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The concept of private barter and alternative economies has been so far removed from our daily existence all over the world that the very idea of participating in commerce without the use of money seems almost outlandish to many people. People sometimes forget that the smallest and most convenient storage space is in their own heads. If you find yourself in the midst of a disaster and you need to either build or fix something, having the necessary knowledge and skills in your mind instead of in a book will hugely benefit your ability to survive.


There’s no way of telling quite how different life after a major disaster or serious collapse of society could be, but humans are remarkably resilient, so life would certainly go on.

One thing is certain, though: in the aftermath of a widespread disaster or the collapse of civil society as we know it, you’ll want to have useful skills and items that you can barter or trade with. Once society collapses, bartering will become a business, a black market business if you will, likely run by criminal elements. Individuals will have items they can barter with, but in most cases, a person would not be able to afford to part with the items they do have. Anyone not prepared will have nothing to barter with, so looters will be active as well as desperate.

Looters and other criminals will steal so they can then use the stolen items, or just to barter with for other goods. Real trading will be based On ‘long term’ items. Seeds, not food. Arrows, not ammo. Tools, not filters. See, once the ‘short duration expendables’ are consumed, you won’t be re-supplying, you’ll be making your own or doing without. From turning your own arrow shafts, to cutting arrowheads from old license plates; from building filtration weirs to filter water, to needing copper tubing to make ‘wood-fired-water-heaters’. Knowledge and durable supplies (axes, hammers, spoke shaves, saw blades, etc.) will be the real money.

He who has stocked dozens of saw blades will be king. He who sits on a case of toilet paper will be sad he didn’t learn how to replace it with what they used 200 years ago, instead (FYI, toilet paper is only about a 100-year old concept – ask yourself, what did they use before that, and get a real clue – because THAT is VERY valuable in the long term!)

So, forget stocking for that 2-week event, it’s not that difficult. The hard part is stocking for the total paradigm shift, that few remember how to do much of. You won’t be making your own saw blades anytime soon. Now, ask yourself, what else will you NOT be making, that you need to learn how to make, or replace with older technology, before you need it (or need to trade it).

Here are the invaluable skills that will likely help you sustain yourself in a hand-made local world:

Organic Gardening and Seed Saving:

Skills involving food production will be the most valuable in a post-collapse society. Learning to grow your own food is a must. Obviously, it is necessary to feed your family, but you will also be able to trade your abundance for other items. Additionally, learning to save seeds will also provide another excellent means of trade. Understanding permaculture design for your garden can help reduce water consumption and use the lands natural resources. Aquaponics can provide plants, fish, and store water.

Food Processing and Preservation:

Learning to process and preserve foods will be another huge skill in a post-collapse world. Taking seasonal abundance and preserving it for future consumption or trade will be vital. Remember, learning to do this with limited electricity is a must. One necessity for every homestead is having someone who knows how to butcher animals and preserve them for future consumption by smoking, salt curing, or dehydrating. This can also include learning to brew beer, mead, vinegar, or other alcoholic beverages from meager ingredients.

Hunting, Fishing, and Gathering:

Learning to fish and hunt is essential to survival. Having the proper gear and training will be priceless after the collapse of modern civilization. Having reference guides for edible plants in your region, repairing weapons, trapping wild game, and fishing are great tools to have if you haven’t the time to learn them now. You should also take the time to learn or refine your skills on hunting using quiet weapons like bows, slingshots, knives, and spears.

Animal Husbandry:

Knowledge of animal husbandry can provide endless amounts of sustainable meat, eggs, and milk to you and your tribe. Your farm animals are the most valuable food source you have since they can reproduce. Knowing which animals to breed and when is an important part of farming and should not be learned through mistakes.


Knowing how to cook without using your time-saving, electricity driven appliances may not be as easy as you think. Practice cooking with your stored food supplies using no or very little electricity. You will soon realize how much more time and preparation it takes to do what once was a simple task. Learn to cook using a dutch oven, a sun oven, an outdoor fire pit, and whatever means you have for cooking.

Foraging: Someone who knows how to forage for wild edibles and can increase your food supplies, becomes an asset to any group. There will be a high demand for this skill.


Water Purification: Since it’s difficult to pump well water without electricity, unless you have a hand pump, and with surface water likely to be contaminated, clean water will be in very limited supply. Learning to purify water will allow you thrive during this time. You can also purchase water filters for your go-bag and you can have back-up tablets should you need them. However, the skill and knowledge to purify water should be the goal as that can never run out.

