The term barter is defined by Merriam-Webster as the exchange of goods, services, or commodities.
Bartering dates back thousands of years and was the primary form of trade until currency was implemented. When we think of it, it sounds like such ancient practice— after all, we’re living in the age of digital innovation and unbelievable technological advancements. Nearly 92% of modern currency is not handled in physical coins or bills anymore, but rather digitally, such as through cell phones, credit cards, and crypto.
But believe it or not, bartering is not just a thing of the past. During the Great Depression bartering was popular because people didn’t have money. In our present day, it’s widely used in the farming and homesteading industry as well as within prisons. Now that our world is faced with widespread unemployment and the possibility of a massive recession, it should come as no surprise that bartering could begin to resurface as a common way of life until the economic situation normalizes.
Are you prepared to trade your surplus of supplies in exchange for items that will help to cover your family’s needs? If so, you’ve come to the right place!
What is a barter item?
A barter item is any practical or valuable product that may be scarce and in high demand. In other words, anything can become a barter item so long that there’s a need for it.
What are good barter items?
A good barter item would be a product that meets one or more of the following criteria:
- It’s relatively cost-efficient. Consider products that you can buy in large quantities now without having to spend a fortune. The value of products may increase over time if there is high demand and limited availability.
- It has a long shelf-life. Since there’s no time frame as to when you will barter your items, it’s better to ensure that they’ll stay in their optimal condition as long as possible. Avoid stockpiling too many products that lose their potency over a short period of time or are subject to environmental or animal damage during storage.
- It’s convenient to store. Choose items that are lightweight, small in size, and easy to store and transport. Bulky items can become inconvenient if you don’t have the space for them, but if you do, go for it!
The following items would be ideal for bartering.
1. Water filters and purification systems or tablets - Drinking water is likely to become a valuable commodity. Storing bottled water could be an easy barter item but it is extremely bulky, so a better option would be to store purification tablets, filters, and other systems that could sanitize water in larger quantities. Some options include Berkey systems with plenty of extra filters, the LifeStraw, Aquamira tablets, 5-gallon water storage containers, and activated charcoal which can be used for long-term water purification.
2. Food and other kitchen staples - Food will be in high demand after a crisis and stores may stop carrying all the things people were once used to buying. Some of our best suggestions are:
- Homegrown produce
- Dehydrated veggies and fruits
- Canned food
- Long-lasting foods
- Long-term food storage meals and MREs
- Dry goods, such as noodles, rice, flour, beans, and popcorn
- Popular snacks, like Oreos, PopTarts, Twinkies, and granola bars
- Cured/ smoked meat and jerky
- Powdered milk
- Yeast packets
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Spices stored in glass bottles
- Canning salt
- Cooking oil and Crisco
- Vinegar (White vinegar and ACV are preferred because they have multiple uses)
3. Coffee and green coffee beans - Coffee is not a need as much as it is a want. I believe there may be a huge demand for this because it’s a comfort item.
4. Coffee filters - Coffee filters can be used for filtering coffee (of course), for filtering water, a DIY face mask, and as emergency toilet paper, among other creative uses.
5. Tea - Tea is another comfort item that may be in demand. You can store the kind that comes in bags and/or loose leaf.
6. Drinking and rubbing alcohol - Other than for drinking purposes, alcohol can be used for sanitizing wounds, making tinctures, and as an alternative to fuel. Alcohol lasts a long time and it can be bartered easily since the demand is likely to increase during SHTF situations. If you choose to store a variety of liquor or similar items, consider how much you are willing to barter at any given time. We know that when drunk in irresponsible amounts, alcohol can make people hostile and aggressive. During a recession and time of financial crisis, people will be under a high level of stress which may contribute to irrational behavior. When mixed with alcohol, there can be devastating consequences.
- Fun fact: In 1790, rum was used as currency in Australia. The Sydney Hospital was paid for in its entirety with rum!
