Top 5 Barter Items for Surviving in a Barter Economy

Barter economy

Photo by: Eric Golub

In a post collapse world we could be living in a barter economy, where having a stock-pile of barter items would be essential. Currency may have little value, while the value of certain things like sawing needles and matches for example, could increase dramatically.

Put back what you will need for your own survival first, then and only after ensuring that you have enough survival supplies such as food, water, water filters, first-aid, fuel, weapons and ammunition etc, to meet your own needs should you worry about stocking up on trade items.


Develop your survival skills and knowledge. Your skills and knowledge may be your biggest asset when it comes to trade during an economic collapse or societal breakdown. Medical skills are the first to come to mind. Doctors, EMT’S, nurses and other medically trained individuals will be in high demand. Other related skills include: dentists, herbalists, and veterinarians.

The ability to build shelters, garden, set up and run a distillery, hunting and trapping, collecting and purifying water, gun repair, reloading, blacksmith, butcher, baker and candle stick maker. Any skill filling a need for a number of people would be an asset and a valuable trade commodity.

Having useful skills maybe the best barter item you could ever have, and it is a renewable resource!

Gold and Silver

There are a lot of financial advisers and survival authors that suggest putting back gold and silver to use as barter items after an economic collapse, and I agree, just don’t go overboard here. It’s important to get your other life saving preps in order first, before worrying about investing in gold, or silver.

Get out of debt. The first thing that you want to get paid off is you property and home. Having five to ten acres of paid-off property, where you can raise a garden, chickens, rabbits, goats and bees is the most important survival prep that you can make.

Gold and silver are a good hedge against the property tax, because gold and silver hold their value fairly well, it would be an easy matter to sell enough of either to pay the property tax or even pay it directly to the county with the metals in some cases.

CBMint and JM Bullion have huge inventories and with competitive prices and fast shipping…


Some think ammunition would be a great barter item after the crash. If you can keep from being shot with your own wares then robbed, then ammunition would be a great trade item. The thing is people are selfish and could decide it would be more productive for them just to shoot you and take what you have.

Robbery and murder are common place during normal times; one can only imagine how bad it would become in the days after a major social break down. If you decide to put away ammunition for barter purposes, my advice is to put back .22 rimfire rounds and trade only with people you know and trust.

Hand Tools

Hand tools such as saws, hammers, drills, knives, ax heads and handles, shovels, garden hoes and other tools will be in great demand after a collapse, the problem becomes the financing. Tools cost money; even the cheaper quality items will set you back a hefty amount if you try laying back a significant quality. Pawn shops are a good place to look for deals on hand tools.

Whiskey and Cigarettes

Whiskey and Cigarettes would become very valuable items if the normal supply were suddenly stopped. You would have little trouble trading these items for just about anything needed. Just don’t get busted by the BATF, don’t think for a moment that the government will go away just because of an economic or or other long-term disaster, no way. The powers that set on the throne will only strengthen its grip on the population, becoming more suppressive to stay in control.

What do You Suggest

What barter items have you put back for a barter economy? What would you add to my list? What are your suggestions and ideas on how to barter after an economic collapse? Let us know in the comments below…

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. akaGaGa says:

    Good article, with several good points. The statement above that jumped out at me, however, was this:

    “… don’t think for a moment that the government will go away just because of an economic or other long-term disaster, no way. The powers that set on the throne will only strengthen its grip on the population, becoming more suppressive to stay in control.”

    I think many of us think that the government is going to just disappear, and we can run around like in the days of the old west, making our own law as we see fit. Far better to be prepared for a government like Hitler’s over the top of all our other problems.

    • akaGaGa,
      I agree that EROL (Excessive Rule of Law) is more likely than WROL (Without Rule of Law). Continuity of Government is a priority, especially for those currently in charge.

  2. poorman says:

    Many uses such as curing meat and fish. Cleaning,seasoning,luring animals for food and we all need it to survive. Salt has been used as currency before which is where the term ” worth his salt ” came from. Also extremely cheap to buy and will store forever.
    Again many uses,cheap to buy and store and which of us doesn’t have a sweet tooth.Honey would fall into this category also.

  3. JP in MT says:

    I keep a number of small items for trade purposed, although those are the big ones that you listed.

    I too have lots of salt. Living in the mountains means that it is going to be VERY hard to find and it is something that most people take for granted.

    I also keep cheap disposable lighters, shoe laces, disposable knives, small (travel) soaps/shampoos/toothbrushes too. I used the Dollar Store as a guide. They have a lot of cheap stuff that will be impossible to find, but very useful.

