How to barter

The word barter is thought to have it’s origin from an Old French word barater which means ‘deceive’.

The origin of the word should have been my first clue as to why I am terrible at bartering. I mean I am really, really bad at it.

Deception is not in my repertory. I found an item online one time and called the seller. The conversation went something like this:

Seller: “Hello.”

Me: “Hi, you have a tea pot for sale?”

Seller: “Yes, it’s still for sale.” 

Me: “Great. I don’t want to buy it. I just called to tell you that I have one like it and you are not charging enough for it. You’ve underpriced it by about a hundred dollars. It’s a collector’s item. I thought you should know.”

Seller: “Thank you.”

On another day, in an antique store I begged my friend to barter on my behalf. He told me no and that I must learn. I tried to tell him I have no aptitude for bartering, but he stood his ground.

I approached the store owner. “Would you accept eighty dollars for that picture over there?”

The store owner was stone faced as he said “No.” It was a hard, flat “no” without even the hint of maybe you could try again in his tone.

I paid full price for my picture and watched in awe as my friend put his items on the counter and then proceeded to coax a smile from the stone faced owner and a reduction on every single item he bought.

Dejected, I consoled myself by thinking of all the things I am good at, but as a highly competitive person, that wasn’t good enough. I resolved that some day, I too, would be able to barter like a pro.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Canada, my “not yet met” husband was the King of garage sale wheeling and dealing.

Do you know that he was actually  paid to take an item? All he said was “who would pay a dollar to buy this thing?” The lady running the sale said “I’ll give you two dollars to take it with you.” He found out later that she would have gone as high as five dollars.

He walked away with a taxidermy frog. The frog had it’s hands tacked to a bongo drum and sported a sombrero emblazoned with Tijuana perched jauntily on it’s head. He was posed behind the bongo drum as if he would burst into song if the taxidermist hadn’t sewn his mouth shut.

Although Senor Frog is long gone, he spoke wistfully of it tonight when we discussed the concept of bartering. “It was such a great conversation piece.” I swear there was a tear in his eye.

Ay Caramba!

He is also the only person I know who jacked up the price on every item at his garage sale because sales were slow. He figured, people aren’t buying because my prices are too low and they aren’t perceiving value or quality. So, he doubled the price of everything!

He sold everything and made out like a bandit. Barater, indeed.
Most preppers at some point bring up barter. We want to have the skills or goods to barter for other items we might need. 

I think it is an important skill to have. So, I wanted to learn how does one barter effectively?

The first article I found was titled “6 Major Disadvantages of the Barter System.” I was hopeful, perhaps I wouldn’t have barter, after all. 

The article is about microeconomics and how it’s hard find someone who has a cow to barter with your horse. It really becomes a problem when you only want to pay four sheep for someone’s horse. They want five sheep. If only you could divide a sheep, you could have made a deal at four and one half sheep for that horse.

I read through it but still didn’t know how to barter and I had a major headache.

Here’s the link for it if anyone likes microeconomics served with a side of order of headache.


Then I found this website and thought I might just have a chance of learning how to do this properly.


I am still not there yet. The last article gave me hope but I wondered if anyone here could share about how they learned to barter successfully?

Does anyone have any tips or suggestions for successful bartering?

I have a feeling I’m going to need all the help I can get and there is no way I’m sending my husband to barter. One Senor Frog is enough.


  • Comments (11)

    • 5

      Good morning Ubique,

      Bartering is merely a subcategory of business negotiations. Bartering really does require support systems.

      My only contribution here is to know “when to fold ’em” – when to leave the poker game. It is a requirement to have pre-established “red lines” for when you will end discussions.

      As a prepper, no red lines here.  The entire face of the instrument is red: NO bartering. One of the reasons is that the person offering me a Canadian Maple Leaf gold coin will have both TB and a COVID variant. That other person is armed and setup to steal what I display.

      Risks I’ll take. No gambling !

      Back to stirring the Yellow Pine bark tea ………..

      cc: Ingred Newkirk, PETA 

      • 5

        Good morning Bob,

        That is what I was thinking – bartering involves peripheral support systems to function properly. I noted that in the 60/70’s when people went back to the land. It seemed to work best when there was a more structured approach to how they arrived at a value system that supported their transactions.

        It wasn’t a case of one person walking away feeling ripped off or dissatisfied by the transaction. Both parties felt a fair and equitable deal had been negotiated. Although, there were probably exceptions as in any other transaction.

