If we prep skills, we should also prep to trade them

A post I saw elsewhere got me thinking about this. We talk a lot about acquiring useful skills for a crisis, but if we are really well prepared, we should also prepare to engage in the trade of services (and goods) in a sustained situation. I don’t just mean being available to help others, but actually planning to establish a tradeable service as part of your prep. 

People can’t stay isolated forever, and they will need help from others, not just stuff. Plus–as we know from basic economics–trade improves social relations and amplifies human capital in groups. Some examples that have occurred to me:

– Get the most extensive first aid skills you can, and plan to set up a small minor-injuries clinic; have tons of extra medical supplies and something you can set up into an exam table. 

– Set up a small daycare

– Offer to clean and break down game for others

– Security services

– Psychological support

– Equipment repair

You could trade these for cash, goods, or other services. I think this is important because you can’t possibly acquire every necessary skill. Since most of us are in cities or even rural areas that aren’t super isolated, should this be something we discuss more? When I started thinking about the services I could offer, I started feeling less worried about all the shortfalls in my current preparedness. I’m interested in your thoughts.


  • Comments (17)

    • 3

      Planning on bartering during an extended crisis is always a good strategy.  I assume a lifetime of gardening, growing fruit & nut trees and raising chickens & catfish has given me some skills others might find useful.  Primarily, I plan on bartering goods, as opposed to services.  I have lots of food & garden seed in storage.  My neighbor has a herd of cattle.  I’m sure we would work together in a crisis.

      • 2

        That’s a huge one. Not everyone knows how to raise plants for food, and there’s way more skill and knowledge to it than people assume.

    • 4

      Good topic!

      I think beyond developing barterable skills, it’s also important to think about how to barter them in a way that builds community rather than breeding resentment.  Even in normal times, some people unfortunately think of “good” bartering as being about “getting the best deal” in any given one-time interaction, rather than building positive long-term networks.  I can see this issue becoming drastically amplified in an extended emergency.

      I would be particularly wary of trying to barter first-aid skills, because anyone needing them is in an inherently vulnerable situation, plus there’s a long-standing societal expectation that such should be rendered for free. 

      Say your neighbor’s child has gotten cut on something dirty, and could die of infection.  In the moment the parents would be willing to give almost anything to have the wound semi-professionally cleaned and dressed with sterile bandages, but if you fleece them in their time of need by demanding they give up something they don’t want to part with, or you’ll let their child die, they’re going to hold a grudge forever – as will all of their friends, and anyone with children. . . 

      Asking for something small in return – and without the threat of refusing aid if they can’t deliver – might not feel “fair” to you, given the value of the service you rendered (“I saved their child’s life, and all I got was some surplus veggies from their garden?”) but it would build long-term social capitol instead of bitter resentment. 

      Other skills may be less extremely fraught with social peril, but even so, it’s important not to make others feel taken advantage of, or at a minimum, they will eventually find someone else to barter with.

      • 3

        I was thinking of this too and agree there’s an element of social networks to consider. Whenever there’s a water shortage, people get outraged at others who are selling water because they should “give it away for free” or “out of the goodness of their hearts.” Those people have needs too, and why should they be penalized for being organized and thinking ahead?

        Providing healthcare is probably the trickiest one because people are so irrational about it. I live in Canada, and I guarantee you that, if there was a crisis that caused emergency wait times to balloon to 12 hours, and I offered to patch up someone’s small injury in exchange for something, I’d be drawn and quartered by people who’d also demand that I give away all my bandages and saline rinse.

        Exchange of services otherwise might be seen with less hostility than offering to trade your prep goods, because some people (who were warned but did nothing) would perceive that as you gloating about your supplies.

        Perhaps if there was some network of preppers specifically engaging in the trade of services, if you’re in a region with enough preppers?

      • 3

        I think it’s very true that bartering (most) skills would be seen with less hostility than bartering stored supplies, though I think we can count any supplies we can grow/raise/forage/craft on an ongoing basis more in with skills in that regard.  Trading sweet corn you just grew is less likely to arouse hostility than trading a case of canned corn from your deep pantry. 

      • 2

        Some things are above trade, admittedly there might be a finite amount of medical supplies but when you’re talking about saving a neighbour’s child or letting the child die because the child’s parents have no marketable skills then it’s a no brainer decision to help the kid. Accept the fact that gratitude has a very short half-life and move on. I believe in paying kindness forward. Spreading a little good will, smiling a greeting and being fundamentally decent can also help to keep the people around you a lot more civilised 

    • 5

      Great topic, Frozen22. I would amplify that “daycare” might not only apply to children. I could imagine daytime eldercare needs, as well. I live in an area with a large number of older people, and also I follow the covid news fairly closely, where long covid and a possible pandemic mass disabling wave is on my mind.

