What useful trade can I learn to survive a collapsed economy?
September 17, 2008 1:05 PM   Subscribe

What's a trade I can learn now, as a hobby, that will be useful if/when the economy collapses?

Carpentry? Beer/wine making? Animal husbandry? This isn't totally reactionary fear-mongering, I was thinking about this before everyone started talking about the economic apocalypse, but now it seems a little more timely. Is there a useful trade I can learn in a year or so and practice as a hobby, maybe make some side money, that would be useful to be in a collapsed economy?

Nevermind for a minute that economic collapse isn't exactly an imminent threat -- I just want to learn some practical and marketable skills, if only to gain peace of mind knowing that if I lost my job I'd have something to offer the world.
posted by sportbucket to Work & Money (41 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Repair of ______. Anything that lets people not have to buy a new _______.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:18 PM on September 17, 2008

posted by Penelope at 1:19 PM on September 17, 2008

Be a cobbler? Nobody knows how to make shoes in North America.
posted by dobie at 1:20 PM on September 17, 2008

Well, in a real collapse none of those skills are useful because you'll be literally fighting armed gangs for food. Countries dont revert back to a peaceful 'The Shire' from Tolkien, people start shooting and stealing.

In a recession anything that secures your employment and can bring in extra income is good. It seems that a good freelance web developer is always hard to find. Have you considered that?
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:22 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Depends how screwed you think we'll all be. For a 1930s-style depression, if you assume some sort of WPAish agency will be established, then I imagine trade skills would be in higher demand than manual laborers. Welding, bricklaying, carpentry, things like that. Auto repair might be good to get into if people can still afford to drive but can't afford to buy new cars.

Embalming might be good, since people are always dying, but I'm not entirely sure how you would establish that as a hobby.

If it's more of a Mad Max collapse, I'd go with hunting/fishing and some riflery skills. Learn how to make very basic clothing and shoes.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:22 PM on September 17, 2008

Fortune telling.
posted by OilPull at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, farming pops in to my head. You could start with a little garden. As an additional benefit, fresh tomatoes are the best. Asides that, trade skills, as backseatpilot said.
posted by d4nj450n at 1:26 PM on September 17, 2008

I've always been fascinated by butchering. You can buy large cuts of meat and teach yourself how to cut them down into different chops and filets. I would start with buying whole chickens and learning how to break them down. Then maybe move up to bigger cuts of beef and pork.
posted by DrDreidel at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2008

beer/winemaking would be good...but keep in mind that if economy went kaput its pretty unlikely that your local homebrewing supply shop would stay in business. So you might want to consider learning how to make palatable wine/beer/booze out of things that you are fairly certain you could still obtain.
posted by ian1977 at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2008


It's relatively easy ("shit's brown, water runs down, pay day is Friday"), and everyone needs a good plumber.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Assuming something less than a complete economic collapse, I would suggest a trade that helps people save money. If you can market your skills for insulating a house or anything that brings a quick return on your client's money. I would imagine specializing would help to make you stand out from the crowd. On the other end of the spectrum, handyman may be good for getting by, but I do imagine with the housing building market there may be a lot of carpenters out there competing with you.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2008

Oh boy oh boy, I've definitely been mulling this one over for a while. For good ideas, I'd take a look at the Foxfire books and (yes, seriously) the Little House on the Prairie series. Some thoughts that spring to mind:

- Animal husbandry (depending on where you live, chickens or rabbits could work)
- Carpentry (furniture, log cabins, etc)
- Cheese-making
- Distilling alcohol (Foxfire 1 has a great article -- with diagrams -- on moonshining)
- Farming & gardening
- Fishing
- Food preservation (drying, smoking, sulphuring, canning, etc)
- Quilting, knitting, crocheting, sewing
- Soap-making
- Stonemasonry (walls, chimneys, etc)

There's more -- way more -- in the Foxfire books. If it's not clear enough already, I highly recommend them.
posted by ourobouros at 1:31 PM on September 17, 2008

Response by poster: Shoe-making it is! Wait, no, that sounds boring. How about blacksmithing? On second thought, which of the guys at Old Sturbridge Village gets the most attention from the ladies?