        The risk of robbery re “goods on display” is another reason I am not a fan of this concept during a crisis. One would need the structure of an established and trusted bartering community. Big caveat here relates to something posted here recently regarding behavior – we need to know that the person we are dealing  with is trustworthy under a variety of conditions. Some relationships haven’t stood the test of time or stress.

        Even now, people are being robbed and worse just for putting in a want ad. One man, in a high profile case in Canada, was murdered because he had his truck for sale and a predator answered the ad.

        If I were going to barter, then maybe, skills might be okay. One would still have to be careful. Barter the wrong skills and you could be extorted, threatened or even held hostage as a resource.

        Flying under the radar works for me.

    • 6

      This is such a great post and topic to have brought up – I believe these types of aspects of a medium to longer-term survival situation are highly overlooked but really important!

      I think “trading” is an option, but ONLY if you have trusted and established relationships with other people before the crises occurs.  Otherwise you do risk robbery and worse by trying to interact with strangers.  

      For example – you’re into preparedness.  As part of your preparedness journey you find other people / families who are also into preparedness in your general area.  Perhaps you have a great garden and they have some chickens, cows and goats.  You build a relationship over the months and years.  When a crisis occurs, you could easily trade your garden output for eggs, milk, etc.

      My plan is definitely not to barter or trade with strangers during a crisis situation.  

      However I would give food and assistance to people where I could and not ask anything in return.  Regardless of the risks, I personally believe that’s the right thing to do.

      • 4


        I think the established relationships or community are the way to go also.

        This year, I am going to begin sourcing some items from small family farms in the area and see where that might lead. It’s hard to do now because there is so much big factory farming going on in the grain industry.

        I’m also looking at my skills and supplementing them with courses to become a main form of barter if needed in the future. 

    • 4

      I would like to think that I’m decent at getting a good deal. Here are some of my tips:

      • Know the value of the item. Having the Amazon or eBay app on your phone is nice to quickly look up an item.
      • Know how long the item has been listed for. If someone just posted their car for sale yesterday, they probably won’t take a $2000 decrease. But if it’s been on there for two months, then that $2000 decrease is going to be more likely. Same with a garage sale. People might not like giving away things for a quarter during the first hour of them putting stuff out, but towards the end of the day the would rather have someone take it off their hands then to bring that item back inside their house.
      • Don’t offer an incredibly low you will just get brushed off. Don’t offer $10 or $20 for a guitar listed at $50. Try something more like $40 or even safer try $45. 
      • If messaging someone on Craigslist or other classifieds about an item, show your sense of seriousness and urgency. Say something like “I’m interested in your guitar that you have listed on Craigslist. When was the last time you replaced the strings? Is there any dents or chips in the paint? Would you be able to take $45 for it, I can be there in 15 minutes.”
      • I like doing my bartering before hand over text. It’s easy to do while just starting off into the bartering world and distances yourself from them. You can feel more confident and there isn’t that awkwardness if you get rejected.
      • Once you have built up your skills though it is good to barter in person after looking at the item, you are able to turn that awkwardness against the seller in your favor. How would you feel if I wanted to come look at a car that you were selling. I asked you some questions beforehand through text (I’m using up some of your time), set up a meeting time and we both met halfway at a local grocery store parking lot (making the seller do some of the work and I do some), I then check it over and do my test drive, you probably have your spouse and maybe kids with you in a second car so that you could drive home from that location if I decide to buy it (more pressure from the spouse and kids to hurry things up), I then say that I really like the car and would like to buy it. I ask if you can take $4500. (car was listed at $5000). Depending on how long the car has been listed for and how much you feel like they are wanting to get rid of it, this might be accepted, especially since they have a lot of time invested in you and don’t want to start that whole process over again with another buyer. If they say no or have a higher counter offer of something like “You know, the best I can really do is $4900” Then point out some of the issues it has “I would love to do $4900 if the tires had more tread on them but they are going to need replaced soon, that’s about $300. Can you do $4600?” They will probably agree to this or counter with something like $4700. You need to be prepared on where you place your money on your body. In this case I would have $4500 in my front right pocket, $200 in my front left pocket, $100 in my back left pocket, and $100 in my back right pocket. That way I can grab the $4500 from my front right pocket if they agree to the original amount I offered. If they counter with $4700 though then I can combine my two front pockets to make that amount without exposing that I could have done better.
      • Be able to walk away. If they won’t go down any on that $5000 car and won’t even take $4900 then say “Well thank you for your time, $4900 is all I can afford right now” Then just literally walk away. Most of the time they will stop you and take that amount.

