08 November 2011

Bartering and self-reliance: Nine sustainable things you can barter

Bartering — the act of exchanging your goods or services for another's — has been around for a long time. Although largely considered an obsolete practice by many, barter still has a role to play in a self-reliant lifestyle.

HowStuffWorks.com has a great article on How Bartering Works, which does a good job of explaining the pros and cons of bartering. People still use bartering (either on their own or through bartering networks) and businesses also use bartering to trade products or services, both described in the HowStuffWorks article.

The article also points out that "Inflation can cause a unit of currency to lose value ... if things get bad enough, bartering, with all its disadvantages, can become an attractive alternative. This is why people resort to bartering in situations of great poverty or disaster."

So, barter can play an important role in self-reliance in two ways. First, it gives us a chance to practicing our DIY skills (building, growing, creating, etc.) and trading the products for other goods. We can practice this kind of barter now, which also builds our skill at barter and negotiation.

Second, we can store extra quantities of goods that are likely to be in high demand during an emergency, in hopes of using those stores to barter for things that we've run out of or forgot to stock. (For example, see The Top 100 Items to Disappear First.)

While you can (and should) store some extra "tangibles" (e.g., things from the above Top 100 list), it's worthwhile that you plan for at least one thing to barter that is more sustainable. By that, I'm not saying it needs to be necessarily "green" or eco-friendly, per se. Rather, I'm suggesting that you find something you can do or make that others will find desirable. Doing so will give you a regular form of "income" that you can trade for other things that your want or need.

Below is a list of examples of "barterables" that are fairly sustainable:
  1. Labor: This is essentially like typical employment, but you get paid in goods or services, rather than in money. While you can probably trade your time to perform any labor required, you may find more opportunity for specific, less common skills. For example, if you know carpentry, masonry, metalworking, painting, etc. then you may be able to more readily trade your skills.
  2. Wine, beer, or mead: Being able to produce these beverages will require the raw materials, e.g., grapes, hops, barley, honey, and so on. You'll need the equipment to actually create the product, but that's reusable. A potential downside is distributing your end product You'll need smaller, sealable containers if you want to be able to barter your product to others. 
  3. Alcohol: Being able to distill your own alcohol allows you to produce something with a great many uses: fuel, medicinal, etc. Of course, it's important to understand the legalities involved in distilling alcohol before you begin.
  4. Biodiesel: Converting some form of vegetable oil (clean or used) provides a fuel that can be used to power diesel engines without modification. It'd be useful to be able to barter fuel, especially in an environment where fuel is scarce, expensive, or both.
  5. Wood: If you have acres of wooded land, it's possible that you can harvest some of your trees for lumber or firewood to barter. Being able to process the raw wood into the final product (sawing the lumber or seasoning the firewood) makes your product more valuable, but takes extra time and tools.
  6. Milk: If you have enough goats or cows, then you can barter your extra milk. As with some of the above items, this "food" product has governmental regulations controlling its production and distribution.
  7. Maple Syrup: If you have maple trees, you may be able to tap them, gather sap, and make maple syrup. It's probably not for everyone, but the sugary syrup can be a profitable product.
  8. Candles: If you have ready access to tallow or beeswax, making candles might be very useful, especially in emergencies where the power is out for weeks or months.
  9. Soap: As with candles, if you have the raw materials (lye, oil, water, scents), this would be a very useful and profitable item to barter.
This list is not all-inclusive, of course. If none of these work for you, then you need to identify what you can make, keeping in mind that you want to be able to readily replenish the raw materials that you need to create your product.

A final note: bear in mind that the government considers bartered materials and services to be taxable. That is, the IRS will expect you to pay taxes on the good/services that you receive. Refer to the IRS' Bartering Tax Center for more details.

So, what have you bartered in the past? What are you planning to barter should an emergency arise?


  1. I don't think the modern world has to come to and end to engage in bartering. I've been bartering my web design services on this website called barterquest. Now I don't have to pay for my yard work for 6 months!

  2. Some really good thoughts here self-reliant. Thanks for the article!

  3. Daniel, thanks for your comment! I definitely agree that barter is still a viable option nowadays. Like you mentioned, online barter networks seem plentiful. Google "barter networks" and see all the results!

  4. Growing tobacco, especially outside the tobacco states. Needs months to cure before smoking, but it might be a luxury like good booze.

    Always love seeing the "top 100 items to disappear" list, think that things been floating around since the Survival BBS days with only minor edits, bet I have a copy on floppy somewhere. "Propane Cylinder Handle-Holder"? Funny stuff.

  5. Survival Recon, thanks for reading, and for your comments! I appreciate your positive feedback!

  6. Hi Sam, thanks for stopping by! You make an excellent point with tobacco. I had it on my list (making a list of 10 items), but I took it off at the last minute due to time constraints.

    One reason was that I would like to know more about the legality of growing and trading tobacco before advocating it (it is part of the BATF acronym, after all).

    I wanted to stick with legal items to barter for this list. People will likely figure out other barterable items on their own, many of which are currently illegal.

  7. I have that list on my blog as well titled "The 100 Survival Items To Disappear Off The Store Shelves First" pretty much the same list that has made its rounds on the internet, at the bottom though there is commentary From a Sarajevo War Survivor that is very good. There is a barter section on Craigslist for each state that you can look into. Sam mentioned tobacco, I would suggest buying several pounds of pipe tobacco that can be used to roll your own for barter even if you don't smoke.

  8. isurvivalskills, thanks for the great feedback, as always! You make some excellent points, especially about bartering on Craigslist. Thanks again!