FORGET THE LISTS: Selco’s Guide to What You Should REALLY Store for Trade and Barter

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Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

Editor’s Note: We’ve all seen checklists all over the internet of “supplies to hoard” for when the SHTF, and things that the stores will run out of, and lists of items that you should store to set yourself up in a nice little black market post-apocalyptic business. But…a guy who’s actually been through SHTF has a completely different philosophy. Based on his experiences in the Balkan War, Selco doesn’t have much use for those lists. In this article, he sheds light on what you should REALLY store for trade and barter purposes. ~ Daisy

Selco’s Guide to What You Should REALLY Store for Trade and Barter

Discussions about trade and usage of trade are great because sooner or later when SHTF, you’ll find yourself in a situation to be involved in a trade.

Now this sentence above sounds great and you may think: “OK, let’s just store a whole bunch of items for trade”.

But what items?

Then you may look for info what is going to be missing once when SHTF and you may find out that (eventually) everything going to be gone and missing once when SHTF really bad.

So it is not about what is gonna be gone when SHTF when it comes to trade. It is much more about what makes sense to have stored for trade.

But since the whole trade topic got pretty much “hijacked” from the fiction industry, there are a lot of myths there, so let’s start from some common sense ideas first.

When you should trade during SHTF?

The answer is pretty weird and paradoxical.

The answer is that you should not trade, or you should avoid trade because the process is dangerous because it involves usually unknown people during a prolonged event where there is no law and order.

In a more serious event, it is one more level up in danger. It is an event where there is no law and order and there are clear signs that law and order are not coming back any time soon.

So, again you are involved in a process where you are holding valuable resources and showing them to another group of people in a time where there is no punishment from the system for the folks who want to shoot you because of those resources.

So it is very simple why trade should be avoided.


Since it is going to be impossible, here is what you are going to do for a start:

You will avoid any trade until you have useful information about what is happening around you (in your city for example).

That means you will try to gather info who is who in the new world around you, who is more dangerous, and who hold what resources for trade.

Eventually, you will gather the information. In a worst-case scenario, you will gather it “through the grapevine.”

The first period of SHTF is chaotic

Every SHTF is most chaotic in its first periods when there is no clear idea where are the biggest dangers are coming from, and that period is not really good or safe for going out and looking for someone who can give you antibiotics for your sick kid.

Do not get me wrong. Later periods are going to be maybe even more dangerous when it comes to the level of violence because then people usually realize there is no law coming back. But also usually it will be less chaotic in a way that you will have some kind of idea who is really dangerous, who is good for trade and who is not, who holds resources, where is the guy who own black market deals, etc.

And the solution of how to avoid trade in that chaotic period of no real information is simple – by good prepping.

For me, the point of having preps at home is not to survive the whole SHTF event. The point is to survive the event up to the moment when you can have a clear clue about what to do next without getting your self over-exposed.

In trade, that may mean simply bugging in and staying low and having enough food, meds, water, and ammo to last until you at least figure where is where and who is who.

If you have stashed for more then that is even better.

Pressure and misinformation are the biggest enemies of a good trade.

Often on my real courses, I do exercises of trade with students, and out of 5 students, usually, 3 of them fail on trade.

One might be fooled by friendship talk with me and take a pack of cigarettes which was full of small pebbles and pieces of tissues, simply because he trusted me too much.

Another may give up too much information to me because out of the friendly trade, one unknown guy shows up and started to question him, a guy that he did not even spot (and he should have).

Or others were simply were ambushed because they did not check the trade place in the correct way because they rushed there…

In real life, it may be you who is forced to go out in a really dangerous situation because there is no other choice. Your kid simply needs antibiotics very hard and quickly.

You were under pressure, without time to get enough information.

The traders

In any kind of event, there are going to be people who will eventually show up and they will control the black market, or the flow of goods in some way in the region.

Sometimes preppers (I see this on courses) prepare in a way that they are going to be those people. They are storing in their houses items strictly planned for the black market. In other words, they plan to own the market, to dictate prices, to “survive and thrive” in a way.

Now, the majority of folks who read my articles and who attend my courses are average people, so my advice there is, “No, you will not own the black market, and no, you will not “survive and thrive.”  Actually, most probably you’ll die soon and not by old age.”

There are organizations today in every region of the world and in every city who already own the market when it comes to stuff like drugs, illegal weapons, and similar.

They are in business for a long time, with great experience in violence, too.

Usually when SHTF, those kinds of organizations will “show up.”  They are here already, we just mostly do not see them. And they will own the black market of things that are in demand like food and meds.

You as an average prepper do not have a chance there.

