How to Barter: The 5 immutable laws to follow

June 30, 2020

When economies collapse, their paper currency is not worth the paper it is printed on.  We’ve seen this happen before in modern history in Venezuela and in the former U.S.S.R.  Today, with an unemployment rate rivaling the Great Depression, food supply chain interruptions, a pandemic, and the Federal reserve printing money while driving up a national debt, the various factors leading to economic collapse where currency will be worthless are all in motion.  What will you do when you can’t buy bread because it is $50 a loaf?  What will you do when the medicine you need to save your or a family member’s life is suddenly in short supply and high demand? In this video, we’ll look at a skill that while practiced to this day in some nations, is almost entirely lost in developed nations: bartering.

When bartering is your only option to get the food, medicine, or ammo that you need, will you have the confidence you need in your supplies and negotiating skills?  In this video, we will look at 5 critical components of bartering when currency is worthless.  The key things I will discuss here can also be applied to some degree in all of your current negotiations, thereby making you a more skilled negotiator today.  

So let’s jump in.

Understand the value of what you have and what you need

The first critical component that you need to know when it comes to bartering is understanding the value of the items and supplies that you already have and the value of the items that you will need. This is important to know since the  concept of what is valuable and what is not will drastically change depending on the situation that you find yourself in. Items that usually have high value during normal times like jewelry and currencies become of less value or useless during a collapse. People are likely going to want items that are useful for their survival. These are items like food, medicine, water, bullets, batteries, and so on. The value of these items will vary, depending on the situation. If you’re in a situation where food is abundant and water is scarce, then water will be the most precious supply people will look for. In an area like the United States southeast, though, water is typically in abundance, and food resources may hold more value.  It’s important to note that skills like carpentry work, plumbing, medical services, and so on are also part of the bartering process as many people will likely need certain services during a disaster. So if you don’t have the necessary supplies or items to barter, you can trade them for a service that you know. 

Aside from knowing the value of the items that you have relative to everyone else’s needs, you should also understand the value of the items you need. It’s not enough that you just know the items and quantities you need. You should also have an idea of what their general, current value is to help you during the negotiation process. Knowing the value will allow you to determine what is a fair trade. If everyone is trying to get their hands on allergy medicine, you can assume that the price will be high.  If the allergy season has passed and the need is lower, it will have less current value.  You don’t want to offer too much in exchange for an item or supply, even if you need it. Unless it is a matter of life and death, don’t hesitate to walk away if the bartering value equation is too lopsided, even if you are desperate for the item. It’s a term you’ve likely heard before: “walk away power.”  When people can see you are desperate or you really want something, you quickly lose your ability to negotiate in a way that will provide you with a favorable outcome. One alternative is that you can emphasize future transactions you might share with them to downplay your desperation for the item and get them to focus on future trade possibilities. However, it’s also crucial that you don’t reveal the inventory that you have. Let’s say someone asked if you have bread or rice while you’re bartering for a gallon of water. Instead of saying yes, you should say you’ll ask around or you might know someone that does. The reason for this is simple: letting people know the supplies that you have during disaster situations is only inviting trouble. You are making yourself a target for people who may be looking to rob and steal important supplies.  It’s one of the first rules I learned when doing business negotiations: never expose your hand.  In other words, don’t let people know what you’ve got as it changes the equation quickly and weakens your position.

Barter With Those You Know

This brings us to one of the most critical security aspects of bartering.  Whenever possible, only barter with those you know or people you can trust, which could be your neighbors, friends, or a mutual assistance group or their direct referrals.  They are less likely to provide lopsided deals or rob you since they are beholden to the referring friend or family. Starting with someone familiar is also a good way for you to practice the bartering process and have a feel of how it goes. But you still need to be wary, as desperate people can still turn against you, even if they are a friend. This is why the rule of not revealing your entire inventory still applies to them as well.

While this next example may be a bit laughable, one way to help you barter safely is to think like a drug dealer.  These are individuals that have learned to barter outside the boundaries and protection of law enforcement, so they’ve had to learn a thing or two we can apply in a lawless situation where it’s every person for themself.  A drug dealer doesn’t bring the kilos of drugs to a deal but usually a small amount, like an ounce. He usually divides his supply into smaller bags, which is something that you should strongly consider. Instead of keeping your 20lb of flour in one bag, parse it out to 2lb bags and just bring 1 or 2 when you are going to barter. If you’re pressed to provide more, simply say you don’t have much yourself but you will see what you can do. 