      Some people just can’t be bartered with though. Here’s an example from me this week. I needed a new paper shredder and got an idea of what a new one would cost. A basic and cheap one that does what I need will probably be $35-$40.  I then looked on craigslist and found many that were in horrible condition for like $30 (I would rather buy a new one for that additional $5). But I did find one that looked to be in pretty good condition for $30 and even had the original box. The listing had said that it had been in storage since 2016 so it probably is just taking up space in someone’s house and they haven’t used it in years. The listing was 2 weeks old too so I thought I could get a slightly better deal since it wasn’t moving very fast. I texted them and said that I could be there next week and if they would take $25. They replied with “No”.

      Here’s where I went wrong. I should have called and asked if I can come buy the shredder right then. I then would show up to their house and check it out and then offer the $25. I think they didn’t want to ‘hold it’ for someone. In the end, if they said no to the $25 I should have went with the $30 because I looked it up and it was a $200 shredder and was a killer deal. The ability to not be able to go pick something up immediately is one of your biggest killers.

      So how does this apply to prepping? Develop this skill now while the stakes are low. If you are in the market for a couch or TV, check your local classifieds and see if there is something similar that is already discounted and where you can try and get an even bigger discount. One day you may have to barter a can of beans for some batteries and you need to have this skill down. 

      In a disaster I imagine many of the same skills will apply. 

      • Knowing the market and value of the item. Maybe you are trying to buy an ipod and there are 50 other ipods that don’t seem to be selling, chances are that the demand is low. In a disaster food and bullets will have a high demand the longer the disaster goes on for. 
      • Keep good security/opsec. If you are meeting with someone and are trying to trade your food for something and don’t want to go with their deal, they might get nasty and turn around and try and take it from you. Even during good times, I always carry some protection like OC spray so that I can protect myself from people trying to rip me off whether that be of the item I’m selling or if i’m buying then of my money. I used to work with the police and selling bikes and phones were popular to get ripped off with. The person will ask to see the phone and then just take off running. Bringing additional people to the buy/sell will decrease the likelihood of this.
      • 4


        Decent at it? You are fantastic at it! You should write a book on bartering the bartering challenged people like me. Or, you could be a barterer for hire.

        Your ideas are great and they helped me sooo much. Thank you for posting this

        One quick point about big ticket items, I always check for PPSA to ensure that there are no liens or chattel on the item. This can apply to big electronics and furniture as well as vehicles etc.

        My Dad bought a slide in camper for his 1/2 ton truck in the late 70’s on a private sale. The lady was sweet as pie and said “oh no, there are no liens.” But my Dad was all business told her he was going to check. Sure enough she had it pledged as chattel for an outstanding loan. He got the camper but his check was made out jointly to her and the bank she owed money to. 

    • 3

      I am horrible at bartering… Never been able to talk anything down, so I’m grateful for this post and have learned a lot

      • 2

        We’re going to do it Alisa. We are going to be so good at bartering, you wait and see.

      • 2

        Good afternoon Alisa,

        No need to treat the bartering subject as a negative. Most preppers do not excel in all the subjects.

        Consider affiliating with an area group. Many will not have the skills and experience you have.

      • 2

        Good morning Bob,

        It’s true that most of us do not excel in all the subjects. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot improve our skills or strive to do so.

        I have decided to consider bartering as negotiating and that I can relate to business rather than a personal endeavor. I think that might work for me.

        It could be come an important asset and I need to keep up with market rates for my skills (which I will list and value and keep in my prep binder). For example, I haven’t a clue what the going rate for seamstress/tailoring skills are, or how much to charge for painting a house. So, if I don’t know what the task/skill is worth, than I can’t value it and arrive at an equitable trade.

      • 1


        I have thought about bartering and decided to relate it to negotiating as in business. I thought it might help me be more confident as I have no problem dealing in a business situation.

        Also, I realized I need to sit down with a list of all my skills and assets and value them. As Robert said in his post “you need to know the market and value of the item.” I am including skill in that also.

        If you know the value of your skill or item you wish to buy, sell, or trade, then I think it helps to make one more confident.

        As I told Bob below, I have to find out what the going rating for seamstress/tailor jobs and other tasks that relate to my skills sets.

        Also, I decided to no longer think of it as “talking anything down” which puts stress on it right away. Instead, I’m going to look at as “I know the value of my skill or item and they have __________to trade or offer me. This way I can figure out in advance whether it is equitable. If not, I can determine fair value and make that the price I want or I walk.

        Robert’s suggestions above really helped me sort out the process.

        Hope this helps.