DDA, I'm actually a part-time web dev already. I'm feeling the need for some marketable skills that aren't dependent on computers.
posted by sportbucket at 1:35 PM on September 17, 2008

You didn't mention you were trying to make it with the ladies. In that case, moonshining it is!
posted by ourobouros at 1:36 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a skilled trade such as machinist or metal fabricator. The odds of us losing enough civilization that machinists are no longer relevant or well paid are pretty long.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:37 PM on September 17, 2008

Small engine repair.

When gas is $20.00 a gallon there will be a lot of mopeds and scooters that need repairing. People are still going to be running their snowblowers and lawnmowers, but they won't be buying new ones.

The skills would be transferable to other things, you only need a small set of tools, you can run a business from your garage, and it's the type of thing that spreads by word-of-mouth. "Oh you should go see sportbucket, he can fix anything."
posted by bondcliff at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

A lot depends on where you are in the country. Different areas require different specialties.

For instance, if you were interested in handyman work you may want to concentrate on techniques and technologies that apply to your region. Thus, furnace repair, window replacement, insulation installation in the cold north... stucco repair, AC installing in the hot west.

You get the idea.

Also, thinking ahead there are some factors which are a sure bet: gasoline will continue to go up in price, summers in many parts will become longer and hotter, people may not be able to afford to drive or commute as much. Electricity and natural gas are sure to go up as well... People in the top end service industries (banking, legal, advertising, etc) will increasingly be working from home - that means they will need a complete home office with high speed internet, multiple phone and fax lines, stuff like that.

In general it feels like our country will be focused on more local, sustainable lifestyle solutions requiring local labor.

And don't forget artisanal work. Wrought iron working, textiles, stained glass work... stuff like that will always be in demand.
posted by wfrgms at 1:41 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

If, indeed, a real and complete collapse will mean a bunch of Mad-Max-style stuff, then you'd probably want to study military tactics, combat driving (and, while you're at it, heavy equipment operation), target shooting, martial arts, stuff like that.
posted by box at 1:42 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Carpentry will always be useful and its not to hard to learn.

Perhaps learn to build furniture, cabinets, etc. On the same line maybe you could buy a mig welder (miller 180 might set you back $1000 to $1500) and learn to do some metal working. Not necessary industrial uses, but you can use it to create some artistic railings, lamp posts, etc.

If your good with cars and/or body work you could set up a garage for cars / boats...if you have the space and don't mind investing in some equipment.

Landscape or tree trimming.

For personal consumption you could learn to hunt or start up a small garden.

You could be a part time model ;-)
posted by Black_Umbrella at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2008

This book might be a good start.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some electrician skills to enable you to install solar panel or wind systems for people.
posted by wolfkult at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2008

The worst possible economic collapse in America (and I do believe there will be one, and it will be bad) will not stop global givens, like America's shoes are made on the other side of the planet and shipped in. This will not change in our lifetime, except maybe if there's a nuclear holocaust or the zombies come.

I'd recommend engine repair, and then all the various home-maintenance-related jobs (plumbing, carpentry, construction, HVAC, etc.) following that. People will still drive cars and still live in houses. Think about things that they'll still be doing (eating, drinking, etc.) and build your skill set accordingly (cook, bartender, etc.).
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:01 PM on September 17, 2008

welding. I make furniture out of metal.

a welder creates, he destroys, he combines and separates. it is beautiful.
posted by warriorengineer at 2:29 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Medical Knowledge would be invaluable. In fact, you can take a good medical knowledge and do OK anywhere in the world, even in third world nations. Same thing with being an animal vet.
posted by lockle at 2:39 PM on September 17, 2008

what sort of things do you like?

do you like beer and/or wine? homebrewing beer. making your own wine. oh, and grow your own hops, too.

you can certainly barter your output. if things go great instead of badly, you could open a brewpub. :-)

do you like to get your hands dirty? welding, blacksmithing, metalwork and metal casting for industrial fun. electronics repair (and making useful crap out of other crap) for a more high tech approach.

i think the home repair business won't be a great place to go just because there will be such a market glut of it that the price will be driven down.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:41 PM on September 17, 2008

A cooper, maybe. I mean we'll have to wear something wont we?
posted by MiggySawdust at 2:59 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Midwifery. Delivering babies in a post-medical-technology world would be a very useful skill, I should think. And make you popular with the ladies!
posted by media_itoku at 3:00 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bicycle repair. Leatherwork. Pottery. Smithing. Woodwork. Fletching. Stonework. Gardening. First aid.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:18 PM on September 17, 2008

In Roger & Me, Michael Moore had a segment on the folks with the most secure jobs in Flint -- county eviction officers. There was also a couple who survived on skinned rabbits.