  4. Bctruck says:

    I have about 200 bic type lighters stored in a plastic container on a shelf. Beside that plastic container, I stored pool chlorine for water treatment. Over the course of about a year, the gases from the chlorine rusted the metal on every single lighter. It even made an enormous amount of corrosion appear on something made of aluminum that I stored near the chlorine. Just thought I would mention how important storage is to long term bartering preps.

    • OldTexas says:

      Your caution on stored dry pool chlorine is TRUE. My wife probated her father’s estate which included selling his home. It was a modern 2,000 sq ft track home with attached two car garage. The septic system was the new aerobic type that has a 3 chamber septic tank with the treated effluent coming out of pop up sprayers on the back yard. These systems require 3 inch chlorine tablets to be used in the tank between the last two compartments to “sanitize” the effluent. These tablets have a higher concentration of chlorine than your average pool chlorine tablets.

      The tub of tablets (with tight fitting lid) was stored in the garage . When a home inspector did the inspection prior to closing the sale, he checked the main electrical panel also in the garage. All the exposed copper wire inside had turned green with corrosion from the out gassing of the stored chlorine. It almost required rewiring the house.

      Lesson learned: Chlorine powder and tablets will permeate the atmosphere of any location where it is stored. The screw on tight fitting lid is not enough. Store it in a non – critical out building with no other critical supplies around it.

      Take heed, Bctruck’s advise may save you BIG problems.

      • Saintprepp says:

        Same issue here. It was pool shock. Had it stored in my water containers. Rusted the fittings and started to degrade the hoses. Had to put it in a separate air tight container. These were plastic pouches that out gassed and caused the issues.

      • Hunker-Down says:

        I’ve read a few articles that claim powdered pool shock stored in metal cans has burst into flames when stored in a hot garage in the summertime. It’s a popular issue with fire departments. We have ours in our hot summertime garage in the vendors plastic bags that are stored in plastic jugs with a screw on top. That way, the oxygen in the garage cant dink (copyrighted ‘in context’ word) with the chlorine.

        • Johnny108 says:

          The hazards of Shock-it type materials is true. If hypochlorite powders contact something like non-silicone brake fluid, brylcreal, or mustard gas- it will emit chlorine gas, and then burst into flame. Hypochlorite is a POWERFUL oxidizer! Fire departments always get mad at home improvement and wally-world stores for arranging “summer sales” with oils and pool chemicals stacked together in front of the store. It also means you have to decon with dilute solutions, instead of powdered chemicals. (Source: my experience in U.S.Army EOD, and a firefighter father, and wife)

    • poorman says:

      BC are you storing liquid bleach or pool shock? I have heard of problems storing pool shock but I have several box’s in their original containers and have had no problems in the year or so I have had them. Just trying to figure out if I need to move them to a different container. I don’t store much liquid bleach ( a couple of gallons for laundry ) as I know it loses potency over time.

  5. Sewing needles, sewing pins, thimbles, buttons, other sewing notions.

    Candle wicks, lantern wicks, matches.

    Mouse and rat traps. Ant traps. Ant spray. Roach powder (boric acid).

    Pens, pencils, pencil lead, small bound notebooks.

    I guess I’m thinking of going into business as a store .. heh.

  6. GoneWithTheWind says:

    Toilet paper, nails, screws, plywood, 2×4’s, tarps, tools, repairs (kind of like a combination blacksmith/mechanic/machinist shop), charging station (5VDC, 12VDC and 110AC), clothes washing, showers, filtered clean water sold by the gallon bring your own container, fabric/material and sewing services, 55 gal drums.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

      Big + 1 on the battery charging station – many people have wall receptacle plug-in battery power rechargers – how many have solar kits as well ? If you can charge them for them, I’m pretty sure you will have potential customers. Flashlights / E readers / handheld CB – walkie talkies – the list is quite long.

      Tool rentals – maybe. Wheelbarrows are bulky and not many people keep one for long term (no flat tire / steel frame) use anyway. You may be able to work out some deals for folks to move their heavy stuff for them. Using care of course – wouldn’t want to deal with some dishonest who will take your equipment from you.

      • One can move heavy stuff with a cart or wagon pulled by a horse or large dog such as a mastiff. & light to medium weight stuff w/ a cart pulled by a bicycle.

  7. rjarena says:

    I have 300 2 oz. bottles of hand sanitizer that has a 2″ carabiner attached, sharpening stones and knowing how to use them, very useful.Copper, lead, tin. useful metals that will be easy to trade. The problem with precious metals, is that a lot of the time(especially for gold) you will lose out, on the rate of exchange. Gold does not have a tremendous value as a material to make things, so the price you will pay in gold for the things you need could be very high. If you need water or salt or repair items, the seller can command what ever price they want, because you need what they have, whereas if you are trading something that has value on its own, because it can be used to make something, you may have a better dickering leg to stand on. The key is to try to have something that others will want/need, so the potential buying power is obvious to all.