Collecting and Storing Water: Do you have enough stored water for you to survive through the first 30 days post disaster? Most do. How about for 3 months….or 9 months? Now, do you have enough for your family members? If you have a family of five and want to store a one year’s supply of water you would need to have over 1800 gallons, and that’s just for drinking. Now, how about the extended family members who show up on your doorstep? Your animals? Your garden? Your sanitation, hygiene and cleaning? Whew! Now you understand how it can be very difficult to store all of the water you would need, so knowing how to collect water to replenish your stored supplies is invaluable.


Ham Radio: Do you have your ham radio license or at the very least own and know how to operate a ham radio? Having a skilled ham radio expert in your group is a necessary key component to keeping up on communications and knowing what is going on in the world around you. Remember, tv, cell phone, the internet, will all most likely be down. Understanding how to make and set up an antennae to improve your radio signal and knowing morse code are other valuable skills to include in your arsenal.

Communications: Not all people know how to truly communicate well with others. During stressful and hazardous times, people with great communication skills will be valued for their abilities. Knowing how to handle and calm down people and even groups on the verge of fighting can save lives.

Languages: Knowing a second language is a great skill to have. If you were to know a second or even third language what would you choose? Hopefully you would choose the language of your most dangerous threat. Knowing what others are saying over radio communications can be a very valuable piece of intel.


Self-sustainability is one of the most important skills to learn. You can store food, water, and everything else you may need for survival but when those stored supplies run out, and they will, how will you replenish them? Knowing how to live off the land, grow a garden, raise animals, store seeds, hunt for food, or make your own clothing can prolong your survivability.A very important skill is knowing how to cure meats and butcher animals. This might take a little while to show its merit, but if you’ve got the guts and knowhow to slaughter and butcher a variety of animals for consumption, demand for your skills will gradually return and rise as society starts to regulate again. Even during the hardest of times, if you can find work as a butcher it is usually sufficient to allow you to keep food on the table, as you can at least trade your skills as a butcher for a suitable share of the meat, if nothing else.


Take away all electricity and go back to the old ways of living. What did your grandparents or great grandparents do? How did people survive during the great depression or dust bowl? If we don’t understand our history we are doomed to repeat it. Some skills that will be useful are: fire making, camp cooking, basket weaving, pottery making, animal tracking, tool making, tanning hides, rock climbing, knot tying, etc.

Other useful skills include teaching, knitting, piloting an aircraft, sailing, music, etc.

The only way to understand how we can live without our electricity driven modern conveniences is to live without them.

Test #1 Turn off your electricity for a few hours. Take notes on how it affected you. What did you learn? What did you need that you didn’t have and what wasn’t necessary at all?

Test #2 Turn off your electricity for a weekend. Take notes again and see how your answers changed or stayed the same. How did you cook? How did you get water? What would you change?

Test #3 Turn off your electricity for a week. Sounds hard? Try doing it for a few months or a few years, because that is what can happen after a large scale disaster. Be uncomfortable now knowing that you can flick the switch back on whenever you want. Learn from your mistakes now while you can make them. Appreciate the fact that these are just tests we’re putting ourselves through and not the real thing. The more you practice the easier it will become and you may come to realize how little you miss the modern life.


Shelter building can really fall under two categories. One being outdoor wilderness survival and the other would be construction to your current home and property. In this section we will focus on the later.


Construction skills will be very important in a shattered civilization. These skills, especially without power tools, are not something you learn overnight. If you have some basic skills it may be worth learning a few techniques for building small structures with crude hand tools. There are many books teaching anyone how to build basic cabins, sheds, and composting outhouses.


First Aid and Trauma: This is another skill that can take years to develop and learn, but that will be crucial when supply lines of pharmaceuticals are cut off and hospitals are over-run. You will need an emergency medic who can perform appendectomies, c-sections, and set broken bones. If having a nurse or doctor in your group is not an option, then learning basic procedures for stitching wounds, CPR, and more will be an absolute necessity for every adult and teenager in your family group.

Veterinary Skills:

Your farm animals are vital to your survival. Horses are a tool for transportation, your goats are your milk supply and your chickens and rabbits are your protein. Heaven forbid that they have any health issues that require immediate veterinary care. Learn at least the basics about the animals you are caring for because they are depending on you as much as you are on them.


Knowing how to pull a tooth, fix a filling, and manage pain during dental procedures will come in handy.

Natural Medicine:

Knowledge of growing herbal gardens for making medicine at home will prove to be very important. Being the tribe’s shaman with a natural medicine chest is a prestigious position.


