People smoke, and people drink, and these vices will never change. But what will change is their access to alcohol and cigarettes. Despite how easy it is to make distilled spirits and the fact that tobacco grows easily, most people will rely on bottled booze and packaged smokes. The shelf life of distilled spirits is a lifetime, and it has many uses beyond drowning your troubles. Any alcohol above 40 percent (vodka, rum, whiskey, etc.) can be used for first aid purposes and as a sterilizer. Store three or four cases of cheap vodka (the price of alcohol has never gone down), and if kept in a cool dark place, it will last forever. Consider the 750mL bottles, which are easier to barter than the larger jugs.
A pack of cigarettes doesn’t have the same shelf life as alcohol. And if you’re a non-smoker, keeping a few cartons of cigarettes in the freezer will only preserve them another two to three years, at best. After that, they begin to turn stale. These should be rotated out periodically if you plan to use them for trade. Instead, you can stockpile raw tobacco and rolling papers, which store a lot longer.
Protection can be the No. 1 priority on some people’s list, especially if society turns deadly—which it will in the urban areas where people outnumber supplies. Remember, stores only keep a couple of day’s worth of anything on the shelves. Ammo will always be of value, and it is storable for a long time if kept in a cool place and vacuumed sealed to avoid moisture. The best calibers to stock are 12-gauge shotgun shells, 9mm pistol rounds, and .22 Long Rifle because they feed the most popular types of firearms (as do .308 and 5.56). Keep no less than 200 rounds of each.
Knives and sharp tools such as axes and hatchets are incredibly versatile gear that should be hoarded and treated like gold. Everyone needs a good knife, and if you’ve got tools to cut up firewood, carve kindling, open boxes, packages, and even cans of food, you’ll get a high price for them. Three or four knives, axes, and hatchets each take up little room.
Striving for a sense of normalcy, people will long for soap, shampoo and toothpaste to give their strife a respite. Fresh breath and a clean body are medicinal necessities to enjoy a long life. Valuable products include shampoo, toothpaste/toothbrush, bars of soap, razor blades, women’s sanitary needs, condoms, and toilet paper. Common, everyday items that most people take for granted will be the first to go. How many tubes of toothpaste do you have in your house right now? One? Two? When that runs out (as will the baking soda eventually), you can go without brushing your teeth, but you need teeth to survive and having a tooth infection isn’t the way to do it. You should have at least 20 tubes of toothpaste, 10 bottles of shampoo, a large stash of razors, etc. These items will go fast, and there will be no way of replacing them. When’s the last time you saw someone make a bar of soap?
Survival is messy. It’s dangerous, and peril is around every corner. People will get hurt, and they will get sick. The smallest of cuts can lead to severe, life-threatening infections if not properly treated. Having a well-stocked first aid kit will be invaluable to you, and you’ll not likely trade anything from it. But what would a bottle of aspirin be worth? Or what will be the value of a bottle of antibiotics, like amoxicillin or doxycycline? Bronchitis, pink eye, ear infections, strep throat, urinary tract infections and skin infections happen frequently. Medicine to combat these infections will be a much-sought-after and therefore precious commodity, so it is best to keep a well-rounded stash of it in your supplies. Antibiotics are sensitive to heat and moisture, and even though they will last for a few of years, store them carefully, and the best place is in the freezer. Do your research before you start to hoard medicines, as some may degrade after a short while, either losing their potency or becoming dangerous. Some antibiotics such as tetracycline and erythromycin, for example, can become toxic after they expire.
Your bug-out vehicle uses gas, as does your generator. When the world shuts down, pushing everyone back 200 years, gasoline will be in a finite supply, even though people will still need to drive and to power their equipment. If you are staying put, keeping 20 or 30 gallons of gas will suffice for your immediate needs and can be traded if not needed. Make sure to store fuel in metal containers and use a stabilizer to keep the fuel fresh as long as possible. The problem with storing gas is that it is bulky and difficult to transport in large quantities. Most ordinary flashlights run on conventional batteries, and those too will be in short supply after the grid crashes. Keeping batteries long term requires a cool dark place such as a refrigerator, but make sure you cycle them out after a year or two. Stock D-, AA-, AAA-cell batteries and a smattering of the lithium CR123A for the modern flashlights.
