June 28, 2017

Basics of Bartering

Bartering is a skill that many of us aren’t used to, or very good at. We see a price and accept that as the amount we must pay.

In much of the world, bartering is a part of daily life. The same could be said in a prolonged survival situation. The economy of Argentina was much like that in America prior to 2000. Their economy has since collapsed and barter has become a common means of purchasing. In fact I read somewhere that people would cut links off a gold necklace and trade the links.

When I was in the Navy, I spent time in Hong Kong and in Dubai. Neither place was what it is today. That being said, if you didn’t barter, you got ripped off in many cases. I have a hard time with the concept, so I followed the lead of some friends who had been there before. Here is what I have learned about bartering from those experiences and since then.


What is Currency?

Jack Spirko has helped me define what currency is and what it is not. Currency is not the dollar bill in your pocket or even the precious metals you have stored away. Currency is the value you place on something.

Let me paint this picture: Inflation has skyrocketed and the price of gas is $6.00 a gallon. The price of many foods is 50%-75% higher than a year ago. I have been growing a garden and have expanded it. I’m willing to sell or trade with my neighbors. Pete has some cash and some rice that he would like to trade for some of my tomatoes.

Since the cash isn’t worth as much but is still useful I could charge him accordingly. It’s value may still decrease. I have been prepping and don’t need any more rice, so Pete doesn’t have any currency that I value.

Dan lives a bit further out of town and has a small chicken coop. Dan and his wife both love tomatoes. Since we both have something the other has placed value on, the tomatoes and chickens will be our currency. We just need to sort out the details. I could take eggs, chicken meat, or maybe have him raise a couple for me, so I could start my own coop.

In short, currency is whatever you, or someone else, might place value on. The most common currencies are, of course, dollars or the national currency in your nation, as well as precious metals.

If you’re a pro, please add any additional suggestions to the comment section

Let me share that I’m not very good at bartering. That being said, below are some things I’ve learned.


As Kenny Rogers says, “Know when to hold them, when to fold them, know when to walk away and when to run.”

When bartering, both sides are trying to get the best deal they can. If both parties are honorable, they can both walk away happy. However, you should have a price or trade in mind that you’re willing to pay, with some wiggle room on either side.


When to hold them

If you know the value of what you have and are offering it at a reasonable price, don’t stray too far from it. The same can be said if you make a fair offer on an item that you know the true value of. This is bartering, so remember the wiggle room I mentioned. Don’t stray too far from your original offer.


When to Fold them, and when to run

These two are the same but I like the song and thought using it was clever. Sometimes people will make an offer that is ridiculous. Just say “no thank you” and walk away. If they were testing you, they’ll come back with a legitimate offer. If they’re a fool, they’ll probably go off about how the item your offering is subpar or, if they’re the one selling, they’ll go on about how their item is the best blah, blah, blah. Unless you really need the item, let them keep it.


When to walk away

There are times when buying or selling, when walking away can show the other party that their offer wasn’t serious and that you’re not willing to consider it. The catch is that you may end up keep walking away and losing out on your chance at the item, unless you want to go back and meet their offer. If you do go back, the party now knows how much you want it. You’ll probably have to pay their full asking price. Sometimes the other party will modify their original offer and you can barter for a fair exchange.

Here is a list of skills and items you could use for bartering.


If you’re a pro, please add any additional suggestions to the comment section.



  1. When selling or bartering an item set your price slightly higher than what you expect to get for it. That way you can drop your price a bit. But if you are selling at too low a price you can rarely, if ever, go up in price.

    And here is a piece of Biblical wisdom:

    “It is good for nothing,” cries the buyer; But when he has gone his way, then he boasts.

    Proverbs 20:14

  2. But can you barter in Chinese Mandarin language? :) OK, just kidding, but who knows. Any cataclysmic situation happen it may only logical for the Chinese to come “help” us out in a United Nations effort.
    I don’t want to jump the gun on what you may post next but I read an article a while back that said the most precious articles to prep for bartering in a post dirty fan situation will be cigarettes, soap, ammo, alcohol, MRE’s, silver, detergent, water bottles, matches and lighters, sugar, toilet paper, water filters or purifiers, bleach, batteries and candles. I would have to add to that; good books on local wild foods, foraging, wildcrafting, and other lost skills needed to survive in a non-electric world.
    So many other things come to mind, like small cook stoves. I can make one out of an empty food can. What do you think?

    • Chris Ray says:

      You laugh Jim, but I actually did better haggling in Hong Kong then anywhere in the US. When all you have is money to show and universal body language and grunts, sighs and the like, it cuts out a lot of game playing.

      You have a good list, many of the things you have on it are on the one I’ll post.

  3. If one were to barder, lets say, rice for something else. Wouldn’t that tell the other person that we have rice and they could rob us later? If things get uncivilized couldn’t it be telling someone else too much of our business? I think barder is a great thing as long as law and order is still maintained, that is what worries me most. Any suggestions?

    • Chris Ray says:

      Good question Pearl! While it might show your hand so to speak, you can be discrete and picky with whom you choose to barter with. If things really get bad, I imagine there will be locations set up for bartering, like flea markets now.

      While the rule of law is in effect now, it still does not stop those willing to prey on others, if things get really bad, there will probably be more of them. This just means we stay vigilant at situational awareness and have a means to protect ourselves.

  4. Bartering works only if both people walk away happy. If one or more is not then it doesn’t work. Let’s say Tom is offering a 5# bag of rice and wants to trade for 10# of potatoes and you both feel it is a good bargain, everyone is happy. Now Tom gets back to his place and finds out that the 10# of potatoes is 1/2 rotten, now Tom is not happy and appears at your doorstep. Not a good day for either of you.

    Walk thru flea markets. See what they have and pick an item. Decide on price you want to pay. Ask price and it’s higher. Barter down. He’s asking $10 you want to pay $8…Tell him $7…he comes to $9…split difference or hold out for $8 depending on your desire to have.

    Watch shows like Pawn Stars…the entertainment is great BUT so is the bartering. Watch how they keep a straight face when they offer low..then come up only a little while the person wanting to sell comes down.

    Keep things that you know will be needed. Items mentioned by Jim are very good. Watch your neighbors, family, etc. See what items attract them. Example: My sis in law loves fast foodish items. Knowing this I am able to ask her to come over and help in garden and give her the boxed food she loves (Mac&Cheese/RiceARoni/Etc) So I keep some in order to get chores/work done. Another neighbor is attracted to ‘shiny’ gold items….I am thinking that might be good for trade for that tent/charcoal grill/even camper.

    I know it’s hard…but teach yourself now. Learn and work on it

  5. Loved your article! I always tell people to be fair and only ask what you would be willing to offer. Bartering is so much fun if done fair and right!
    Thanks for the great article!

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