I know this may not sound important compared to food and water but if you think about it, it is. When a disaster strikes, whether it be natural or man made, the creature comforts that people have grown accustomed to throughout their lives will no longer be there. No more daily showers and washing your hair with apple scented shampoo. No more flushing the toilet 10 times a day. Sanitation services that require power will no longer be functioning. This will quickly lead to diseases being spread rapidly. Learning how to build a composting toilet, a solar hot water heater, or a sewer drainage system is important. It is good to know how to make your own toothpaste, deodorant, soap and shampoo and stock up on the supplies necessary.


Home and Property:

Regardless of the threat, an ideal home is one that is secure and can keep you safe from a person or people who mean to do you harm. Take the time now to learn how to protect your home, land, and everything on it as best you can. This includes farm animals. Your animals are a valuable asset and must be protected from hungry predators, including man and beast.

Personal Defense:

Learn how to protect yourself through hand to hand combat. There may be times when you’re in the garden or tending to the property and are caught off guard by a lone stalker or a group of marauders. I know this sounds Mad Max but when the SHTF it can happen. Learn to use your tools as weapons. Nunchucks were originally used to harvest rice.


If you are going to own a gun then get the training necessary to know how to properly use it. Know how to clean it and store it as well. Someone that has the knowledge and can train others on weapons and strategies will be a valuable asset. Gun smithing is another important skill to master.


Alternative Energy and Fuels:

Having the knowledge to implement alternative energy systems will make you a wealthy survivor in a “dark” world. You can learn to build your own alternative energy systems through solar, hydro, and wind power. Knowledge of how to create energy would be invaluable when oil is scarce.

In the event of a grid failure, all life as we know it will change. The ability to build or do anything without power will become a life-saving skill in itself – but it will make sure you have a steady supply of either cash or barter goods coming your way. Most other folks – even if they have some of these things – don’t have any skill in using them. Your skills and services will not only be in demand, but may just be the thing that keeps your family or tribe thriving.

Here is a list with the best items you can stock for trading:

Tools (saw blades, hatchets, axe heads, hammer heads – many sourceable from auctions, garage sales, etc.)
A simple still (or the components to assemble one), as this will make your alcohol for drinking, cleaning, medical use, etc. (don’t forget to learn how to make the corn mash itself, or to have extra parts put back)

Bows,arrows and bowstrings.Learn to make alternative bows (PVC bows are excellent, weather-proof), and how to turn arrow shafts, as well as how to lace and tie bowstrings – not all string will suffice for it – dacron works well.

Barrels. Learn to make filtration weirs for water. Forget store filtration units, understand how rain barrels work, how to purify water with boiling, and how settlement works to remove metals. Extra barrels are highly tradeable.

Seeds. Forget trading foods, long-term you will have far more demand for trading seeds. Those with the most-seeds and largest fresh selection will draw the best trades.
Salt,sugar, pepper and spices.Long-term storable items are great (salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, some cheeses, dehydrated or cured foods possibly). He who can build a primitive dehydrator, and had the parts to trade to others, will be king. Dried beans and salt-cured hams can last 24 months, these will be in demand as well. Jerky was used and looked-at differently 200 years ago (the jerky was used as a stew meat with the salt extracted to flavor soups and stews – knowing this extends the use of your stocks – and IS TRADEABLE INFORMATION!)

Survival information is valuable, and in a time when it is desperately needed, being able to have a few copies of condensed information on-hand and barter-ready will be very valuable, indeed. Type up and print a dozen copies of general information that others may not readily have.
Ferroceramic rods and striking steels. Fire-making will ALWAYS be critical, and having a dozen extra ferroceramic rods and striking steels will be worth their weight in gold, if it all goes south.

Containers. Enough can’t be said for water containers. Seems simple now, but if things go wrong, one of the hardest things to usually find is a good canteen or water jug. Put enough back for yourself, but put more back for trade. The harder to break, the better. I’ve got a dozen military 1-qt canteens laying around here and there, in a pinch, I have 2-3 I’ll use, but the rest can be had – for a price.

Blankets.Everyone needs a warm place to sleep. Funny thing is, linens wear out pretty fast – as do blankets. A good blanket is like a good coat. We’ve all planned for clothes (I hope), but when’s the last time you heard someone brag about having a couple of good wool blankets put back? I’ve got two good wool blankets. I paid not very much for each of them. Let the power go out, in November, and you not have one. I don’t know how much you’re willing to pay for them, but I know what you’re going to trade me for them, if you don’t want to freeze at night. I won’t trade both at all, but I’ll be looking for what would be several thousand dollars worth of trade for the one I can ‘spare’.

Tobacco will have a great demand. Cigarettes, cigars, loose tobacco; supplies may be limited or altogether unavailable after whatever catastrophe has occurred, so tobacco products would become even more valuable than they already are. Tobacco doesn’t keep forever, but properly stored loose tobacco, cigarettes or cigars can last several years.

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