Post-Apocalyptic Bartering

This is a fairly common discussion topic on some of the survival-related Yahoo Groups. Barter and trade was probably the first type of financial transaction in man’s history. Uggo trades Shek three fish for a rabbit pelt, that sort of thing. Today, most transactions are made using currency of some form, which makes things vastly easier in many respects. After all, who wants to stop in at Wal-Mart and haggle over how many dozen eggs equal a tube of toothpaste, package of paper towels, and a hair dryer?

The problem with barter has always been deciding the relative worth of the items in hand. This is a decision that is relatively arbitrary. A lot depends on how badly each party wants what the other has to offer. If Uggo really, really needs that rabbit pelt, he might be willing to part with a lot more fish. Of course, if Shek already has so many fish they are starting to rot, Uggo better have something else to trade.

This leads us to the question that is often posed – what items should a survivalist stockpile for use in future bartering? There are many schools of thought on this topic, with both good and bad points for each.

Spare ammunition – commonly this is .22 shells. Many people believe the .22 round will become something of a standard currency in a long-term societal collapse. This caliber firearm is very common, thus many people would be able to use the ammunition. Of course, once it is used, it loses a lot of its inherent value, doesn’t it? Plus, I question the wisdom of giving ammunition to someone not part of your group to begin with. But, it is small, easily transported, and relatively inexpensive to stockpile.

Tobacco – cigarettes, loose tobacco, rolling papers. I can easily see this becoming a valuable trade commodity, particularly soon after a collapse as millions of smokers endure nicotine withdrawal. However, unless stored under certain conditions, the tobacco can go stale. Might not matter too much to a die hard smoker but it is something to bear in mind. Plus, tobacco isn’t all that cheap anymore. If you go this route, I’d suggest it is probably cheaper to buy some of the cans or tins of loose tobacco, rather than buying cartons of cigarettes.

Alcohol/booze – another likely valuable commodity. Even better than stockpiling bottles of whiskey would be learning how to distill your own alcohol and setting aside the necessary supplies for doing so. If you do decide to set some booze aside, you need not spend extra to get the top shelf brands. I doubt folks are going to be all that picky. But, you do need to consider how you’d dole out the adult beverage in a trade. Pour a few shots into a glass? Or hand out smaller bottles as needed?

Food – naturally this is something that would be of vital interest. However, you need to consider that by giving away any type of consumable, you are depriving you and yours of that same item should the need arise. A main point of barter is to give up something you can do without to receive something you can’t. However, if you have an extensive garden and your pantry is full, perhaps you might be in a position to forgo that extra can of beans to receive something you can’t produce on your own.

Seeds – not a bad idea but they aren’t going to mean a whole lot to the guy who is starving NOW. He probably won’t want to wait the weeks it’ll take for the seeds to sprout and such. Plus, if I’m on the receiving end, I’d be concerned whether the seeds are actually viable, which isn’t something I can exactly test beforehand.

Skills – Aside from stocking up on “stuff” to trade, concentrate on what skills you have or can acquire that will be useful. Sewing/knitting, advanced first aid, carpentry/metal work, even the aforementioned distillery. Just be sure you do stock up on everything you need to implement those skills.

A final note about bartering. This isn’t something to be entered into lightly after a societal collapse. Should the other party believe you are sitting on a proverbial gold mine of supplies, he or she might take it into their head that they want it all. Each situation will have to be considered on its own merits and all due caution exercised.