Not unless we are talking about an organization bigger than the 100 preppers with great skills, weaponry, and brutality too.

You can be a small trader, trading items for items that you have in your storage for items that you really need.

You are already at a bit of an advantage here, because you have storage at all since you are a prepper in the first place.

There are some small pieces of advice what to trade in one of the previous interview articles.

Basically, be prepared to trade items that are already stored for your use, with some exceptions. You personally do not need 10,000 disposable lighters, but you could store them for trade because they’re cheap, easy to carry, and easy to store…and the same with condoms, spices, etc.)

But do not forget that you are a prepper, so you are ahead of the rest of folks when it comes to smart prepping and trading so think about the following.

Your own circumstances and surroundings

What would be a really cool mental exercise now is to look around you at your area and think about items that may be really cool and cheap to store. They should be based on your own surroundings so they will have great value when SHTF, and at the same time that not too many people will have the items when the SHTF.

For example, if you are living in a city with a river close, maybe it makes sense to have a whole bunch of small collapsible water canisters because there s gonna be a lot of carrying from that river.

Or think from the point of psychology. If there is a great culture of coffee drinking maybe there is sense in owning big amounts of raw coffee and the means to roast it.

Or if it is a tea-drinking culture, maybe you can have a bunch of appropriate plants in your backyard before everybody else thinks of it.

I can not give you specific advice on what to store. I am projecting things here from my surroundings, but remember you should not go by just a list of “100 Items That Are Gonna Disappear When SHTF” or even worse just big storage full of everything unless you have a huge force to protect it.

What will you store?

What works in your area? With what, in small amounts, can you achieve more? Over in the forum, I’ll be discussing this topic in-depth with you.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.



Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Read more of Selco's articles here. Buy his PDF books here. Take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge by signing up for his unrivaled online course. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

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  • Thank You for this article. It is confusing to know who you can trust and who you can’t. People you thought you knew in the good times can suddenly become the most deadly people you know when the SHTF. Even family members can turn on you in a SHTF situation where confusion is king for a time.

  • Because I use them, I see (so to speak) the need to squirrel away reading glasses, which can be had at Dollar Tree for $1. As a trade item, many who don’t need glasses for everyday living, might have age-related visual deterioration for which the glasses will be needed for sewing, cleaning guns, reloading spent ammo, and of course, reading…

  • In Toronto & surrounding areas we had rotating brownouts for about a week in August 2003. Some premium items were batteries & candles. I avoid candles, I really appreciate the fire hazard of an open flame. Convenience stores were taking $20 bills & not giving change for 2-packs of D-cells. Flashlight technology has really changed in 15 years since then. Some larger camping lights take D-cells but many flashlights use AA or even AAA. These sizes are all sold in 2 or 4-packs in dollarstores. The smaller ones come in 48-packs at places like HOME DEPOT, LOWES, even grocery stores. Ive chosen my battery lights to use only AA & D rather than having to stock C & AAA as well.

  • Small jet stoves. Various types.

    What is trash today might not be available in a SHTF scenario. Plus, today there is electricity and the tools to make them that probably won’t be later. Now, the raw materials are free or cheap. At the same time you’re be developing skills at a relaxed pace and reference info is only a Youtube video away. Youtube also probably will not be there.

    Everyone will need to boil their water for health reasons. Jet stoves are small, mobile and energy efficent. During the first SHTF winter the trees in parks will be gone. The stoves use oxygen efficently so less fuel is consumed, they heat up quicker and importantly less smoke is given off by better combustion so you have less chance of be noticed.

    Containers will be useful, clay, glass to metal (metal is harder for rats to get thru). Basketry and rope making skills are good. Boots and tailoring also.

    Metal files can be made into knives. Or, stock up on Swedish Morakniv knifes. The basic four inch blades are very inexpensive for the quality you get.

    Watch primitive technolgy Youtube videos demostrating indigenous people, say building a shelter or water cistern. You’ll realize what the most basic items are needed for survival and now much time and especially the energy are needed to make them from scratch. That will be one way things be valued when bartering, in addition to need, resources and skills.

  • Like Selco says, a lot depends on where you are. Some places could be real hell-holes and others could be right neighborly communities. If you can swing it, get bolts of heavy fabrics like denim and muslin when they go on sale. Maybe even a leather hide. Heavy duty thread, needles, patterns and scissors. Think about long-term industry for the basics — homemade water filters, shoes, clothing, heirloom seeds, etc. Things of longer term value than giving someone a quick fix for their addiction.

    I would encourage preppers to get rid of their addictions so there isn’t anything making them miserable because they are having to go without it. In the book, Across Five Aprils, a story which takes place during the American Civil War, the mama has a really tough time getting over her caffeine addiction when coffee became unavailable. Not trying to deprive anyone. But– just think about it.