7. Tobacco - Many people resort to smoking as a way to cope with their stress. That is why cigarettes, cigars, and tobacco in any other form- as well as tobacco rolling papers- can become a popular item for barter.
8. Candy and sweets - Hard candies are long-lasting and may be popular in the long-term. Chocolate and chewing gum will also be in demand but keep in mind that they have a limited shelf-life. If you stockpile these, you may want to barter them earlier on.
9. Army pocket can opener - The P-38 and P-51 military can openers are cheap and lightweight. They’re easy to store when purchased in bulk, thereby making them an ideal barter item.
12. Heirloom seeds - Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation for at last 50 years without cross-pollination. These seeds produce considerably tastier and more nutritious fruits and veggies than hybrid seeds. Check out our favorite collection here!
13. Pesticides and traps - Rodents, insects, and other pests breed quickly and need to be controlled. Stockpiling plant pesticides, rat poison, traps, and other methods of extermination will be a great barter item in the future. This resource can help you determine which are the most effective methods to use for controlling mice.
14. Insect repellents - Insects are not only bothersome but they’re known to carry disease. Be sure to have plenty of mosquito and flea repellent, hornet spray, wasp spray, or whichever insect is prone to your area. It’s also a good idea to learn how to naturally repel insects in case you ever run out of spray and choose to make your own for bartering or personal use.
15. Mosquito nets - Mosquito nets may be a little bulky to store in large quantities, but just like repellents, this might be a great barter item in regions where mosquitos are common.
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18. Medication - Just like first aid items, pain and prescription medications will be in high demand, especially if pharmacies are closed. Consider popular medications such as ibuprofen, antibiotics, aspirin, acetaminophen, and other pain relievers and fever reducers. Storing magnesium, vitamins, and other natural options might also be a good idea. Be well aware of expiration dates! Antibiotics and analgesics can lose their potency over time and some may become dangerous to ingest after they expire.
21. Hygiene products - Pharmacies may be in short supply during a widespread disaster, therefore these toiletries are definitely trade-worthy. [The reason shampoo and conditioner is not included in this list is because they’re bulky items and natural ingredients can be used to improvise.]
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer - alcohol-based wet wipes may work too but their shelf life might be shorter.
- Bar soap
- Dental care supplies including toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss.
- Grooming supplies including combs, razors for shaving, and nail clippers.
- Female personal hygiene items including menstrual cups, tampons, pads, and sanitary napkins.
- Perfume and colognes
22. Home cleaning products - Maintaining a clean home is a priority for many, which is why items like laundry detergent, Borax, dish soap, large trash bags, brooms, and dustpans are great for bartering. While bleach is an effective cleaning and disinfecting agent, it might not be the best barter item because it loses potency within a short period of time.
23. Towels of different sizes - Towels can be used in a variety of ways. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy a bunch of towels for future bartering, but if you have extra sets at home, you can keep them stored in the event of. Keep them protected from rodents and insects for long-term storage.
24. Waterproofing materials - If your region receives significant rainfall, you may want to consider stockpiling some extra waterproof items, such as rain ponchos and plastic sheeting.
25. Fasteners - Some great fastening items include duct tape, ropes, paracord, bungee cords, clothespins, clamps, superglue, and heavy-duty glue.
26. Improvised shelter items - Tents, tarps, and similar items may be bulky but they’ll remain very useful and become easy to barter in the future.
28. Emergency blankets - Mylar blankets are extremely lightweight, easy to store in bulk, and cheap. Check out these 14 creative uses for space blankets!
29. Essential gear - Depending on your region and the outdoor sports that are common there, you should look into supplies that are necessary for hunting, fishing, and camping.
32. Industrial metals - The value of base metals (like lead) and metal alloys (like brass) change constantly, but even the scraps can be sold or bartered.
33. AM/ FM Radio - Whether you live in the city or the countryside, it’s vital to stay updated with the current news. If internet communications are interrupted, people will turn to radios.
