I came across this excellent article on survivalblog that has some fantastic suggestions for low cost, durable, useful items that in a pinch could be used for barter.
32 count Strike-anywhere matchbooks. I bought 120 boxes for $20. on eBay. Just $.17 per box. Fire is life. The boxes themselves fit nicely in the pocket, and are lightweight. So handy and useful. It’s clear at first glance that they are genuine. For small trades, 2 or 3 individual matches may even be traded, if they are strike-anywhere matches. Otherwise, you’ll need the box for striking.
Cartridges. .22 LR is very inexpensive now, but eventually may be hard to get. I just bought a bunch of 50 round boxes, for $1.65 each, at Dunham Sports. That’s just 3.4 cents per cartridge. They should be highly sought after a collapse for shooting small game, etc. Like matches, individual rounds may trade for small things, and whole boxes for larger items. Stock up on the size ammo you use yourself, as well as very common sizes. I expect shotgun shells will also be very popular, and there are just a few common sizes to choose from. Even if the worst never comes, you’ll have lots of ammo at 2010 prices, which may seem cheap a few years from now.
Candles. I bought 144 of the 15-hour unscented white Votive candles for $48, or just $.33 each, at Candledepot.com. I’ve seen 500 of the 6 hour candles for 20 cents each on eBay. In either case, these are much smaller and cheaper than the Nuwick 120 hour candles. (2 cents per hours versus 8 cents per hour). They fit nicely in your pocket, and are lightweight and durable. You get light, and can cook with them using several candles under a pan. Others will want them, when the grid goes down. If you’re looking for a business after TSHTF, I saw a Votive candle maker on eBay for $1,500.
Calcium Hypochlorite (granular chlorinating powder / pool shock) 1 lb bags cost just $3.50 at inyopools.com and will make roughly 12,000 gallons safe for drinking. I’ve put away 4 bags.
1/8 oz of the powder will make a gallon of Chlorine Bleach. So each 1 pound bag makes about 1,000 pints of Bleach. Each pint of Bleach will then disinfect 12+ gallons of water.
Pint-size plastic bottles should be very common, and part of your own water storage stash. As a business, you could sell or trade pints of Chlorine Bleach that you have made with your powder. A quick whiff of the bleach should convince your customers that it’s genuine. Your customers can then disinfect 12 gallons of water that they acquire on their own. You can have a business, and maybe save lives at the same time.
Seeds. Once things shake out, many people will be anxious to get a garden started. Seed packets are useful for you to have tucked away, and the perfect size and weight for trading. And they have a long shelf life if kept cool and dry. Sealed commercial packets will have instant credibility as being genuine. Plus, they’ll have instructions on the back. Watch for close-out sales after the planting season winds down and stock up on the most popular seeds. Again, your trade items will make life better for others.
2 cycle motor oil in pre-sized bottles. When trouble comes, people will have lots of 2 stroke items like Chainsaws that they need to keep running. They’ll probably be able to find gasoline in small quantities, but a little bottle of oil, just right for 2 gallons of gas, could be very hot for trading.
Rechargeable AA and D batteries. When the grid fails, people will turn to batteries for lights and small appliances. And they will quickly go thru the few regular ones they have lying in the drawer. IF you have a supply of rechargeable batteries, and the solar set-up to re-charge them, and offer to swap Charged batteries for their Discharged batteries, you’ll have a sustainable business. You charge a high price for their first rechargeable batteries, but then swap charged batteries for discharged batteries at a discount. Stock up now, and you can keep the neighborhood happy and electrified.
Nails. When things are unsettled, people will need to work on their shelter and Jerry-rig various contraptions. Nails will be vital. Individual nails may trade like individual cartridges or matches. Wood screws should be stocked as well. Watch for sales, and buy lots of boxes. Hit the garage and estate sales too. While there, pick up non-power tools for your own use.
Thread, straight pins, needles and safety pins. When Wal-Mart isn’t open to sell you new clothes, sewing will be important. And that will mean repairing what you’ve got, as well as making new items. Who will still be making safety pins, when the balloon goes up? Better to stock up now, and fill that need when it arises. Shop at Dollar stores or Wholesale clubs for bulk pins and thread. Also watch the garage sales and estate sales.
Cable ties. Lightweight, and so handy. When people have to fend more for themselves, cable ties will be very handy. You can buy a big tube of various size ties, for less than a penny each. I see them at bargain prices at flea markets, but test a few out, to be sure they actually work!