    • Happy Camper says:

      Having a small amount if silver and a power source to make colloidal silver will have more value in trade and health than silver itself.

  8. Worrisome says:

    Good, back to basics article, MD.

  9. People often wonder why I buy .22 R.G. revolvers and .22 ammo now they know.

  10. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Toilet paper, shampoo, soap, toothpaste. Razors. Shaving cream.

    • Are you just planing to barter with females?

      • There might be a few men that will want soap, toothpaste and TP. In fact I use everything on that list multiple times a week.

  11. Coffee. I buy a few small jars of the freeze-dried stuff every time I’m at a dollar store. Because I know what I would give for those 6 or 8 cups of coffee if it were unavailable.
    I also stock a LOT more vegetable seeds than I would ever need, just for trading.

    I think in some situations, it might be best to not let people know that you have a large stock of trade items. In that case, it might be better to be known as ‘the guy that knows a guy’ that has things to trade, and act like you’re getting things from someone else.

  12. Nebraska Woman says:

    I have sewing skills plus an old treadle machine. I have everything saved for patching/making clothing etc. Oodles of it!
    I also have access to an air base commissary where I have stocked up on good cheap vodka/whisky/and the like. Isn’t that a laugh; bartering government subsidized booze in a government-fault catastrophe?

  13. Wolfman says:

    1. .22lr ammo, etc.
    2. commodities like sugar, salt, flour, corn meal, vinegar
    3. medical supplies(antibiotics, etc.)
    4. personal hygiene products(think soap)
    5. water purification methods(filters, etc.)
    6. coffee, tea, cigarettes, alcohol products, & other things people are dependent on
    7. jewelry, coins, gemstones, etc.
    8. seeds, gardening supplies
    9. tools
    10, knowledge

  14. Dawn Colon says:

    do not forget about all small livestock like poultry or rabbits and also everday items like toothpaste or dental floss or even heirloom seeds. gas etc just think of what you use and go from there. goatlady

  15. 1 Man + God=A Majority says:

    didn’t see it just yet, but in your very cold winter climes, store up some x-tra firewood, coal, kindling and other “heatables.”

    believe me–it’s no fun not having heat when it’s below 0*F outside.

  16. Tools! I’ve been accumulating them for years, mostly from garage sales and estate sales. I try to hit estate sales on the first day to get a shot at the best stuff, and to decide if I want to come back on the last sale day to pick up some 75% off “bargains.” Hammers, pliers, saws, hand drills, files, and all kinds of gardening/landscaping tools. And I wipe the metal parts with a lightly-oiled rag before storing them away.

  17. I stored cloth diapers, diaper pins, tooth brushes, bandages, alcohol, mouse and rat traps. I hope to have enough food so I can barter with that too. Or rather, I know a guy that has some food. ;o)

  18. Saintprepp says:

    Great comments. I have many of the items listed. I have also stocked up on tampons and condoms. My wife and I need neither but others will. There will be need for both short term and long term items. These are short term but I will get what I can while they last. Agree that knowledge is #1. Also stocked up to reload even calibers I don’t have. I would also comment water, water, water. Not just stocking but how to get. I am currently studying desalination. Live near ocean and best resources I have found are articles on how things are done in third world countries. They don’t have to figure this stuff out they live it!

    • Happy Camper says:

      I have a distiller that can be used over a flame as I also live by the sea. It’s a pain to use, but worth learning. I have an electric distiller for ethanol.
      A friend of mine and I are going to have a sewing day soon to make sanitary pads, the purpose is to donate to a women’s shelter in Cambodia. But I might make an extra lot.
      Any female will be desperate for washable sanitary items and a few Tylenol. I guess it’s the little things that we take for granted !

  19. Bam Bam says:

    1. Salt
    2. Sugar
    3. Sewing Needles
    4. Soap
    5. Wicks

  20. When using PM’s for barter, silver is the better choice because it’s wirth less per weight and volume. Even in the past, the silver coins were often worth too much and were cut into 8 wedge shaped pieces, thus pieces of eight (worth 2-bits, with 8-bits to the full coin) became a standard coinage.

    • mom of three says:

      Thank you for explaining the two bits, I have heard that term for the last 40 years, and never knew where it came from. Learn something new everyday, as my dad would say Thank you.