34. Radios for two-way communication - Being in touch with loved ones is vital. In the event that cell towers, the internet, or our own personal devices are not functioning, two-way communication systems will be in high demand. Some radios are more expensive than others, so you’ll have to weigh in your budget and what you think will be easiest to barter. HAM radios are possibly the most effective but also some of the most expensive. To think one step outside of the box, you could probably barter radio materials or antenna diagrams.
35. Batteries - Batteries are an amazing barter item! Just be sure to store them properly so that they don’t lose their charge. Unopened battery packages will show an expiration date on the box. While these dates are typically on the conservative side, they’re an estimate of when the batteries may begin to lose their full potency. Consider rechargeable batteries as a long-term barter option.
36. Power bank - Solar panels and solar chargers will be a valuable barter item, especially if you live in a place that gets a lot of sunlight year-round.
38. Alternative lighting - To cut down on the use of electricity, people may be using flashlights, solar lights, candles, glow sticks, and other forms of alternative lighting. Tip: Solar lights that are left to charge outdoors all day can be used indoors after the sun goes down.
39. Disposable lighters - Surprisingly enough, lighters are one of the most popular barter items during a crisis. The downside is that they don’t last forever so you should learn how to store them properly to prevent leakage and evaporation. The upside is that empty lighters could still have a barter value because the flints work as fire starters. If you prefer not to store lighters, you can barter fire starting kits. This article shows you 18 ways to make effective fire starters with cheap materials.
40. Firewood - Firewood will be an important asset in regions where temperatures drop considerably during the winter season. If you have acres of land with lots of trees, your firewood could become an alternative source of income, whether in cash or through barter.
41. Fuel - Fuel is an indispensable item! It helps us power our vehicles, cook our food, and run our generators. Certainly, some fuel types have different purposes than others, but it will be a great item to consider storing. Some ideas include gasoline, gas cans for storage, fuel cans, and lighter fluid. Learn how to properly store fuel because oxygen, heat, and humidity affects its shelf-life.
42. Car parts - Vehicle and truck parts may be hard to come by during a SHTF scenario. Still, we will need our cars to get from point A to point B and repairs will have to be made whether we like it or not. You can barter motor oil, air filters, and other parts that promise a long shelf life.
43. Sturdy shoes - Recently I met someone who works for a reputable shoe factory. Since employees receive such amazing deals on shoes, they occasionally barter them for other goods. If you own a lot of shoes and are looking to downsize, you can barter them off in exchange for supplies you want or need. If you’re a parent, you can barter your children’s shoes that are in good condition after your kids have outgrown them. Other good barter items include boots, unused insoles, and shoelaces.
44. Clothes - Clothes are also an ideal barter item, especially children’s clothes since they outgrow them quickly. Consider storing new socks and undergarments since those will be in high demand.
46. Glasses - Reading glasses are not only essential but also cheap and lightweight. Consider storing a variety of prescriptions. Sunglasses are also a great item to store. You can find both of these at dollar stores.
47. Baby supplies - Other than baby clothes and shoes, you can barter reusable and disposable diapers (both new!), creams or lotions, baby wipes, strollers, cribs, and feeding supplies like pumps and bottles.
48. Pet supplies - You can barter non-chewed rawhide bones, toys, leashes, and other small items that are cheap and easy to store in bulk quantities.
49. Farm animals - If you own a farm and have plenty of animals, you may consider the option of bartering one in exchange for a high-value item.
50. Animal feed - If you produce fodder, forage, or other types of animal feed, you may have farmers coming to your door asking you to barter it. This would be a great idea if you are producing more than your animals eat. Prior to bartering food for your animals, be sure you have plenty to feed your own.
51. Books - Bibles, educational, and non-educational books are great for keeping you and your family entertained and learning new subject matter. Once you’re finished with a book, it becomes a great barter item. Unused coloring books may also be easy to trade if you have crayons to go with it. Note that the critters that rummage through your attic may also enjoy your books— not for reading, but for snacking! [I speak from experience here, so learn from my mistake and don’t store your books in cardboard boxes.]
