Many Prepper YouTube channels and Prepper websites advocate the stocking up of barter items from the dollar store. Let us examine this line of thinking and explore other options for barter goods. I don’t doubt that the un-prepared might have a need for dollar store quality trinkets but there are four questions to ask yourself before stocking up on barter goods from a dollar store.
- One, will those, who are prepared with barter goods need your dollar store barter goods?
- Two, what exactly will those, so unprepared as to need something from the dollar store, have of value to trade with you?
- Three, is it worth the security risk to trade with people that are that un-prepared as to need something from the dollar store?
- Four, will the dollar store items be seen as valuable?
I have taught classes in family disaster preparedness and used several props from the dollar store to demonstrate and drive home the point that when you need your disaster supplies kit, you need the items to work since your life may depend upon it. I used a dollar store Swiss Army “style” knife with a bent-over blade to demonstrate the lack of quality. If you put 50 of these knives away for trade for a post-The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) environment, how many people would make a trade for a knife of such poor quality? Perhaps they don’t know the knife is of poor quality and they make a trade for it and it breaks the first time they use it? Word will get around that you have junk and/or that you are a cheat. Both of these opinions will be detrimental to you, as you will be stuck with trade goods no one is willing to trade for and/or no one will trust you to trade with you for anything. Yes, there will be hoards of the un-prepared who need stuff but like you and I, they will need that stuff to be of quality to survive. The un-prepared will probably be desperate to begin with. The perception (or reality) that they got “ripped off” on a trade by you may make them even more desperate and thus turn them into a potential security threat.
I’ve been rough on dollar stores just to make a point. I’m not insinuating that there isn’t anything of barter value at a dollar store but you need to test those items and if, after the test, you wouldn’t put the item in your bug out bag, you shouldn’t put someone else in a bind by trading something of such poor quality. As my dad always used to say “your reputation is the most valuable thing you own, so don’t tarnish it.” I suspect after SHTF reputation will mean a whole lot more for everyday survival than it does today.
Something else to consider is how many other Preppers in your area have also stocked up on barter items from the dollar store? Will the barter marketplace be flush with dollar store knives that word gets around quickly are garbage? Will there be an overabundance of baby wipes to the point that the law of supply and demand kicks in and make your barter goods not worth as much as you had thought?
I used to accept the premise that the best barter goods were those that were consumable. I have several thousand strike anywhere and strike on box matches, that I stored up for Y2K specifically for barter, to prove my belief in this theory. I still think those matches will have value but what will I conceivably need that will be of about the same value? Over the years, I have come to believe that the “means of production” will be more valuable than most consumables.
Focus on Means of Production
What is meant by “means of production”? These are items that are used to produce something of value. An heirloom seed is a great example. You plant it and it will produce food, and seed to plant again. Tools are another example. Axes and saws can produce firewood or help produce lumber. Something else to consider when contemplating means of production is time-saving devices. We have all heard the adage “time is money”. So, devices that save time, make money or at least make time to perform additional tasks. Good examples of time-saving devices are kitchen items.
When electricity stops flowing, making a dinner for many will become a day’s labor. Think about the value of a pressure cooker/canner post-TEOTWAWKI. I can save time in cooking food but it also serves as a means of production by preserving foods. Devices like hand cranked apple peelers, cherry pitters, kraut cutters are devices that have for the most part, gone away. There are companies that still make hand-operated apple peelers and cherry pitters, but they certainly, in many cases, are not of the same quality of those made 100 years ago that were built to last forever with frequent use.
The problem is that any means of production, that has a cord on it, will probably be useless post-SHTF. Therefore, the family that is accustomed to using a fancy electric food processor will have a void to fill. One of the keys to entrepreneurship is identifying a need and then providing a solution. Preppers should plan to be entrepreneurs in a post-TEOTWAWKI society. Those that barter consumables will do okay but those who have and barter the means of production will do much better.
So how do you store the means of production? Where do you even find the means of production that don’t rely upon electricity? And most importantly where do we find the means of production for a good price?
Second-hand venues such as garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, second-hand/thrift stores and auctions are great places to pick up items to store away for barter. But what should you look for?