Once you yank the carrot out of the ground, what then? Do you know how to process the seeds so they’ll be ready for the next season? If you’re going to grow crops in a post-collapse situation, you should learn how to propagate all kinds of seeds. It’s easy, but a lot of people have no clue. Not only do you have a sustainable source of food but you can also start collecting and drying the seeds to trade. The easiest vegetables to grow are carrots, green beans, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, and tomatoes. These grow in beginner gardens around the world, so if you’re going to collect and save packages of seeds to trade, start with these varieties. Seeds from beans, lettuce, peas and tomatoes can last up to eight years if kept cool and dry. Cucumber and melon seeds can hold out for more than 10 years, but most seeds will last around three years.
Though not as potent a vice as alcohol or nicotine, caffeine from coffee and tea can be a powerful drug. Because of the nature of the bean, ground coffee beans start to lose their flavor almost immediately, so they don’t store well. But freeze-dried instant coffee will last forever. Buying and keeping several boxes of single-serving coffee packages will be a valuable article of trade, as there are people who will always need a good cup of coffee.
Goods aren’t the only useful things in the aftermath of a catastrophe. If you have a much-desired skill, your services can be great bartering tools. For example, a doctor or a nurse can trade surgery for food, or a skilled carpenter can repair a roof or a shelter wall for a box of 12-gauge shells. A preacher, teacher, farmer, mechanic, blacksmith, butcher, mason, brewer, and leader have skills that only a few people in our current society possess, and they will command a premium when it comes to bartering goods for services. There will always be a need for these skills. Have you possessed any of them? It would do a prepper well to study up on them, and become familiar with a host of low-tech professions that have lasted the test of time. However, what often happens is an aspiration to become a jack-of-all-trades, but the apprentice becomes a master of none. Focus on an area that interests you and turn it into a hobby.
Times have been tough. The old world you knew before is long gone, replaced by a harsh cruelty you never dreamed could happen. People are scattered. Cities are crumbling. Infrastructure is entirely non-existent. It has been 18 months since the government collapsed and several attempts to stabilize it or create a new one failed, and with them went the last vestiges of an organized economy. Bartering eventually becomes a major factor — but how?
In the early stages of any long-term crisis, cash will still play a major role in how people buy and sell things because people will believe that those pieces of paper still have value. The first to go will be credit and ATM cards, as the lack of electricity prevents their use, and following any large-scale governmental collapse is paper money. But for a while, a couple of months at most, as long as a person has a wad of bills in his pocket, he can still buy things from the ignorant and from those who don’t understand how economies work.
Now, as you stand in the crumbling ruins of a deserted grocery store, you realize paper currency is just a quaint relic of a bygone era. If you don’t produce what you need yourself, you either go without it or find someone who has it and is willing to trade for it.
There is a standard list of needs a person must fulfill to survive any calamity. Food, shelter, fire, water, medicine, and protection are the broad-stroke bullet points of that list, as those categories must be satisfied and replenished when they run out. Otherwise, the odds of your survival will be lower. Given that, the extra gear you accumulate can be used to trade for the consumables you deplete yourself.
Remember, the value of a single item relies upon the law of supply and demand: the scarcer an item is, and the more people want it, the more valuable it becomes. So, when knives are in short supply, knives become much more valuable. The trick is figuring out what things are essential in a survival situation, and the most obvious are the things that expire quickly like food.
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But that poses a problem. Storing an extra loaf of bread with the intention of trading it down the road won’t help because it will last no more than a few weeks. But bags of flour and grains will last a few years. The longer something lasts—like sugar, honey, bouillon cubes, and salt—the better it can serve you in the future when you want to trade for vegetables or fresh eggs.
People have vices, needs, habits and urges. Take advantage of that. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol addiction can be a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand, their desperation might be great enough for spirits, cigarettes, and coffee that they might be willing to pay a high price for them.
On the other hand, these same addictions might be so powerful, that they’d be willing to commit crimes to satisfy them. In the photo gallery above are categories of things you should hoard to use as bartering tools. They not only fulfill various needs in people’s lives but can also last a long time if stored properly.
This article originally appeared in ‘Survivor’s Edge’ Summer 2017. To pick up a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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