Like any other preparedness activity, there are rules and risks to the skill of bartering for needed goods, supplies, and services. Without taking the time to consider any precautions or guidelines, you would be at risk of losing the supplies you have come to trade. Worse still, in a WROL situation, you could end up showing dangerous and desperate people that you have lots of good stuff (so much stuff that you can afford to get rid of some of it), which of course would put you and your group at even higher risk.
This article is not meant to be the definitive work on the risks and rewards of bartering. It’s merely meant to get your creative juices flowing and set the stage for more thorough articles. So dust off your silver coins and divide up your heirloom seeds; we’re ready to take a look at five quick rules for better (and safer) bartering in a post-disaster setting.
1. Where to Trade
Let’s start with the places you don’t want to trade. How about your home? How about the dark alley at midnight? Or the middle of the woods in a rainstorm? Nope to all three!
If your community is civil enough for trading to take place, it would likely happen in an open and familiar site, like a town square, park or playground – not at your property (where potential bad guys can scope out your resources and manpower). And you may have to kick-start the process. Non-preppers probably wouldn’t even think of bartering, but if you could convince some of your prepped neighbors to gather at the park at noon and set out some items to trade, you may be able to start a very beneficial activity for your area.
2. Never Trade Out of Desperation
You may be in trouble after a crisis. Your child may need medicine that you can’t seem to find. You may have run out of food, soap, or toilet paper. You have stuff that others might need, and you need stuff that you do not have. Trading may seem like the natural solution, but pump the brakes! If you are even a little bit desperate, other people will smell it on you like you stepped in dog crap. They’ll be less likely to trust or trade with a desperate person, and your desperation may lead you to make emotional choices – rather than logical ones – during trade sessions.
As much as possible, divorce your feelings from the barter process. Stay emotionally detached from the things you have brought to trade, and the things you are trying to get (even when you really want them or need them). Desperation, anxiety, hopelessness, and agitation can cause you to make poor choices, and those choices could quickly come back to haunt you.
3. Always Show Up Early
If you’ve ever been to a flea market, swap meet or yard sale, then you know you have to be there early. The best stuff is always the first to be snatched up!
Even if you’re very early to some pre-planned trade session, bide your time and watch as people set out their goods. It’s generally not appropriate to bother people while they are setting up during a junk sale in civilized times. But during crazy times, all bets are off. As soon as somebody unveils something you want or need, make an offer.
Showing up early is the secret to getting the first pick. And while you may annoy some people with your early bird habit, it’s the early bird that gets the worm. Being early also prevents a major trade foul: being late. If you planned to trade at a specific time, each minute you are late stacks up against you in the mind of your prospective trade partner.
4. Never Go Alone
“Look at all my cool stuff! I planned for the apocalypse! And I’m all by myself!”
Unless you’re in a full life raft, there’s strength in numbers, and the more people you have, the stronger your situation will be. Going alone is a major security risk. You’d be an easy target as a sole trader, and you’ll gather all the wrong kinds of attention if you’re solo and you have good stuff.
5. Never Push Your Luck
On a typical day, people feel slighted over the slightest things. It would seem that aggrieved and “triggered” is our national state of being these days. So how much wiggle room do you think you’d have in people’s minds and hearts after some kind of collapse – especially if you’re pushing their buttons or trying to get one over on them? If I were you, I wouldn’t expect much patience or forgiveness in the wake of a crisis.
Pushing your luck can happen in many different ways. You might demand more for something than it is worth. You might bring wildly valuable things (like antibiotics) to the trade blanket and then refuse to trade them when none of the offered trade goods tickle your fancy. You might even go too far with your tone or manner of speech.
If there is enough civility for trading during or after a disaster (and that’s a very big IF), that civility would be hanging by a thread. Don’t be the one who sets off a fist fight, shoot out, or smash and grab at the community trade blanket. That might be the end of neighborhood trading, and your neighbors won’t forget that you’re the one who ruined it.
Remember, you’re trying to establish a trading network and set up trades where everyone walks away feeling like the trade was a “win.” If you push your luck, it could push good trade partners away.