Making a Living After the Apocalypse

In a previous blog I described how agricultural products will be the most important commodity in the new world. So much so, whatever currency is used may hold a foundation based on calories, and non-edible products will be traded based on the perceived caloric value.

Your main goal in this new world is to survive. To do this, you need to make sure you can feed your family and fight off those who would steal from you. But, how do you make a living if you don’t have a green thumb?

In this article, I’ll outline what I think will be the easiest ways to make a living after the fall of civilization. I’ll describe what you can make or grow to trade for food or other valuables. Certain products or services can be produced with little effort, some will need a certain level of skill, and others will require skill and specialized equipment.

Don’t Bother with These

Let’s start with what you should avoid. Precious metals and jewelry aren’t going to be worth much. You can’t eat a diamond ring, and they don’t have much utilitarian value. Precious metals can be worn as jewelry and that’s pretty much it. Speaking of which, I personally don’t recommend wearing jewelry. You’re basically inviting people to steal it from your cold, dead fingers. I recommend you hide any jewelry you may possess or discover and maybe use it to trade with later.

I don’t think there will be much of a market for new clothes, since there’s already an overabundance of clothing. Clothes will likely be abandoned and free for any passerby to take. However, once the economy has stabilized and clothes become scarce, there may be a market for new clothing. I just don’t think much profit can be made as a seamstress[1] unless you’re doing it in your free time as entertainment.

Passive Products

There are a few things that can be produced or grown with little to no effort on your part. Some herbs and vegetables can be grown “wild” and thrive without human intervention. Plants like: green onions, mint, potatoes, ginger[2], mushrooms (starter spores required), some peppers, and some established trees.

Most of these foods will grow year-round.

You can raise chickens and produce honey almost wild too. However, both require an investment in shelter and you need the proper skills to harvest the final products.

If that’s not enough, or if you tend to kill plants and animals just by looking at them, you can forage[3] for your food. There’s plenty of food to be found growing in the wild. You can find: wild tree nuts (acorns[4] & pecans are easiest to identify), loquats, dandelion greens, clovers (save any 4-leaf clovers for luck), roses, carnations, honey, and psychedelic shrooms (medicine/trade).

If done properly, you can easily survive on passive foods and trade any excess you produce.

Mid-value Products & Professions

If you can make products from raw materials or provide services no one else can, you may earn enough to be part of the new middle-class. I don’t think people will get rich making these because they’ll have to pay suppliers for the building materials and maybe pay to distribute the products. 

Preserves

If you have the knowledge and have the equipment, almost any food item that can be dehydrated and made into a powder will be valuable. Foods like grains, potatoes, corn, and nuts are the most common and easiest foods to dehydrate and turn into powders.

Pretty much anything that’s made into a powder will last forever, and that longevity will make preserved foods great cash crops. The only requirements to preserve dry foods are… to keep it dry, and don’t allow humidity or pests to infest the food.

Don’t be too reliant on conventional crops. It’s not likely you’ll live near a region that grows food grains like wheat. That means you’ll need to think outside the box [5] and convert what you can produce or harvest into equivalent products. If you have pecan trees growing more or less wild on your property, harvest those nuts as they drop and use them as a flour alternative[6].

Food will quickly lose its value when things settle down and supply stabilizes. But I still think you can gain wealth manufacturing and trading food.

Soap

Hygiene products will be extremely important to prevent diseases and infections. Simple bars of soap only require 3 ingredients and can be transported easily, but require time to make (and you’ll need some practice to perfect your recipe).

Regular customers of soap makers will be medical facilities, Laundromats, and, if they exist, communal baths. Although, I have a lingering fear that many people will forego bathing. We’ve seen this happen with various degrees during the Medieval period, (also known as the “Dark Ages”).

Laundromat

Many people may turn their noses up to this, but another profession could be cleaning clothes… from piss[7]. Urea from, well, urine has been used to clean clothes since ancient times. The process is much the same as it’s done today, and I’ll briefly describe it since it’s such a gross-sounding task:

  1. Add clothes and cleaning agent (urine) into a container and agitate the clothes. Agitation was done by stomping on the clothes in ancient times.
  2. Thoroughly rinse the clothes.
  3. Hang the laundry out to dry. I imagine the sun and breeze airs out any lingering urine smell.

The launderer could charge a premium to wash clothes with scented soaps. Another upcharge could be to offer an expedited service to rapidly wash and dry clothes by using precious electricity to machine-wash and dry them.