One pro tip: you can also sweeten the deal after it’s completed. Anticipate what else the person might need and give them a small portion of the item. For example, if your friend or neighbor is a smoker, you can include a small bag of tobacco or cigarettes. Just say someone gave it to you but you don’t smoke so you’re offering it to them.

It is crucial to remember that you should perform the negotiation away from your supplies and home whenever possible. You don’t want to let them know where your supplies are hidden, so you should meet up at a neutral area that has high visibility or where there are many people. A highly visible area can help you greatly should the negotiation fall apart. Remember to parse out your supplies into smaller amounts.  Only bring what you are prepared to exchange or prepared to lose.

The Day of the Exchange

When the day of the exchange finally arrives, awareness and security will be critical. For those that were raised on Westerns like myself, you probably remember how these types of events went.  During the negotiation and exchange, the bad guys would typically try to take hostages in exchange for items. Once the exchange was about to happen, the good guy had a partner hiding behind the rocks with his rifle in case the exchange fell apart, and wait for it…it always does. You have to be prepared properly during the day of the exchange to ensure that all possible scenarios are covered.

Similar to precautionary measures when trading with your friend, make sure that the exchange will happen away from your home and supplies. You don’t want to jeopardize your home or supplies should something happen during the exchange. It also lets the other party know where your supplies are, which can become a target for raiders. Have the exchange at a location that is highly visible for added protection should something go wrong. You want the area to be visible enough to attract curious eyes should the negotiation collapse, but quiet and normal enough that your exchange goes unnoticed.  

Before leaving your home, make sure that your supply store is well protected while you’re gone. Make sure it’s not visible to anyone and keep it locked. Also, make sure that anyone left at your home is situationally aware enough to be ready to protect your supplies.  Another thing you should do is to bring only items that you are willing to lose.  Despite all of your efforts, things can still go wrong. So, as an added layer of protection, only bring items that you are willing to lose in case the deal goes south.  Don’t forget to bring security with you, even if it means cutting in a friend or two.  It never hurts to have someone you trust accompany you or at least watch your back while the exchange is happening.  A trusted companion can be the difference between dying and surviving.

Pro tip: arrive at the meeting place early, don’t be late. Being late could put you at a disadvantage and leave you prone to ambush. Arrive early to get a feel of the location and see if it’s safe or not. Once the transaction is done, take a different route home. You never know if the other party will follow you or has set someone behind you to follow you, so taking a different route home could throw them off. You put yourself in danger of being ambushed if you take the same route you took while going to the meeting place.

The Negotiation

It’s not unusual to feel stressed and anxious on the day of the negotiation process, especially if you’re dealing with a new party to trade with.  Bartering and negotiating with friends or people you know well can eliminate stress and anxiety.  But this doesn’t mean that you should relax.  Remember that troubled times usually bring out the worst in people and people you thought were good are no exception.  You must be situationally aware and suspect of any behavior that seems out of the norm.

We’ve already mentioned earlier some tips to help you with the negotiation process, let us just reiterate them as a reminder. Never reveal what you have or where you have it to avoid putting your supplies at risk. Always remember the phrase “I can ask around” to imply that you have a network of friends who might have what they need. If the deal is fair and it goes well, you can also ask “do you have other things you need? Maybe I can find someone to help.” This phrase removes the attention to the supplies that you have and also sets up the possibility of future deals. Don’t hesitate to walk away if the deal isn’t fair, especially if you can still live another day without the item you are looking for. Negotiations are built upon trust and if the deals being made are lopsided in their favor, you can’t trust them to negotiate fairly. Sometimes, the act of walking away can force the other party to renegotiate and provide a fair deal. It’s also crucial that you be cautious of haggling. It’s going to be part of the negotiation process, even during a collapse. But since the stakes are higher, the other party might feel like you are trying to take advantage of their situation with your haggling and become upset. The deal should not only be fair to you but also fair to the other party. Remember that a good deal is where both sides felt they lost something but they also felt they gained something in return.

