Letter Re: Barter, Post-TEOTWAWKI–An Update

Dear SurvivalBloggers:
Please re-read my December 2011 article on “micro stores” following TEOTWAWKI. Pay particular attention to the proposed stocking list. Enough water has gone under the bridge since then–I’ve had plenty of time to think some more about it, plus I received some quality feedback from SurvivalBlog readers–that I thought some updating might be useful and in order. Here goes.
There were several premises I used as a basis for recommending your considering a “micro store”: Yes, the situation might get bad (less than comfortable)–but (IMO) will be something less than grim–following some sort of catastrophic “meltdown” event, especially if you live in a smaller, conservative metropolitan area, rather than a large one. Look for extended supply disruptions and some criminal activity, but no “golden horde” and associated rampant violence–those will prevail in the major cities. Also, expect well-armed local citizens will get organized quickly enough, people will do a reasonable of taking care of each other, and that commerce will help mitigate any violence and serve as a civilizing force for the community’s benefit.
Important factors advancing my scenario are that enough of us have sufficiently prepped ahead of the event so that there will be goods in excess of our personal needs to trade/barter, that the basic civil fabric of the community will remain and stand the strain, and that we have sufficient useful “currency” (small/compact but necessary items and silver coins) to lubricate the wheels of commerce. So, consider that we will face extremely uncomfortable–but not deadly (unless we make or allow that to happen)–circumstances.
Since commerce is based in large part in curing uncomfortable circumstances–we’ll pay for things that make us feel better or more comfortable (it’s been that way since one of our distant ancestors traded a custom-made spear for a couple of fish, or something)–and, you can plan on trade/barter your goods with others.
Essentially everything can be traded, even skyscrapers for gold mines–I recall a particularly onerous trade in one of the apocalyptic novels I downloaded–the USA was forced to trade an aircraft carrier in exchange for some of our outstanding debt. Nasty thought we hope we do not come to. Back to our SHTF scenario.
You’re not going to be Wal-Mart, Kroger, or Home Depot, but you don’t need to be. A footlocker or two of compact, high-value, in-demand merchandise should suffice to help you and your neighbors. Please look over my original list. Here are some additional ideas I have come up with and several suggested by other readers. (BTW: Your local dollar store will be helpful for much of this). I’ll continue my numbering sequence where I left off–
7. (Addition). Toothpaste. Rather than purchasing tubes of toothpaste for sale (too large), here’s an alternate idea. Colgate sells toothpaste in single service packages–think fast food ketchup. What a great idea/ Why hasn’t anyone come up with this one before? I was formally president of a large condominium project (beach resort) and we bought many of our supplies from American Hotel Register (www.americanhotel.com). Good outfit; competitive. They have cases of 1,000 Colgate toothpaste packets for $130.89 (I have no financial interest here and there are surely other sources). Sell five packets for a silver dime? At a cost of $.65/5, that would give you about a 400% markup, at current silver prices. You could also buy some toothbrushes for resale, but people will use their old ones until the bristles fall out, so new ones would not make good trading material. Get a handful of new ones for yourself and family so that (bristle failure) doesn’t happen to you.
26. Soap. I recall another reader suggesting you should stock up with a full pallet of soap; that’s more than a bit of overkill, unless you have lots of room to spare. How about a case instead? Another hotel supplier we have used is Suite Supply (www.suitesupply.com). They have cases of 500 one and a half ounce bars of Dial soap for $76.87. The calculation is about the same as the toothpaste–sell five bars for a silver dime for a reasonable markup.
27. Playing cards. I can’t believe I left this one out before. The dollar store has plenty of these for …a dollar. Not the highest quality, but there are 52 cards plus jokers in every deck. Get a dozen or more decks. Playing cards are a much better choice than board games, which are too expensive as barter material unless you pick them up used from Goodwill or some other thrift store (caveat: thrift store board games and puzzles are generally missing pieces and are usually pretty beat up). And, playing cards are useful to all ages for many different games. You could make a little sign–“Playing Cards a Dime a Deck.” Continuing with this thought, you could include puzzles with your book sales business model–trade one-for-two and sell one-at-a-time–The dollar store has plenty.
28. Plastic bottles. If/when the SHTF, we just might be looking at the last plastic bottles that will exist for a very long time. We (my family) have gotten accustomed to drinking bottled water from Sam’s (to the perpetual irritation of local greenies), but the expense is only about $.15/half liter bottle. The bottles are always thrown away, but at some point, I’ll start filling a plastic bag with the empties, caps attached. I’m not sure if there will be a market for empty bottles, but your neighbors (and you) will appreciate having plenty available, when there is no source of new ones. Save plenty of empties for yourself and give away a half dozen when you sell something else. They will be great for storing and carrying water (not too useful for much else). Here’s an important tip on re-using the plastic bottles: Most water and soft drink bottles (almost all) are made of “PET”–polyethylene terephthalate, a remarkably inert (safe) plastic, manufactured through the “stretch-blow” process. The resin is first injection-molded (melted/squirted) into a mold that makes a test tube-looking “preform,” which is then re-heated, stretched, and blown in a mold into its final shape. There is a lot of molecular memory retained in the final bottle–If you heat it (boiling or very hot water, for example), the bottle will shrink toward its preform shape (and become not useful at all to you), so sanitizing through heating it will not work. You can easily sanitize the bottle for reuse by rinsing it with a dilute bleach solution–put about three drops of Clorox in the bottom of the bottle and fill with room temp water. Let it rest for a few minutes, then pour it out (over the threads and the cap, to sanitize them, too). Don’t drink this water–You won’t like the chlorine taste. Refill the bottle with your purified or sanitized water (room temp; not hot). (In another, earlier life, I helped create the PET bottle as a marketing manager for a packaging company whose name you know, so you can blame me for these bottles if you want).
29. Duct tape/electrical tape/para cord/zip ties. Figure it out.
30. Feminine supplies. The need is in our rearview mirror, so it didn’t occur to me. Think this one through if it applies to you/your family/your neighborhood. If you’ve got a lot of storage space, it fits the bulky category, like toilet paper–more likely to stock for personal use than to trade–unless you have plenty of room.
31. Multivitamins. I checked with a couple of my doc friends on this one. What supplements do they recommend to stock way ahead and (potentially) trade with? The answers were remarkably consistent–A year’s worth of whatever you take (for personal use). For trade/barter–several bottles of antioxidant multivitamins, Vitamin C, and low-dose aspirin. Inexpensive generics are fine. Keep them all in a cool place. Recommended dose is half the dose on the bottle, except for the low-dose aspirin; keep that at one/day. Half dose will keep an adult healthy and stretch the supply nicely.
32. ED medications. Okay, youngsters, laugh away; your day will come. There’s an important reason everyone in the commercials is smiling. These are expensive, but will be worth a lot when the SHTF. You’ll need to calculate a reasonable mark-up for your stock, but one pill might go for as much as a dollar in face value silver. (At least they can be cut into smaller pieces/doses). 
33. FRS radios. It wouldn’t hurt to purchase a couple of extra sets of these for neighborhood use. Again, this might be a giveaway item to enhance local security.
34. Coffee filters. Many uses for these besides filtering the coffee, especially for pre-filtering dirty water before boiling. They are very inexpensive in big bundles at the warehouse stores. Price accordingly.
There’s my “micro store” update–We’ve come a long way and are getting pretty complete with this. Thanks, James for the opportunity to add to the original post. – A.A.A.