Going into Labor

Labor is a mid-value product too. You can lend your hands to help on the farms, work to construct buildings, or labor on an assembly-line (if any factories or workshops exist).  Your earnings will always be capped at what your boss can “pay” for your labor, which may be as simple as food and housing, or other valuable supplies. Remember that food and housing are scarce and valuable now that millions of newly homeless people are roaming the countryside. You may make more money if you already know a trade like plumbers or electricians. But don’t bank on this because the raw materials (power and water) may not exist.

Quick Cash

Tools will be the gold bars of the post-apocalyptic world, but they won’t make you rich. You can make a quick profit by trading any tools you don’t need. Alternatively, if you need them for work, keep them under lock and key. You should be prepared to defend your tools and even kill for them, because people will try to steal them for a quick “buck”.

What are the best ways to get rich in this new world?

The cash-crops, so to say, are going to be commodities required to power technology, luxury products satisfying vices, and medical labor. All of these are going to require knowledge or skill.

Energy

If you don’t have a green thumb or don’t have anything edible growing wild, then maybe you can make and sell luxury items like fuel and alcohol. There won’t be a reliable supply of energy, and your local gas station won’t be getting a resupply. The refineries will almost certainly have burned down and if they haven’t, there won’t be any labor to operate them.

If you happen to be lucky enough to live in an area that still has working pumpjacks that produce oil, it may be possible to refine it. That is, if someone in your community knows how to do it[8]. If you have the knowledge and are able to make a simple refinery powered by fire and horses, you’ll be rich. 

Some generators and cars can operate using ethanol, which is easy to make by fermenting food waste. You just need a container for the food waste, bacteria to allow fermentation to occur, and something to distill the alcohol (ethanol) out of the mash. You may need to redistill the alcohol to achieve a higher ABV.

Liquor & Wine

Of course, you can sell your ethanol as a beverage commonly known as vodka or white-whiskey, or moonshine[9]. You can charge a premium for whiskey aged in wood barrels.

I think wine will be pretty hard to make and sell. If you can’t find or make a still, you may have no other choice but to rely on wine as an alcoholic beverage. First, you have to grow the grapes, or other sugary fruits like apples, pears, or peaches. Then, you have to keep yourself and others from eating the fruit. If you still have fruit, you’ll need to pulverize and ferment it. Once fermented, bottle it.

It sounds easier than distilling, but the hardest part to wine making is getting past the first 2 steps: growing and not eating the raw materials. Distilled liquor, on the other hand, can be made with leftover food waste.

Another use for ethanol is sterilization. You can sell or trade your high ABV liquor to medical professionals for “money”, food, drugs, or services.

Medical

If you happen to be a doctor or nurse, you’ll be a very valuable member of society. Medical professionals will be hard to find, and any community will guard and treat these professionals well to ensure they’re happy. Medical supplies will be scarce or non-existent, so a good doctor will need to know how to treat ailments using herbs. A good doctor in this new world will need to know how to manufacture drugs as well.

When the civilization-ending disaster starts, most medical facilities aren’t going to be concerned about payment. A triage system will quickly be put in place, but I don’t think hospitals and emergency clinics are going to be concerned about payment until resources become scarce.

As medical resources run out, payment will be demanded up front. Food will likely be accepted, but the most valuable forms of payment will be fuel, cleaning supplies, and sterilization materials (alcohol). Facilities or private practices will maintain the triage system as a standard practice, even after things calm down and we get used to the “new normal”. It simply doesn’t make sense to waste time and resources to treat people who are going to die regardless of medical intervention, or even those who cannot contribute to society.

A wise government or medical facility will socialize medicine to ensure medical treatment is available to the community. This is smart because the medical staff can provide a list of drugs and materials that are running low or are depleted to the community. The local government will be in the best position to ensure the medical facility has the fuel necessary to operate, and can scrounge or trade for drugs and other resources. And the government can easily provide security to the facility.

Ironically, socialized medicine may win in the end. The caveat being medical staff will be required to adhere to strict government rules dictating who they can treat and how.

Drugs

Criminals who made and sold drugs prior to the apocalypse, may find their craft newly legalized if they can retool their operations and make useful drugs for doctors. Any excess drugs can be sold to other communities. Don’t forget the inconvenient truth that there will always be a market for recreational drugs, but be careful with the new laws.

The laws of the local community can go one of two ways regarding the sale and use of recreational drugs: legalize or ban. A devoutly religious community will likely outlaw such vices and severely punish (kill) those caught in the manufacture and distribution of drugs. Whereas, a moderate or practical community may allow the manufacture of recreational drugs, if they aren’t sold within the community.

If the community doesn’t have a specific policy, the authorities will likely turn a blind eye, if you make it worth their while. Don’t be naive and think that bribery won’t exist. Bribery has always been the oil that lubricates government since the dawn of human civilization. Some countries legalize and profit from bribery by renaming it to permits. Some politicians accept bribes in the form of campaign contributions, and charitable donations to organizations they may have a stake in.