  • It never made any sense to me to hoard stuff to trade and barter for something you may need in the future. You think you may need antibiotics for your kid? Then prep antibiotics! Think you will run out of batteries? Then buy a bunch of batteries! Or better yet, get stuff that doesn’t require batteries. I know eventually you will run out of stuff, but if you prep being as self sufficient as possible, you will be a lot better off knowing alternatives to antibiotics and batteries and knowing how to get them yourself, than messing with a bunch of crazies!

  • Very interesting article. Selco points out about knowing the needs of the area, and I live in a very “gunny” (pro-gun) area. Lots of guns and ammo and lots of shooting. I have plenty of ammo and components to reload ammo stored safely and use them regularly. Since the current SHTF has caused shortages for ammo and components to reload ammo I have found it possible to help people and replenish my own supplied by barter. I had recently reloaded more than a thousand rifle cartridges for shooting and storing, when I saw an add for someone wanting to trade their rifle primers for pistol primers. I have plenty of both, but just had used 1000 rifle primers and decided it was best to take the opportunity to replace them. So we traded straight across 1000 for 1000 and we were both happy since none are on the store shelves. Shortly after this I saw an add where someone was wanting bullets (projectiles) for reloading a certain caliber and they had rifle primers to trade. I had plenty of bullets in that caliber and have not used that caliber much in recent years so I traded one box of 50 bullets (just the projectiles, not loaded cartridges often miscalled “bullets”) for 1000 bench rest rifle primers. On line the price for each just happened to be exactly the same, but neither are actually available just now with the shortages. In each case both parties got something they needed that are not available on the store shelves presently and also some connections were made which might come in handy for the future. These are just a couple of recent examples.

  • I recently traded some “hard to get, quality ammo” for cash. I used a trusted friend as a middle-man for the exchange. I priced it fairly (slightly below the going rate, but still profitable to me), and he marked it up a little for his time in the deal… everything went great, and I felt a little safer with someone I trust “in the middle”.
    If I were to trade during SHTF, I would most prefer to use a trusted middle-man again if possible. I feel that “direct-trading” is probably too risky, unless you really know the person a long time and can trust them in the deal, and to remain quiet about where the item comes from.
    “Think like a drug dealer”…. just don’t be one. 😉

  • “…the point of having preps… is not to survive the whole SHTF event.”

    To me, the impending collapse of industrial human society will not be an “event” with a start date and some blissful end date; it will be forever.

  • Selco says,”For me, the point of having preps at home is not to survive the whole SHTF event. The point is to survive the event up to the moment when you can have a clear clue about what to do next without getting your self over-exposed.”

    I can’t tell you how impressed I am by this statement. Very well said.

  • “I can not give you specific advice on what to store.”
    To my way of thinking, any advice to the contrary would be totally illogical at best and completely insane, silly, and stupid at worst probably.
    In my view, anybody preparing by caching supplies for possible barter are nuts. Any storage space or place occupied with supplies for barter at the expense of supplies for personal needs is space wasted in my book.
    For the those nincompoops that simply cannot lose the notion of preparing by stocking up on barter goods, I would suggest procuring a boat load of dried food. 🙂 I would offer that TEOTWAWKI that is in route to everyone’s ‘hood will not be a barter economy.
    I could be wrong.

  • If you have a well, then you should also have a hand pump for when the power goes out, you will still have water. You will also have water for those around you that did not have the foresight to purchase a hand pump to install on their well. People needing water will be coming to you which gives you a big advantage.

    • Depends on the type of well.
      Drilled well, having a hand pump and access to where it comes into the home is a good idea/advice.

      Dug well, just take the cap off, drop a pail/bucket in and haul out the water.

  • As someone who came here from being a paid member of your SHTF School the only prepper school or education I ever paid for keep up the good work and do not let the one who talk and have not done discourage you. Keeping stuff for barter seems to me the silliest thing for the most part, get too much of the stuff you need and if you feel you need something use that as barter. I will also never forget your comment on lighters and your experience in the Balkan Wars I have done according to your advice which would seem to apply universally no matter where. Though every experience is different yours especially for suburban/urban areas would be very much on the mark in a societal collapse, they did not make a movie called Escape From New York for nothing 🙂 Your experiences remind me of a more hellishly severe version of what happened to New York City in the Seventies and Eighties where it was close to WROL though never quite getting there especially in some areas. This makes me think you are very real and as we say in NYC “streetwise”. Keep telling the truth no matter what, they have to know this is not a movie.

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