles will continue even after a disaster, so the need for these items is sure to be high. While disposable items are easier to use, reusable options may be better for a long-term situation.
Not everyone wants perfume or cologne, but those who are used to using it and find themselves without it may be willing to trade more useful items for some scents.
- Lip Balm
Especially in areas where it gets cold, lip balm may become a hot commodity. Chapped lips are not enjoyable, and something may be desired to medicate them or prevent chapping.
Hand and body lotions, as a consumable, will eventually run out. People who tend toward dry skin will be likely to want to trade for this.
- Grooming Items
Combs, brushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, razors, shaving cream, tissues, cotton swabs, and other similar items will help people to feel more human and over time will become more desirable.
- Solar Showers
Easy to set up and great for getting clean, a solar shower can be carried along to provide a shower wherever needed. Consider getting an extra or two to barter.
Hand soap (solid or liquid), shampoo, and other soaps will aid in staying hygienic, so most people will want this if their stock has run low.
- Trash Bags
Waste, garbage, and trash will still be produced and must be contained and disposed. Trash bags aid in keeping it contained and help with proper disposal.
Clothing will eventually wear out or become damaged. Extra clothing is good to have for the family but also to barter with those who might not have considered damage to clothing. Additionally, children will continue to grow, resulting in a need for larger clothing.
While people can live without comfort, it sure does make it a lot more bearable. Having one or more of these to barter could net some nice things in return.
- Air Mattress (and Pump)
Air mattresses are definitely the best way to sleep on the ground. However, it can take a long time to blow it up by mouth, so a pump – whether manual or battery-powered – is a must-have for most people.
Keeping warm and comfortable is much easier with blankets.
- Sleeping Bags
Sleeping bags that are rated for very cold weather are easier to carry than blankets because they can roll up smaller and will offer comfort in extreme conditions.
Being able to contact other people, especially family and friends, is a vital part of survival.
AM/FM radios will allow people to hear news that may be broadcast. This could include safety information, weather forecasts, and more. Two-way radios can allow people to have conversations with other survivors.
Over relatively short distances (usually up to hundreds of feet, but not often much more), walkie-talkies can keep family and friends in contact.
In the case of a catastrophic event, some people could become irrational. Being able to defend one’s self and one’s family from the crazy people may be a matter literally of life and death.
Even with the best maintained firearm, eventually one will run out of ammunition. Consider carefully before using this to barter but know that it is worth more than a lot of the items on this list.
If someone one manages to have extra weapons, they may be a valuable barter item. Just be careful that the person who receives the weapon is someone trustworthy, as there is always a possibility of the weapon being turned on the original owner.
- Pepper Spray
If non-lethal defense is preferred, pepper spray is a good option. Because it comes in small canisters, it can be easily stored and is small enough to be a good reducible trade item.
Energy / Electricity
Electricity is such a part of life that going without it would be difficult, at best.
Many batteries now have very long shelf life. Store up extra of the common sizes (AA, AAA, 9-volt) to barter later. Be sure to keep aside enough to power battery-powered items to use, as well.
- Phone Chargers
A phone is handy to have, and if cell service is still available, a cell phone may be invaluable. However, it is useless without power. Keep old phone chargers set aside somewhere so that in the case of a disaster, they can be traded to someone who needs them.
Survival may be the main goal but staving off boredom can be a big part of survival.
E-readers are great but will run out of power eventually. However, they can hold many more books – including reference books – than one could reasonably carry in print. Still, print books are a good option for both entertainment and barter.
Of course, a computer, laptop, or CD player will be necessary for these to be useful, but audio CDs carry entertainment value to those who can use them.
- Coloring Books
Especially if children are along, but also for adults, coloring books can be a good way to decompress.
The stereotype that people without other entertainment turn to sex is often true. Those who desire to indulge without adding a child to the group will want to have prevention. These could become a valuable commodity.
Instruments that are easy to carry, like a guitar, harmonica, flute, or other relatively small instruments would be excellent to barter. Obviously larger instruments would be less so, since moving them could be a challenge.
Again, when children need entertainment, toys are a helpful thing to have along. Parents may be willing to barter for toys to keep their children occupied.
Food & Drink
Everybody needs to eat and drink. This is another thing to consider carefully before bartering, but if there is extra or if something is not likely to be used in your group, those things may be excellent for bartering.
- Carbonated Beverages
While not a necessity, many people desire carbonated beverages. These may not be as easy to carry but are likely to be good for bartering.
- Chewing Gum
Much easier to carry, chewing gum offers something for the mouth to do when otherwise idle.
- Chickens / Eggs / Livestock (and their feed)
Farm animals and their production are a sustainable food source. Have extra to trade or trade the eggs or milk. Feed may eventually become scarce, as well, so a good stockpile of it may help other farmers feed their livestock and get you something needed.
- Drink Mixes
Water is necessary but some people dislike the taste. Drink mixes can help make potable water palatable.
- MRE / Preserved
MREs, canned food, dehydrated food, and otherwise preserved food will keep much longer than average. Storing up extras for trading is a good idea.