When you negotiate, it usually follows specific patterns, high price – low price counter – fair price agreed upon or it forms a new base or anchor for another round of negotiation. If you are trading 5 pounds of flour for some medicine, and the other party asks for 10 pounds, rather than reveal your stores, your negotiation will be better if you say you only have two more pounds on you (your hidden deal sweetener), but you can ask around and maybe get more later.  Also, never answer the question “what are you willing to trade for?” This is a bait question that allows the other party to gauge your desperation and take advantage. You should also have an escape plan should things go south and you need to leave. It’s also crucial that you only talk to one person. If the other party brought a friend, only negotiate with one of them. Talking to multiple people at once puts you at a huge disadvantage and they are likely not going to give you what you need for a fair price. Don’t forget the “sweetener” when a deal goes well. This will allow you to ask for more in case they ask for more.

This goes without saying, but we’ll say it here anyways.  Be honest, be fair, and never try to trick someone.  In a post-collapse or disaster scenario, the rule of law may no longer exist.  In the current world we live in, many transactions are done online and it’s easy for someone to be deceptive and may be able to get away from the consequences of wronging someone else.  But when you’re dealing with people in a grid down scenario whose very survival may be dependent on the transaction, your world will become much smaller and people will know how to find you if you wrong them.  Additionally, they won’t wait for the law to right a wrong.  They’ll handle it themselves without a judge or jury.

Set up tradelines

Having a regular tradeline will be very helpful during a disaster situation. A more advanced and experienced prepper may have already established a loose network through a mutual assistance group.  Even if we are self-reliant, our survival during a crisis may still come down to our network of friends, family, neighbors, and trade partners. They are the people who can see us through to survive another day. It allows you to have a regular and trusted group of people that you can always trade goods and services with. Having a tradeline not only strengthens your supplies of items, but it also allows you to monetize items that you and your family don’t normally use or need.

Following the basic guideline we mentioned earlier will ensure, in most instances, that your deal will go smoothly. Providing the sweetener not only shows other people you are good to deal with, but it can also help you “ask for more” when they “ask for more.” Asking them what more they might need and promising to ask around opens you up for possible future deals. Once you have completed three successful and non-threatening deals, it’s time to consider discussing a possible regular trade deal. During the discussion, though, you should still never reveal your inventory. Just allude to something that you might be able to get your hands on. You should also remember that bartering is not only about physical products. You can also barter services like carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and so on. If your trade partner needs plumbing work and you happen to have a neighbor who is a plumber, you can further build your trade relationship and broker a deal between them. Not only does it prevent you being cast as the sole provider of any one product, but it also helps strengthen trade lines and future trade deals. There is some risk here, especially if your neighbor doesn’t agree or follow through. This could put you at a disadvantage in future trade negotiations.  Again, your name is on the line and be careful when extending your reputation to vouch for others.



When the financial system stops working after a collapse, people will resort to bartering when it comes to trading goods and services. We’ve presented five critical components of bartering that you need to know to make the process smoother and increase your chances of getting a successful deal. The first one is understanding the value of what you have and what you need. During a collapse, what people perceived as valuable will be different. Items that are useful and can help in surviving like food, water, medicine, guns and ammo, and so on will be seen as more valuable. Knowing the worth of your supplies and the items you need will help you in bartering. The next critical component about bartering is that you should start with people you know. Bartering with close friends, neighbors, and family makes the process much easier. You are dealing with someone you already know and trust, which will lessen the anxiety and stress associated with the unknown. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be taking precautions. A crisis can bring out the worst in a person, even those who you consider your friends. So you should still take precautions.

On the day of the exchange, you must be properly prepared for anything. Don’t bring all of your supplies, bring only the ones that you are willing to lose in case something goes bad. You should also make sure that you are accompanied by a person you trust for security reasons. Make sure to meet in a neutral location, far away from your home or supply store. When you are negotiating, don’t reveal the inventory that you have. Use phrases like “I can ask around” to imply that you don’t have the stock but your network of friends might have it to divert attention away from your inventory. You should also ask what other items they may need to set up possible future deals. And don’t forget to sweeten the trade after a successful deal has been completed. The last critical component is setting up tradelines. After you completed at least three successful and non-threatening deals, it’s time to negotiate the possibility of a regular trade deal. This strengthens your supplies of items and allows you to have trusted persons you can trade with regularly. Remember, no matter how prepared and ready we are, we cannot survive a crisis alone. Our network of family, friends, neighbors, mutual assistance groups, and trade partners, will sometimes be the only reason why we will survive a disastrous situation.

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