  21. Ohio Surveyor says:

    1. salt
    2. sugar
    3. activated charcoal
    4. clean water/food
    5. gun powder
    6. lead
    7. chap stick/lip balm
    8. antibiotic cream/save
    9. blacksmith/fix it skills
    10. solar/generator/batteries
    11. books, books and more books
    12. the 3 original barter items sex, alcohol, tobacco/drugs
    13. information

  22. jamullins says:

    having observed refugees and disaster survivors it became immediately clear that six things really make an immediate difference to people when governmental and/or social infrastructures falter;
    1. potable water
    2. food, especially portable, prepared meals
    3. medicines, especially those for chronic conditions
    4. appropriate clothing and bedding
    5. relaxation, especially tobacco, alcohol, and music
    6. basic tools, including portable containers

    once people have the basics covered it is easier for them to begin to work together out of mutual benefit (since the competition to gain these things is alleviated somewhat). This mutual benefit is the basis for the building of social structures such a civil governance, resource gathering and management, trade standardization, community entertainment, and so on.

  23. k. fields says:

    These are all great comments on what would be good to barter with, but I have a question;
    What is it you are looking to barter FOR?

    If, as the article suggested, you have your personal survival items squared away to the point that you’re spending your funds on items for barter – what do you feel you will need after a societal breakdown that you will be required to barter for? And why, if you’re anticipating that need, aren’t you simply acquiring those items today?

    One scenario I can think of would be brides to avoid conflict. What are your thoughts.

    • riverrider says:

      nobody can stock everything, nor enough of anything for the long haul. some needs are yet unforeseen as well. maybe i want some fresh meat and i don’t have land to raise it on? how about farmer bob has beef but sits in the dark all night. i have a couple extra panels i could trade him for some fresh beef. how about the doctor who is up to his eyeballs in chickens and eggs that he can’t trade for drugs that the pharmacist wisely hid during the crunch? there’s any number of things we just can’t know or possess.

    • How would brides avoid conflict? While many might think having a harem would be a good thing, having 2+ women means they collude against you. People that dream of threesomes would be disappointed to have them. They will want to vote over going to a game vs the ballet.

      • k. fields says:

        Oops – what I meant was bribes not brides. But going to the ballet instead of a game certainly would get my vote.

    • I’m planning to barter for physical labor, since I have health issues that limit what I can do myself.

  24. riverrider says:

    never thought of water filtration as a barter item before. being rather expensive, i have 5 or 6 redundant but would never trade them away. folks can boil water after running it thru a home made filter maybe. guess i could barter that skill. i look to selco the bosnian war survivor. he made a living so to speak by figuring out a way to refill bic lighters from a large lp tank, among other things. lighters, booze, coffee, salt all the regular stuff was in high demand, but a big one you wouldn’t think was gravy, mix or canned. and basically any kind of spice, which is one i’m heavy into. what would you trade for some paprika, garlic, vanilla, etc after six months of beans and rice?…another thing was charging batteries. selco has advice on bartering that should be read and heeded, like never let anyone know what you have. say “i know a guy” instead of “i have”.

  25. ChristineM says:

    Herbs & Spices
    Coffee Filters
    Fresnel Lens
    Homemade Bread
    Multiple Use Items. Example: Bentonite Clay
    1. Make paste for drawing poultice
    2. Gentle wormer for people, horses & dogs
    3. Detox
    Another Example is Coconut Oil
    1. Cooking
    2. Mix with Baking Soda & Peppermint for Tooth Paste
    3. Oil tools
    Lots of variety in the comments. I’ve added several items to our lists.

  26. photosniper says:

    Wondering what peoples thoughts are on homebrewing being a valubale skill post SHTF?

    • Do you want alcoholics needing a fix but with nothing to barter for knowing where you live? Giving out homebrewed booze would be as dangerous as bartering away ammo.

      • MorePooperThanPrepper says:

        I’m not a brewer.
        But photosniper didn’t say distiller. Beer and wine have a lot of calories and they are more sterile (not quite correct term) and pretty well preserved. In a lot of the world for a lot of time laboroers drank daily and were not shiftless alcoholics. Just getting calories with a drink that was safer than most water and it probably gave em a bit of a warm feeling that kept em going.

        And I don’t even drink.

  27. -water filters
    -water purification tablets
    -basic foods like flour, sugar, yeast, oatmeal, etc.
    -medical supplies
    -paper books on how to do things
    -skill: Midwife
    -bicycle parts -inner tubes, tires, chains, etc.

  28. Sally Wolff says:

    I have many of the things mentioned.Few items I did not see that I buy are honey,honey comb,beeswax,coconut oil,ghee,tahini paste,sumac,vinegar,vodka,rum,baking soda,himalayan salt blocks(feed store),flax seed(feed store).

