If you were to check your person right now, Chances are, you might have some silly colored paper with dead world leaders on it, and maybe some circular pieces of semi-precious metal. Unfortunately those probably won’t get you very far after society collapses and the world reverts back to a barter economy where gold and silver become nothing more than useless shiny metal paperweights. But what will become the common currency in this unsettling new world? We’ve compiled a helpful list to help identify some of the prospects.
Our bodies all require glucose (or sugar) to function. Just because civilization as we know it gets destroyed by forces or events unknown doesn’t mean that our reliance on sugar will up and vanish. And due to the sheer difficulty in getting substantial quantities of it in a form that makes it practical to use for trade, sources of sugar would likely be treated much like we treat gold today. The only difference would be, while the supply of gold is finite, in theory, sugar could continue to scale along with the redevelopment of some semblance of economy, making it both a durable and practical means for regulating trade.
In the post-apocalyptic world, candles could become a dominant new form of currency. And it makes sense when you think about it. Candles have a number of practical uses providing light, heat, and a malleable material that can be melted down and used for a wide variety of purposes. In addition, candles are also durable, portable enough to carry with you, and come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes so they can be traded for various quantities of other goods.
Hardcore survivalists and doomsday preppers often make a point of taking up candle making as a hobby, and with good reason. As soon as we loose the ability generate light and heat in our homes with the flick of a switch, the demand for candles is going to go through the roof, making them an extremely viable option for barter and trade.
As you might imagine, our current system of power generation, interconnected mainframes, server farms, and mobile computing devices will all fall apart without the labor force required to keep them up and running. Once that happens, those primitive paper warehouses known as libraries will become indispensable treasure troves of highly-valued information. So be sure to leave space for a bookcase or two when you’re constructing your fallout shelter, that encyclopedia set your grandparents gave you for a wedding gift might still come in handy.
A quality pair of shoes is something that will always hold great value, but even more so when you’re trudging through the desert wastelands of the apocalypse. Not only do shoes help you to better perform all of your essential day-to-day tasks, they also carry a bit of status with them. Meaning those fresh kicks from Footlocker might be the equivalent of owning a Rolls-Royce if things get really bad down the line.
Conspicuous consumption may be mitigated by fickle economic forces, but the inherent drive to own status symbols is usually strongest among the least wealthy. So the poor survivors of a world-shattering event might actually have a strong desire to wear shoes that show their worth.
8. Salt and Other Spices
Not that long ago in human history, spices were the dominant form of currency. Egyptian kings were buried with their spices, Roman infantrymen were paid in salt (this is where the word “salary” comes from, by the way). Flavoring is a prized commodity when all you’ve got to eat for months is rotten apples and bone marrow soup. Entire empires have risen and crumbled on the production and distribution of spices. So, it’s probably safe to assume that their value would be considerably boosted in the aftermath of the apocalypse.
Unlike some of the other items on this list, your spice collection probably wouldn’t be regarded as a luxury or status symbol. Rather, it would be used to preserve other foods, especially meat, making it the closest thing you’ll ever get to refrigeration in a world that no longer has a functioning electrical grid.
Despite the hard time they seem to be having with our current pre-apocalyptic conditions, bees remain an integral part of our agricultural system. Aside from being nature’s greatest pollinating machines, the honey that bees make is an incredibly versatile non-synthetic substance with a ton of applications stemming from its anti-septic properties and value as a dietary supplement.
Should the whole world go to hell, honey and honey bees would surely play a vital role in helping humans to survive in a world that has lost the modern means of providing medical care. Furthermore, honey is inherently both portable and scalable, so it would be another viable option for universal trade.
Considering alcohol has been used as an alternative form of currency since about the time we learned to make it, you can rest assured that it will still hold its value (and then some) when the apocalypse comes. Just think of all the times you’ve offered (or been offered) a pack of beer in exchange for a ride somewhere or little help moving heavy furniture. And, much like other luxury commodities, alcohol can be crafted into a whole spectrum of varieties based on strength, quality, and exclusivity. When something is functional at a basic level, yet can still be refined enough to convey wealth and status, you know you’ve got something on your hands that can act as a viable form of currency.
Inhibition-shedding properties aside, alcohol also makes for an excellent disinfectant and crude sedative, ensuring that even abstainers will be willing to dole out a few shotgun shells or jerky rations in exchange for a couple bottles of it.
If prison movies have taught us anything, its that cigarettes are viable currency in a makeshift economy. But once all the big cigarette makers stop producing, they’re going to become that much more valuable to all the roving biker gangs and mutant degenerates that still need their nicotine fix. Even if you don’t smoke, being able to produce a pack of cigarettes could just save your life.
4. Guns and Ammo
Guns are a useful thing to have in a ruthless struggle for survival. You can use them to hunt for food, intimidate rivals, and protect scarce resources. But they probably won’t do you a whole lot of good if you don’t have any ammunition for them.
In apocalypse scenarios, ammo will quickly become highly desirable, incredibly rare, and strikingly expensive. Those who possess firearms will need ammo to stay in control; and those with ammunition can use it to exert control over the people who need it. Imagine if you met up with a commune of people, by trading a box of shotgun shells to them, you’ve not only gained the respect and admiration of their group, you’ve helped ensured their survival and could probably join up with them if so desire. Just be cautious about who you give the shells to.
3. Knives and Hatchets
Guns might give you the upper hand in a fight, but they’re not going to do much to help you chop firewood or skin a deer. Which is why, in a post-apocalyptic trade community, knives and hatchets would likely hold a lot a value, though they might not be quite as portable and scalable as candles or alcohol. In fact, during the Zhou dynasty, between 600 and 200 B.C., Chinese soldiers were permitted to barter with the villagers using their knives as currency. This became so popular that villagers themselves started using it, and gradually it spread throughout the entire country.
In movies like Mad Max and Waterworld, callous tyrants bully are able to bully the inhabitants of the wastelands because they control a rich supply of gasoline or oil. Gas can fuel combustion engines and other sorts of powerful machinery, as well as provide heat and light from lanterns. Even if you don’t have any shells to fire, you can imagine the kind of security having an M1 Abrams tank in your party might provide.
Today, traditional family farms are a dying breed slowly being squeezed out of the market by massive factory farms and a supply chain that takes otherwise wholesome food and turns it into “value-added” processed snacks that only maintain a fraction of the original nutritional value. But if our current monetary system were to break down, as it almost certainly would in the event of a prolonged global catastrophe, then our established trade agreements with other countries would break down with it. Meaning, once all the grocery stores have been picked clean, people would have to start growing and foraging for their own food if they hope to survive. This would return a lot of value to human labor because so much of it would be required to keep farms operating and able to produce locally grown, non-refrigerated produce. And, of course, at the heart of this reverted food management system are those little powerhouses of life we plant in the ground.