The Oldest Profession

Prostitution will still exist, and may even thrive now that centralized state or federal laws are no longer enforced. If the local community doesn’t ban it, we may see the rise of brothels. These brothels will cater to all of your sexual needs, both hetero– and homosexual. As always, be prepared to pay more for male prostitutes.

Why will men be paid more in yet another industry? I remember seeing a documentary several years ago about “straight” porn actors who describe their pay as 10 times that of women[10]. The reason is because they are rare, and it’s an exotic taste[11], and men are willing to pay more for discretion to hide the fact they sought the services of a male prostitute.

It’s going to be a rough life for female prostitutes, and it’s going to be even harder for male sex workers. Willing gay men are going to be hard to find because they’ll die at a much higher rate than women of the same profession will. Just like women, they’ll have to endure the usual risks from abusive clients, jealous lovers, and sexual diseases. But on top of that, the religious fanatics won’t have anything to stop them from murdering gays en masse, and don’t forget about opportunistic gay-bashers who will prey on gay sex workers to prove something to themselves or their peers.

We live in a very accepting and inclusive world now[12], but that will change once civilization falls. Religious communities are going to be common and we need to expect a return to the historic religious persecutions of people who don’t fit with the dogma. Prostitutes are shunned by the major religions, and gay prostitutes are going to be double-negatives in the eyes of fanatics.

Straight men won’t have much work, because women have historically patronized brothels or individual prostitutes less often than men. There may not even be a demand for straight male sex workers.

Of course, if you follow this career-path, you’ll have to worry about the local laws. Just like drugs, the community will either allow or ban prostitution. If you happen to be in a religious community, expect the penalty to be death or worse.

***

Producing and trading these products or services will help ensure you can survive and can help generate income or wealth (or the post-apocalyptic equivalent). Some will be fast tickets to wealth, or they’ll make you a target for exploitation by any potential overlord. 

Let’s hope for a not-so-grim outcome.

I’d like to close by saying that while I use a nuclear attack as the cause of the fall of civilization, it’s important to remember that chemical and biological warfare can have the same effect. A chemical attack can render entire cities uninhabitable until the agent has been cleaned, or enough time has passed that weather has disbursed the toxic chemicals. The same may even be true for biological attacks, but biological warfare is much messier and harder to manage (as evidenced by our democracy’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic).


[1] Fun Fact: The male version of a “seamstress” is a “seamster”.

[2] Ginger – Some  caution should be taken with growing ginger, as other wild tubers can easily be confused as part of the plant.

[3] A word of caution regarding foraging: You absolutely must know how to identify plants, or you could kill yourself and your family. The same can be true for gardening. It’s possible to accidentally pick and eat the poisonous parts of edible plants, or unknowingly pick a poisonous weed from your garden and eat it.

[4] Acorns – Acorns need to be processed by boiling out the tannins. You will need to boil them and replace the water several times, until the water is clear or the acorns aren’t bitter. You can remove the tannins from acorns using cold water as well. The process is similar, but will take over a week to achieve the same product.

[5] Thinking outside the box is probably the best survival practice anyone can have.

[6] Pecans fall from the trees with an external shell, protecting the shell we’re familiar with. Remove both, and pulverize them to dehydrate the “meat” using the sun or an oven. This can be ground down into a fine flour.

[7] Laundromat – I’m  pretty sure I learned this from one of my history teachers. I remember someone asked how the ancients kept their clothes clean, and the class was grossed-out to learn they used pee. I had a very subtle reminder about this method of cleaning laundry from a show I binge-watched recently, Plebs.

[8] I think a crude (pun intended) explanation of refining is distillation of oil to make different gases at certain temperatures. I’m not a chemist or an oil expert, by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m sure there are other processes I’m missing. Refining oil is very dangerous, and if not done by an expert can cause severe injury or death.

[9] Moonshine is just vodka or whiskey that hasn’t been taxed. Also, there’s no real difference between spirits distilled as moonshine and vodka.

[10] Male Porn Stars: I want to say it was I’m A Porn Star: Gay 4 Pay, but I’m not sure.

[11] Rare & Exotic: Free online porn and services like “OnlyFans”, made it more readily available and reduced the demand for male sex actors.

[12] Inclusive World: 10% of the population has been the standard calculation of LGBTQ population in the country for nearly 2 decades. But if you consider the fact that many men who like having sex with the same sex, don’t identify as either homo- or bi-sexual; or those who just want “fun”, the percentage is almost certainly twice that… and that’s not counting all those other sexual identities (there were over 100 when I graduated from college in 2018).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s