  29. Some of the things are obvious, like canned food, water purifiers, medicine, the stuff that people need. Easily overlooked items are next toiletries, paper, feminine products. Then comes comfort/wanted items alcohol, cigarettes, snack foods, soda, batteries, spices, flavoring.
    A good way to get an idea is to have a practice day, boom no power…now what. What items do I need to get by? Water filter, matches, hand tools, warm shower would be nice, how will I cook? What if it goes on long term, fuel, seeds, a way to charge batteries.
    Security needs… ammo, I would never trade ammo unless it was a life/death issue, firearms, binoculars, knives/axes, bows/arrows.
    Skills will be in demand…farming, hunting, general survival/ off grid living. And ,sorry ladies, companionship.

  30. Chuck Findlay says:

    My barter item is my ability to fix almost anything other then the micro-electronic items (like I=phones.) but even with electronic things I fix the power cords that people seem to abuse all the time. I also make a bit of money buying things from thrift stores and garage sales and repairing them and selling them at Hamfest.

    I have a handyman service and I have a van, a garage and a shed full of tools and supporting items to repair all kinds of things. I’m always expanding my supply of repair supplies.

    I also grew up working on autos, my dad was a journeyman mechanic that worked on autos evenings and weekends. I was always in the garage with him working on things.

    I have been a reloader for over 35-years and I trade reloading for things every so often. I’ve built up a fairly good supply of reloading components over the years. In fact during the 1990s primer shortage I supplied (along with another reloader friend) my friends gun shop with 50,000 primers. I made a deal that he would replace all the primers and throw in an extra case of primers. I got an extra 5,000 primers out of the deal and I cycled some old primers for new ones. But primers don’t go bad so that was not a big concern. If I ever have to move I’m going to get a triple-hernia moving all the lead I have.

    I barter almost every week with people, I figure I will do the same thing if it ever hits the fan.

  31. RiskyChicken says:

    Good morning everyone. I am a first time contributor here.

    In my mind the best barter items are the things I can renew. Instead of water filters, barter filtered water, or better yet, water from a well on site. My wife and I are looking at property for a self-sustaining lifestyle so we would be in a position to barter things like eggs, honey, and other food items.

    Solar energy is another renewable you could trade. I know at least one person already said that. I think it is a brilliant idea, especially if you already are living off solar anyway.

    I am not so sure about the gold/silver. I can’t really feed it to my kids and there is no way of knowing what the future value of gold would be if you accepted it as a barter item. One would also open themselves up to losing a great deal trying to exchange gold/silver for something of more immediate use. For example, if I need eggs and I only have gold coins, and the person I am trading with only has a dozen eggs, now I have to spend a gold coin on a few eggs and it is unlikely that I would get change.

    As far as what I would be looking for, I know for a fact my kids won’t stop growing just because the economy did, so clothing for them would be a good one. Feminine products for the Mrs. and razors. Of course now that I think about it, perhaps a few of those old fashioned straight razors that can be sharpened would not be a bad investment. Coffee is another one I would be interested in, but I think I should probably start weening myself pretty soon after a collapse since that is something that will likely dry up pretty quickly.
    Finally, I have some medical training that I think would be pretty handy. I don’t really see myself negotiating a price before helping someone. I think that “bartering” that for some goodwill and a friend in the future would be pretty valuable.
    Like I said, this is my first post. I really enjoy the site. Thanks for the work you put into it.

  32. MorePooperThanPrepper says:

    As crazy as it sounds, I have over the years been thinking I might be able to pull off a soup kitchen style “restaurant”. I know lots of people can make a good stew or soup of of whatever, just like I can. But a lot of people can’t. And those with no food, what a market.

    I have also considered popcorn and kettle corn. I know it sounds pretty far fetched, but human’s have a hard wired desire for crunchy salty and sweet foods. After a month eating mushy gruel lots of people would splurge – especially if they have kids. What do you think? Totally nuts?

    But of course only in the appropriate situation. I won’t be dodging bullets to deliver popcorn : ).

  33. Aluminum water bottles. You can boil water to make it safe in them sell homemade moonshine in them or fuel. They are very versatile and can stock up when they are on sale.

  34. old guy says:

    Personally I like the idea of being able to trade my skills. Between my wife and I we know about gardening, canning, blacksmithing, soap making and a number of other skills. Besides, if you’re a blacksmith you can make tools to trade. If you know how to brew or distill then you can trade your product. If you know how to start plants from seed, you can barter your transplants. And on and on like that 🙂
    Barter lessons, teach other people how to do the things you know how to do. The more who know, the better the whole community is.

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