52. Writing materials - Paper, pens, and pencils will always be in need. On the plus side, they’re super cheap. Be sure to store these properly to prevent rodents from chewing through them, especially the paper.
54. Musical instruments - Whether you know how to play an instrument or not, small instruments, like harmonicas, will become great barter items since there are many people who will be eager to play them.
55. Cash - Cash is our most common way of bartering today. In the future, you’ll want to have small bills and coins in the event that the other party doesn’t have exact change to return to you. Keep some $50 bills, plenty of $20, $10, $5, and $1 bills, and coins. Store these in decoy boxes and in safe locations throughout your home. Tip: Keep some money near fake jewelry to trick thieves.
56. Skill knowledge - In many situations your skill set may be more valuable than a physical item. Remember that maintaining a good reputation is important when exchanging services.
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Items you should stockpile but NOT barter
1. Weapons - Guns, swords, machetes and other weapons are not recommended for barter, unless you’re trading it with a person you wholeheartedly trust. You can never fully assess a person’s motives, so you should not trade any item that can be used against you, especially in a lethal way.
2. Ammo - Just like weapons, ammo is a big no-no for bartering because at some point those bullets can be used to kill you. Ammo is, on the other hand, a good item for hoarding.
3. Precious metals - Precious metals like gold and silver are not recommended for bartering because their value changes on a daily basis. It would be difficult to match the value of such metals with anything bartered for in the market. For one, you’d have to determine the dollar value that it holds on a specific day, and then you’d have to verify that the metals being exchanged are actually real. Precious metals are great for when the economy begins to normalize after a crisis, so keeping them will be essential to help you recover financially.
4. Jewelry- Some people consider the option of bartering a ring, necklace, earrings, or any other piece of jewelry that holds value. If bartered in a time of hyperinflation, you may lose a lot of money in the long run because eventually such items will increase in value. While the jewelry itself will not feed you during a time of crisis, it may be a better item to sell or pawn once society begins to return to normal. They’re definitely worth holding onto for later.
Important considerations for smart bartering
- Barter in public locations.
- Stay aware of your surroundings and don’t allow people to follow you home. You don’t want strangers to know where you live nor where your supplies are stored.
- Remain low-key. Do not brag about which items you have. Instead, make it seem that you have little to nothing so that you don’t become a target. For the same reasons, you should not show anyone where you keep your stash of stockpiled goods. Conceal your supplies.
- Barter a variety of low, medium, and high-value items. This is recommended because it will ward off some unwanted attention you may otherwise receive if you only bartered items of high value.
- When deciding which items to stockpile for future bartering, remember that name brands are not always important. When SHTF, no one is going to care what brand of soap or laundry detergent they’re using, as long as they’re able to get clean. Think big picture.
- Buy items in bulk and it’ll be a lot cheaper.
- Store your barter items in durable food-grade plastic containers. If they’re stackable, that’s even better! In the long-run, the containers themselves could be bartered if you no longer have a need for them.
- Do not barter off the items that you think you may need or want in the future.
- Items that you manufacture may hold a longer-lasting value for you. Consider learning how to make things that could provide you with a consistent opportunity to barter later on.
While our future is more uncertain than it has ever been, one thing remains true—we were not made to survive on this planet alone. While it’s difficult to stockpile all the supplies we will ever need to become self-sufficient in the long-term, doing your part within your community makes it much more feasible.
Begin by thinking about what you may need in the event that the power grid shuts down or there’s a major economic recession. Begin investing in the items you deem as high-priority on your list. Stockpile enough of these supplies for yourself, your family, animals, and your home.
Also, store large quantities of items that you can find cheap now which you believe are likely to increase in demand and value later on. The list above doesn’t cover every possible product, but should serve as the insight to help you get started.
Are there any important items that didn’t get mentioned on the list? Let us know in the comments!
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