A post-TEOTWAWKI world will need to resort back to an agrarian society. Daily life for most will be centered around securing the basics of life, like food and water. Domestic farm animals will be the ultimate means of production as they can propagate offspring that can be bartered. With the exception of chickens, rabbits and maybe goats, most farm animals will require acreage. Animals are readily available at livestock auctions and Craigslist. If you live in a rural area just look for farms, many will have signs out noting animals for sale. Bulletin boards at local businesses in rural areas are also a good place to find pigs, cows, rabbits and chickens. Like anything: Buyer Beware (Caveat Emptor.)
Finding and putting away gardening equipment from second-hand venues is another good investment. Old hand cultivators, sickles, scythes, hoes are also good candidates. I have been putting away hand-operated corn shellers that quickly take the field corn kernels off the cob. When fuel runs out scythes will be in high demand but low supply. Common pointed and square shovels are more common so demand won’t be as high. The key is to identify and put away item that are in high demand, low supply.
Items that I purchase for barter stock include hand-operated food grinders. I pick them up at the Salvation Army Family Thrift Store for $5.99 all the time. Other items include hand-cranked beaters and other older hand-operated kitchen tools. Pressure canners/cookers are also cheap and readily available.
Not everything I stock is necessarily just for the means of production. I think of things that many people don’t have today, that in a Post-SHTF world will be in higher demand such as binoculars. I often find quality name brand binoculars that are not made in china for $7 and in my opinion, these will be worth more than any 7 items at a dollar store.
Trading for the means of production doesn’t have to be a “You give me that, I give you this” thing, exchange, like trading a bar of soap for a roll of toilet paper. Since you have the means of production you are trading someone the means to produce goods or services that can produce value far beyond the value of the item being traded. For example, if you trade someone three heirloom tomato seeds, those seeds will produce several pounds of food, but the seeds from those tomatoes can be saved to produce another quantity of food and again the seeds can be saved. So, in a sense, the value of an heirloom seed should be quite high.
Another option for bartering is the rental of an item. For example, you could rent out a scythe for a day for something of a lot smaller value. This would also create a reoccurring source of trade. I would want something of greater value (like something else that is a means of production) for a security deposit. The value of the “security deposit” should vastly outweigh the value of the item being rented. For example, a pregnant sow. There are some other provisos with this type of barter agreement, namely that the person should be local, have a good reputation, not allow for sub-leasing and that there be a penalty for it being returned late and/or damaged.
Offer services instead of skills
I saw a meme two years ago that I really liked. It read “I don’t have hobbies; I have post-apocalyptic skill sets.” What skills or services will you be able to trade? Medical, carpenter, small engine mechanic, herbalist, might be some obvious skills but what about coupling your tangible item with your labor? So instead of renting out your scythe you offer your services to cut a given field for “x”. The services offered for barter could be for things like shelling and milling corn, blacksmithing, plowing fields, making herbal tinctures, et cetera.
Dollar for dollar comparison
So, let’s say you go to the dollar store and buy $50 in items for barter. In a post-SHTF world what do we reasonably think those items will be worth? Let’s say that your $1 bottle of aspirin got you 2 rounds of 9mm. At today’s prices of $1 a round that would be $2. Not a bad trade but what if you took that same $50 and went to an auction and bought a corn sheller for $25 and a hand-cranked grain grinder for $25. What would the reasonable value of providing corn sheller and grain grinder be? Say a neighbor had corn that was normally taken to the local co-op for milling but it isn’t working but the fields are full of dent corn. The trade might be processing ten bushels of ear corn and you get to keep 3 bushels.
At the current local market price, a 50-pound bag of cracked corn is $10. So, in this single transaction, you already recouped the post-SHTF value of one of the devices. But the farmer still has acres of corn left so he brings more the next week, and the week after that. Now you have not only paid for the items but any shelling and grinding after this point is pure profit (with exception of your time). But wait there is even more- maybe you trade small one-pound bags of ground corn that you made with the corn you got on trade.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I used to think consumables were the most valuable items for post-SHTF trade. I still think that some consumables are still valuable but they are the consumables that are tied to and need for the means of production. Spools of thread, packs of needles, nails, screws and other hardware. Imagine the bartering that can be done with an old treadle sewing machine and a good stock of sewing supplies.
So, the next time you think about heading out to the dollar store to purchase $20 in barter goods, consider taking that same $20 and heading to a thrift store, yard sale or auction and buy some productive items that will allow you to be a post-SHTF entrepreneur — able to start your own cottage industry thus allowing you and your family not only to survive but to thrive.