When people talk about trading after the apocalypse, usually they start discussing whether you’re better off stockpiling extra ammunition or some surplus food. These are both great trade assets – for a while. Eventually they’ll run out, though, and then what? The guy who’s been bringing you fresh eggs every day isn’t going to keep doing it when you’ve run out of shells for his 12-gauge. Trading surplus supplies might be essential from time to time, but it’s never going to be a long-term solution because, in the end, your supplies will be gone.
How about gold and silver? Some preppers have a touching belief that they’ll be highly prized after society falls apart. I’m not so sure. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be too keen to trade a handful of rifle bullets or a sack of flour for something that’s basically just going to sit around looking shiny.
No, if you want a real trade asset, you can’t beat skills. Once you’ve learned a skill you have an inexhaustible supply of it. If you fixed someone’s generator today in exchange for a bag of apples from his tree, you can get more apples by fixing it again tomorrow. Years from now you can still be fixing his generator every time it goes wrong, and trading your time for his surplus fruit (unless he decides you’re either not so good at fixing generators or a bit too fond of his apples). Skills won’t run out, and in a prolonged emergency that makes them far more valuable for trade than anything else.
Here are 25 skills that are going to be in demand if we’re all thrown back on our own resources. Some of them will be valuable right away; others will kick in when hoarded goods start running out. Learning all 25 of them is probably beyond most of us, but if you get pretty good at three or four you should be able to barter your work for anything you need after the apocalypse.
Being able to keep cars on the road is going to be a vital skill. With society in disarray, most regular workshops will be closed. If you have a reputation as someone who can keep engines running that’s going to be a valuable skill – and you’ll be able to fix generators and pumps, too.
If the power grid stays down for a while people are going to start looking for alternative sources of electricity. It might be a solar array, generator or wind turbine – in any case, it’s going to need wired up. That can be difficult and even dangerous. If you know how to adapt and extend house wiring, people will pay for that skill.
If people have electricity they’re going to want gadgets that use it – but eventually they’re going to go wrong. You probably aren’t going to be able to make a new microprocessor, but some basic soldering skills can fix a surprising number of faulty appliances. Their owners will be pleased.
When plumbing goes wrong things can get pretty unpleasant in a hurry. That’s why everyone’s immediate reaction is to call a plumber. But what if the world as we know it has ended, and the plumber isn’t answering the phone? If you can help people out with that, they’ll be glad to help you out in some other way.
Life is dangerous when society collapses; disease and injury will be more common, and the consequences of not treating them are more severe. Any medical assistance you can give, from basic first aid to advanced surgical skills, will make you a valuable asset to the community.
6. Amateur radio
Most of the communications we rely on aren’t going to survive a major social collapse. Without people to run its infrastructure, cell phones and the internet will go down in minutes. Landline phones – the ones that haven’t switched to VOIP – might last hours or even a couple of days. If you have the skills to use radios, especially CB or ham radio, that’s going to be a skill lots of people will want access to.
7. Mending clothes
Nowadays, if our clothes get damaged we just throw them away and buy new ones. Our ancestors, even a couple of generations ago, fixed them instead. If you can repair rips, replace broken zippers and even make alterations for size, you’re not likely to run out of customers willing to trade.
There’s a lot of food out there if you know what to look for, in the form of edible fruits, berries, leaves, fungi and other plants. The problem is, if you don’t know what to look for you can get in a lot of trouble. Mistaking a death cap for a mushroom is a mistake you’ll only make once. If you have the right skills you can either teach them to others, or trade part of what you collect.
Not everyone has the skills or equipment to harvest their own meat. If you do, you have a valuable source of food that you can trade for other things you need.
If you’re elderly or infirm, and can’t do more physical jobs, you can still build up a tradeable food surplus with a fishing pole and some bait.
11. Crop growing
Not too long ago most families had their own vegetable garden. That’s a skill most of us have lost. If you still have it, it’s a valuable asset. Grow more than you need and trade the surplus, or look after people’s plots for them in exchange for a share of the crop.
12. Animal husbandry
Some livestock is a valuable asset, but it takes skill to keep it alive and productive. If you’re good at looking animals you can help out people who don’t have your experience. The most efficient way to do this is to keep their animals with your own and give them their share of the milk, meat or other products.
Yes, this is the part of keeping livestock many people hate. It’s easy to buy Percy the pig as an investment in your future self-sufficiency, but a lot harder to whack him on the head with a hammer and chop him up. If you can do that for them, they’ll be happy to reward you with a few choice cuts.
A lot of people will manage to find or grow food, with or without your help, but won’t have the skills they need to store it safely. If you’re a canning expert you can make yourself useful by processing their surplus so they can build up stockpiles for the winter – maybe by trading your skills for a share of their crop.
It’s amazing what you can make with some timber, a few basic tools – and a bit of talent at woodworking. A good carpenter can put together anything from a storage box to a serviceable timber frame home. In other words, lots of things people will need and be happy to trade for.
This is a really rare skill nowadays, but it’s going to be in huge demand if the economy implodes. There are still a lot of horses round, and they need shoes – but a good smith can make a lot more than horseshoes.
Weapons are going to be essential when the SHTF – but they’re complex things, and sometimes they go wrong. Any good shooter can clear a stoppage, but what about repairing a broken trigger mechanism or re-crowning a barrel? Gunsmithing skills are pretty rare – and very valuable.
There’s a lot of ammunition in the USA, but it won’t last forever. When stocks start to run low a lot of people will be willing to trade for more. If they can bring you their spent brass, and have it remanufactured into ammunition, that’s a very valuable skill to have.
In a sustained collapse, stocks of modern weapons and ammunition will eventually be gone. To help them last as long as possible, and replace them when they’re exhausted, bows make a viable hunting – and even defensive – weapon. If you can make arrows you’ll find plenty of people willing to trade for them.
20. Soap making
Did you remember to stockpile a large supply of soap? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter – you know how to make it, using lye and any handy fats. Do you think everyone else in the neighborhood remembered to stockpile soap? Unlikely, but never mind. They can trade with you for the surplus you made.
21. Candle making
A year or two into a major collapse electric light will be a lot less common than it is now. Help your neighbors keep the darkness at bay by trading home-made candles. They’re a lot brighter – and safer – than a crude oil lamp.
If you know how to make things from leather, you’ll never be short of work. Everything from shoe repairs to making new tack for horses will be in demand.
Civilization might have collapsed, but you can help rebuild it by passing on the knowledge the next generation will need. You don’t have to be a qualified teacher, but if you have knowledge and the enthusiasm to pass it on you can turn that to your advantage.
24. Playing an instrument
No matter how bad things get, people need entertainment. In fact, when it’s really bad entertainment is more valuable than ever. If you can play a musical instrument you can do a lot to boost morale, and human nature means people will want to show their gratitude.
25. Spiritual comfort
If you’re good at choosing an uplifting piece of scripture, or making an inspirational speech, that can be a valuable skill. It might not be essential to life, but it can make people feel a lot happier about their situation. In a major emergency death is a real possibility, for example, and if you can give someone a proper send-off their loved ones will cope better.