Cooking oils can be used for more than just cooking but are necessary for some recipes. Having plenty stored up will make it so not only will you not run out, but you may be able to trade some of it for other items.
- Powdered or Canned Milk
Unless you have a cow or goat, milk is likely to be hard to come by. Powdered milk will last longest and be easier to carry, while canned milk does not need to be reconstituted.
When things begin to settle down after a catastrophe, growing food is likely to become imperative for survival. They are also very small and easy to carry.
Food is required for survival. It is, however, much more enjoyable with a bit of flavor. Spices, including salt and pepper, are a great addition to a backpack and a store for barter.
- Sweets / Sugar
Chocolate is well known to be a treat that offers other advantages. People often view sweets and sugar as a treat.
- Pet Food
Some people may not think about storing up enough pet food for an extended survival scenario. Those people will barter to keep their pets fed.
- Water (Filters, Containers, Purifiers)
Water is the most important thing. People can live for much longer without food than without water. Because water can be difficult to carry, smaller things that make water usable, such as filters, filtered straws, collapsible containers, purifying tablets, and other similar items may be a better option.
Heating, generators, power for phones and devices, and vehicles all need fuel.
Easy to use and easy to store, charcoal may be one of the best options for stored fuel for heating and cooking.
Firewood is more difficult to move and to store, but for people staying in mostly one place for an extended time, firewood may be a necessary staple.
Cars, motorcycles, generators, etc. use gasoline to go. It is important to remember that gasoline does lose potency over time.
For heat and cooking, kerosene is a viable option.
Small tanks of propane, while heavy, are more portable than large ones.
We live in the age of information. A catastrophe will not remove this but rather reinforce it. Information will be more desirable than ever. Print information is more easily accessible, but digital information can be carried more easily, since many books and maps can fit on one tiny USB drive. Accessing the information will require a device such as a laptop, though some newer USB drives can plug into the charging port on a smartphone.
Knowing the direction can be vital if travel is a part of survival.
If satellites are still operating correctly, GPS can be a great boon.
If satellites are not operating correctly, a physical map will definitely come in handy!
- Reference Material
Definitely a good use for a USB drive, compiling a variety of reference material such as encyclopedias, dictionary, medical resources, etc. will give the user a way to look up whatever they need to know.
Sleeping in the dark and being awake in the day sounds good but realistically, there is a need for light when the world goes dark.
Candles are easy light and small enough to carry easily.
Flashlights, while they need batteries, can also have multiple uses if it is a tactical flashlight. They are often much brighter than candles, allowing for light that penetrates into the darkness farther away. This is definitely good in an outdoor location.
- Matches / Lighters
Lighting candles, starting campfires, and other fire-starting needs can be handled easily with matches and lighters.
Medication and injury care will always be necessary.
While there are natural herbs that have antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal results, heavy-duty pharmaceutical antibiotics can be more effective and also less available. This is one that needs careful consideration before choosing to barter with it.
Not a common consideration in medical kits, but disinfectant can be very handy.
- First Aid
Bandages, antibiotic ointment, and similar items are always useful.
In the case of injury or other aches and pains, having a painkiller can be crucial.
Because the right foods may not always be available, vitamins to supplement can be the difference between heath and illness.
The first thing most people consider when thinking about barter is precious metals such as silver and gold. However, at the beginning of a situation, people will be more interested in useful items than metals. When the metals begin to be of use, it is wise to have coins or chains in order to have smaller “denominations” available for bartering for smaller items. One can cut off links of a chain to reach the desired amount.
Probably better than most items, skills are uniquely barterable. Someone who knows how to repair an engine may be able to trade skills with someone who knows how to fix a phone, for instance. Many different types of skills may be useful; sometimes teaching the skill can be bartered for items, as well.
Leaves and newspaper can be used to wipe one’s behind, but obviously toilet paper is a more comfortable way to meet this need. Because of this, toilet paper is likely to always be an easily traded commodity.
Tools and Handy Items
Things to use to fix other things, to get food, to make shelter, to take notes, and other things are nice to have and easy to trade. Some of these include:
- Cookware (especially cast iron)
- Duct Tape
- Fishing Gear
- Gardening Tools
- Magnifying Glasses and Reading Glasses
- Manual Tools (Axe, Hatchet, Saw, etc.)
- Rope and Bungee Cords
- Screws, Bolts, Nuts
- Sewing Kits
- Writing Necessities (Pens, Pencils, Paper)
People in general tend to be prone to addictions. The things to which they are addicted will always be something they will take in trade. Even people who do not personally partake in these substances may choose to store up some toward bartering in the case of a disaster situation.
Mini bottles may be better than large ones, for carrying ease.
- Cigarettes / Tobacco
It might be expensive to store up some of these, especially for someone who does not use them, but they could be one of the more valuable barter items in a worst-case scenario.
- Coffee / Tea
While not usually considered a controlled substance, the caffeine in coffee and tea are often an important part of the life of some people and can be considered an addiction in a similar manner.