My grandfather got through the Depression by job-sharing. He was a Studebaker mechanic. There will probably be a segment of wealthy untouched people who will need their houses and cars in top condition (as looking shabby will be social anathema). There's a lot of home-based technology now (DSL, satellite, cell, etc.) that a "high touch" service business will be able to target.

Anything involving keeping things running or standing longer will be in some demand, but of course these people will be less able to pay. Be prepared to barter services or be paid in backyard vegetables like rural doctors often were. In contrast to rmd's prediction, though, around here the builders say they're keeping busy by adding to houses instead of building them. People are staying put longer and investing in your house makes more sense when you do.

Medical care will be in demand and there may be agencies funding it. Servicing "staycations" or local tourist needs. Writing books, making movies or video games, will probably all be somewhat secure.

I would personally want to focus on green technology. Converting cars to biofuels, or installing green roofs or passive solar.
posted by dhartung at 3:54 PM on September 17, 2008

Delivering babies in a post-medical-technology world

There is no form of economic collapse that would be bad enough to result in a post-medical-technology world but not bad enough to result in an armed-gangs-shooting-each-other-for-food world.

So if anyone is really expecting the End of Technology, they would be much better off learning how to kill people, and to keep themselves from being killed, than bicycle repair.

That said, I think all the "Depression arts"--repairing things that people have been throwing away instead--will be useful as full-time or part-time work options.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:56 PM on September 17, 2008

In Alas, Babylon the guy who kept bees as a hobby had a lot of luck trading honey.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:19 PM on September 17, 2008

Motorcycle maintenance. Seriously. Motorcycle mechanics make good money and it's a whole heck of a lot easier to understand and repair a motorcycle than it is a car. And it's good fun.

Although I do concur with dhartung: focusing on some kind of green technology may really help in the future.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:26 PM on September 17, 2008

Something in the healthcare field. RN, Technician something along those lines. There's always going to be a need for hospitals no matter what. There's huge demand for those jobs even now.
posted by hazyspring at 4:47 PM on September 17, 2008

Tangential: have you read Lucifer's Hammer?

(I know I've recommended it to someone else recently, but damn, it's good for thinking about exactly this kind of thing.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 5:29 PM on September 17, 2008

What about learning how to give great massages?

People might not be willing to pay for it in a post-economic-collapse world, as it's kind of a luxury item; then again, we'll all be so very stressed. And the ladies will like it.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 6:13 PM on September 17, 2008

Accurate shooting would be a good skill, fun too:

With economic collapse, there's bound to be civil unrest and thus militias will be drafted to maintain the peace. By proving your shooting skills, you might be given a job as an instructor or some sort of militia version of a non-com.

And, if things get really bad, you would obviously use this skill to defend yourself and hunt for food.
posted by spacefire at 6:17 PM on September 17, 2008

Painter; that is, a house painter.

Doesn't require a huge amount of training or formal education. But good ones are always in demand.

And, just for the record, what on Earth do some of you folks think is going to happen? It's not the end of the world.... Sheesh...
posted by Mephisto at 9:24 PM on September 17, 2008

Handloading. Those armed gangs are going to run out of bullets and need more.

Also, it's fun.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:00 PM on September 17, 2008

Well, I'm definitely not advocating this as that would be illegal, however with the despair people will be certainly having, they will likely would want an escape of sorts. If one were inclined to do so, they could figure out ways to manufacture LSD-25, MDMA, or perhaps merely growing marijuana in the back woods of the South.

But, of course, this would be illegal, though I can imagine the police would have better things to do if the US and/or world economy collapsed...
posted by moses89 at 8:49 AM on September 18, 2008

realistically, the most needed trade is providing geriatric healthcare. there are way too few people going into this field and there are about to be a lot more old people in this country. unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the kind of skill that would be a fun part-time hobby.
posted by snofoam at 6:32 PM on September 18, 2008

What about keeping chickens?
posted by electroboy at 12:24 PM on September 19, 2008

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