      I wonder about how adults with memory issues and cognitive issues could be cared for in various future scenarios. They might not be able to be left alone for extended periods, yet younger folks might need to have freedom to come and go. I could imagine neighborhood-based or area-based small-scale daycare for children and a separate one for vulnerable adults. 

      • 3

        You’re absolutely right. A cousin of mine has an adult child with a severe cognitive disability. She lives with her mother, but goes to a respite program twice a week for half a day. Those two periods are a lifeline when my cousin can shop, etc. Covid shut that program down and my cousin was basically trapped in her house, it was awful.

    • 4

      I would add cooking as a potential skill.

      In the TV show I am watching, there was an episode where a lady moves into all men’s miner’s camp with her cast iron stove and sets up a little restaurant giving the men a nice home cooked meal. She makes a killing and her restaurant explodes in popularity.

      If you had the food storage, and know-how to cook with those ingredients, you could do very well in a society where some only know how to order fast food or click start on the microwave.

    • 2

      A lot would depend on the nature of the crisis but those of us with specialist skills like medical, tradesman, etc will immediately come to mind. If your skills are in demand it is reasonable to expect to barter and negotiate.

      Regarding Canadian’s experience with nationalized healthcare and therefore significant resistance to bartering I would respond; ‘Ok great, then you are used to waiting. You’re on my list and I’ll get to you when I have an opening’

      I believe the single most important skill all of us can bring to the table in a crisis is a positive attitude, a willingness to volunteer for anything we might be able to do and empathy for those around us. As the crisis unfolds we will see what work we are especially able to do for others.

      • 2

        +1 Good attitude is a must.

    • 2

      I thought of a closely related question that might be interesting to discuss in this forum:

      Are there any prepper skills you don’t have any plans to master yourself, that you would hope instead to barter something for such services in a long-term emergency?

      • 3

        That is a good question and one that made me think. I want to learn the basics of first aid, but have no intentions of learning more advanced techniques such as which antibiotics to use, how to stitch up a wound, or perform a surgery. It’s just complicated and involves quite a lot of practice and knowledge to master, yet is very unlikely to occur compared to smaller injuries and other areas of prepping that I need to devote my time and energy towards first.

        Also learning how to pickle. It’s a great way to preserve food, but I don’t like pickles.

      • 2

        Ooh, I like seeing pickling mentioned, because I pickle all kinds of things but never really thought of it as a potentially barterable skill. 

        In giving some thought to my own question, the main thing I come up with is auto repair.  Cars are really not my thing, and aside from basic maintenance type stuff, I know almost nothing about them except how to tear one apart.  So in a semi-collapsed version of civilization – one where there is still fuel available to some degree, but for whatever reason new parts aren’t available or I can’t access the services of a professional mechanic – I would be looking for someone with the skills and knowledge to keep a car running as long as possible with whatever replacement parts could be scavenged.  One of those people who seem to have all makes and models of cars and their various parts memorized enough that they can say off the top of their head, “Oh, you can use a such-and-such from an ’07 blah-blah-blah in an ’04 something-something no problem, they’re almost the same part!”

      • 2

        Some hedge fund advisors are publicly saying that the idea inflation will go down with interest rates in 6-9 months is meant only to influence the upcoming US midterm elections. They are saying high interest rates, high inflation and low economic growth are going to be with us for 5-10 years. Emmanuel Macron made the same point, at length, in a speech to the National Assembly yesterday.

        The reasons for this are many but in a nutshell it is the end of the dollar decoupled from gold. Some of them are saying there will be a Bretton Woods 3 to slow the demise of the dollar. This is not a ‘new thing’ but has been in the works for many years. The West is cleaving from the East as they create their own gold/commodity based currencies and trading frameworks to escape the influence of the dollar and the West.

        As far as this thread goes, there will be opportunity to use these skills as the standard of living for the middle class and the poor is squeezed.

      • 2

        The major problem with what the economists are discussing is historically massive inflation with its associated price rises is often followed by deflation which is usually associated with contraction of the economy and job losses meaning that even if goods are available for a reasonable price, too few people have enough money to afford to buy them. This in turn impacts manufacturing as supply outstrips demand, prices fall and businesses collapse.

        The current surge in the price of energy in Europe is likely to have such an effect, understanding this will help you plan. There are fortunes to be lost or made.

    • 1

      I love this idea! Definitely something that should help take the anxiety out of prepping.