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Bartering: How It Works, How It Should Work, and Why It Doesn't Work

For many preppers, bartering is part of their plans. Bartering is the exchange of goods and services without the exchange of money. Say you needed eggs from your neighbor, but didn't have any money to pay for them. You might offer some produce from your garden as payment for the eggs. Your neighbor and you are bartering goods with the outcome that it will be beneficial to both of you.

Bartering works if you are practical about what you have and the value of the items you have to barter with. Most people will be looking to barter things they can eat or use. They will be more willing to help you roof your home in exchange for you helping roof their home. Ideally, bartering should be equal value and equal service. Most people will be very happy to trade on these terms and be conscientious about fulfilling their end of the bargain.

Having watched many people (including my father) barter successfully time and time again, bartering does work. You need to be conscious of the value of the things you are bartering. You need to be willing to do the research on the items you have as well as what you want and be fair to the other person. Most of the time, both parties save a lot of money by exchanging the items they do not want anymore for items they do want.  

Many preppers think that bartering is a good solution to today's economy and think this is what will happen in the post-SHTF scenario. Many preppers prepare for this by stocking goods that they think other people will want. While this can be done and done well, there are some misconceptions and problems with bartering. 

The problems with bartering are twofold. While bartering is a good idea, you need to be realistic about what you plan to barter and what you think the other person will have.

The first problem with bartering is having an over-inflated or under-inflated idea of what your items are worth. You may think that your cage-free organic pasture-raised eggs are worth $6 a dozen. However, the likelihood of you getting that amount of money or a similar trade is slim. You need to do the research about the going rates for your items in the area you live in as well as being aware of what other items are worth. In particular, you need to know the value and worth of the items you may be seeking to barter for. 

Another side problem to this is thinking that you will be getting in trade what you paid for an item. Once an item has left the store, the value of that item has declined already. Even if you have only used an item once or twice, that item is not worth what you paid for it. For example, you spent $400 on a brand new window air conditioner unit. You only used it a few times that summer and then it went into storage for a few years. You know someone now who is willing to barter some goods for that a/c unit. However, you will not get $400 for that unit. That unit is probably only worth $200 now that is has been used and in storage. You need to be realistic about the value of the item and not what you think it should be worth.

The second problem with bartering is the items you are stocking to barter. You may think that everyone is going to want candy, chocolates, alcohol, and cigarettes, but in reality, the people you are bartering with are going to want more practical items. They are going to want meat, eggs, seeds, or something along the lines of something that will keep them alive. They will generally want useful items that will contribute to their value of life versus a temporary pleasure.

The problem was stocking alcohol, cigarettes, or any item that feeds an addiction is that those people more than likely will not have anything to barter with. You are better off trying to sell those items on the side for extra cash. You can exchange labor for those items instead of getting your hopes up that they will be barter worthy for other goods. If you can exchange labor for these items, that is bartering also and that works. However, you may not get your value in labor for the value of those items. While that sounds harsh, you need to be realistic. Some addicts cannot function without the poison of their choice and are not very productive with it either. 

However, that leads to another problem with bartering. The value of someone's labor can be defined, but sometimes it is not fairly valued. For example, someone is looking for a place to stay for a few days, but they do not have any money. They are willing to do some labor in order to have a place to sleep. That is where you have to decide what is fair and equal value. You can ask for him to help pick produce, mow, paint, or other services for a place to stay. However, treating that person like slave labor and making them work for fourteen hours a day is not necessarily fair value for staying in your home for a few days. 

While there are people who think that bartering can replace in part (if not in whole) the economy in harder times, that viewpoint is generally seen as unrealistic. There are too many people who will not be honest or hold up their part of the barter. Even in today's marketplace, people lie about the condition or the value of an item. Some people will lie just to get what they want especially if they feel no one will be able to hold them accountable. 

While these are all problems that can be dealt with and overcome, being very realistic and practical about bartering is the only way it is going to work. You can not always anticipate your needs and may need your neighbor's help to get things done. If you exchange labor for labor, you will keep good relations with your neighbors. If you understand that your eggs are worth about $2.00 a dozen and your neighbor has some products of equal value, you have a fair barter. 

What are your thoughts on bartering? Do you plan to barter? Do you think it will work?

Thanks for reading,

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  1. Another key thought is that two people who are bartering in good faith can both come out ahead in a deal, if they are trading items based on relative value. Say I have gained some weight (it's true, and a few more pounds than I'd like). I have half a dozen pairs of pants in good condition, but I'm not going to fit into a 32-inch waist again anytime soon. It's to my benefit to trade those to a slimmer man who needs those pants. They are more valuable to him than they are to me, and in fact, trading them frees up some of my storage space. If he has two axes and only needs one of them, and I need an ax, that ax is more valuable to me than it is to him. We have the makings of a trade where we both win.

    Often, the best things you have to barter with are those things that you don't need and are taking up space in your life. It could be a bicycle that you can't ride because of your arthritis, or an extra canteen, or any number of things.

  2. There is something else to consider. A good Prepper knows the first rule is to not advertise they are a Prepper. I feel it is wise to consider the offset of bartering. If you have goods and people know you have goods, you open yourself up to waking up in the middle of the night confronted with a group of armed people who have come to steal your goods. Word ALWAYS gets around and although you might be trading with people who you know, people in the community, you run the risk of someone passing on information, albeit unwittingly, to people who may not be good, helpful and kind.

    I myself do not consider the the slight uptick of bartering offsets what you might get in return.

    I feel resources are better spent being a better Prepper. Make a list of what you cannot do without, not what you might "want" but what you cannot do without and make that a priority, no matter the temporary sacrifices, to attain these things. Its fine to be trading a pair of pants outgrown for a bigger pair, but I think it unwise to barter food, water, fuel, ammo or armament. The less people know about what you have in hand, the safer you are.

    The same can be said for gold and silver. If a person is known to have gold and silver, they become targets, pure and simple.....for nefarious people who want to steal that gold and silver. You can't eat gold and silver. Be having these commodities worth your life?

    I am a farmer, small farm for personal needs. I would never be tempted to sell or trade food for something I can't eat. Food becomes much more valuable than gold or silver.


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