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Considering Precious Metals? – the Case for Suisse Bars

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from frequent contributor R. Ann Parris.  If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today. Contest ends 4/18/16.


There are options when we talk about stockpiling wealth or currency in preparedness folds. Precious metals (PM) as a preparedness item are a topic of some debate in and of themselves, with Suisse bars a love-hate or what? item inside the genre of unconventional currency. Some collect their PM’s in various forms of “junk” coins or bar form for the ease of acquisition and recognition value. Some collect gems instead, pointing out the number of immigrants who have arrived in various countries with fortunes in the linings of their clothing and the even more condensed form of wealth they offer. Some choose to go with keeping paper cash on hand, with the expectation that once cash is truly meaningless, there are other barter items available or it’s time to batten down the bunker hatches and compound gates and ride out the storm. There are others who point out various regional currencies as a way to hedge against loss.

Precious metals are sometimes maligned, with anti’s pointing out the bubbles involved with them and the amounts they’ve “lost” here and there with purchases. Many will also point out that you can’t eat a coin or sapphire.

Those anti’s are right.

You can’t eat a sapphire or coin, can’t use it to treat an infection, can’t wrap up in it to keep warm or use it to stitch up a torn udder. You also can’t immediately swipe them in the case of an emergency room visit to save a farm dog’s life at 3 a.m., even now. There are absolutely highs and lows in the value of gold and silver – like buying a house, there’s no guarantee that the value will go up.

One of the things we commonly hear about buying the precious metals deals with the larger weights, 50g and 1-oz. or more – the $20, $50 or $100 loaf of bread or can of beans argument. That can get thrown away, regardless of whether we go with coins or bars of one kind or another. There are both coins and bars that represent smaller amounts.

I don’t personally see precious metals (PM) as an investment with intended returns over purchase price. Instead, I see PM as another form of insurance, as an alternative to paper or an electronic balance. Certain things have had value since at least B.C. time-stamps, and PM’s and gems are among them even when a printed currency fails. They are a standby through most of the world and most of history.

Assign priorities

Even so, PMs are not and will not ever be my sole focus. Because we aim for different lengths of times and have different expectations and abilities, our priorities and what we focus on are going to be different.

Before we delve into precious metals (or anything – 5K rounds of ammo, 600 pounds of wheat, biodiesel big rigs) we should sit down and seriously consider what we are preparing for, why, and how much we can spend. I personally think immediate needs and existing debt should carry equal weight, but others will say max everything to get as many physical goods as you can and some will push to escape high-interest debt before moving beyond a standard hurricane, tornado or any other evac or shelter-in-place kit.

Lists are important in prioritizing. Listing with a firm eye toward wants and needs can help both in creating available budget and spending it wisely. Don’t assume you won’t reach retirement age without a mega disaster and that you’ll never need to pay health insurance and medical co-pay when you’re making your lists – include that additional savings and investment in your needs.

Suisse bars

When we’re ready to branch into backup currency, a lot of us hear about and jump on coins. I’m not totally against coins, but I don’t go that way exclusively or in a big, big way. I’m not jumping on the gem bandwagon, either. I kind of like Suisse bars.

Suisse bars are a type of bullion that come in thin sheets, regularly encased in plastic. There are now some that come in a break-away format that allows you to snap off small segments for smaller purchases or cash redemption. They are available in many several metals, but for our purposes, silver and especially gold suit my needs.

The gold bars come in pretty useful chips or little bars of 1, 2, 2.5, 5, and 10 grams, stamped with their weight and their purity, with an enclosed certificate when purchased from a respectable dealer. Those weights fluctuate in price, as gold pricing goes up and down, but are typically in the $40-50, $70-80, $90-120, $200-220, and $400-450 ranges at the moment, respectively. The smaller the denomination purchased, the greater the pricing markup, usually. However, there are those new-ish 20- and 25- and 50-gram divisible or “combibars”, such as JM Bullion and Austin Coins. Because of their specialty, they’re usually more expensive than if we’d purchased a solid bar.

Since I don’t often make thousand-dollar purchases, I usually skip the 20-gram and larger gold bars, just like I don’t delve into 1-oz. gold coins all that often. Smaller denominations cost me a little more now, but have more applications in any future.

Suisse bars are available for silver as well. Obviously, the value of silver is lower, so in some denominations, the ease of calculation is the only real benefit over a coin. However, they can help fill gaps between the greater values of gold coins or gold Suisse bars for purchases in the future.

PreciousMetals

Suisse bars versus coins

I consider a 5-oz. silver Suisse bar a lot more convenient than a specialty coin or roll of coins that total $100-120 in silver. I do have some silver coins, but as I move forward in life, I like the Suisse bars more and more.

When I get paid for a job, it’s sometimes in junk silver or oddball smaller gold coins. Since I don’t carry knowledge of all things in my head, I have to not only know the current spot price (which means a newspaper or the internet), but also each coin’s worth, the amount and purity of the PM in that coin. For me, that means some printed cheat sheets or a book.

The first time somebody showed up with a Suisse bar and asked how I felt about barter instead, my eyes opened. Now, since the bar itself and the stamp inside each little plastic credit card tells me the weights and purity, it’s super easy to do math using only a single sheet of reference for that spot price. I also don’t have to check to make sure those coins are all the appropriate silver-content without an “oops”, and the Suisse bars are easier for me to redeem than waiting for the coin guys to be there or to inspect each one in turn. Easy transactions are a good thing.

Now consider what I have to carry if I’m the buyer with junk silver and 1/10 gold coins.

I don’t commonly go to a store or go do a job for less than $20, and regularly, it’s a $40-50 trip. I rarely leave a supermarket without spending $50-100 and I have never had a service person out for less than $100. That means some of the 1- and 2-gram gold and the 20- and 50-gram silver Suisse bars very much have a place in my current spending.

Since we typically talk about the loss of value on the dollar, too, I can expect that a current $1-4 loaf of bread or apple fritters will go up, too. So I really might not have much use at all for those $2-10 denominations, anyway. Sure, some, maybe, so I can still get a cup of coffee and a meal while we’re in town, and tip the waitress (we’ve been exchanging metal bits for meals since the Dark Ages – it’s okay to envision it, honest). But I expect that if I ever fall back on them, modern society or knocked-back, knocked-down culture, those equivalents of today’s 20’s and 50’s will see a lot of use.

I need my book, really, because not everybody is going to trust a printout. I need the printout (or somebody’s declaration of spot price per ounce). And I need my assorted coins. Maybe I’m going to a pawn shop or bank to sell them for a mortgage or Buy’N’Large-appropriate cash, maybe a government is reestablishing or it’s a disaster more like the Civil War, Great Depression, Argentina, Bosnia, or Greece and I need to pay taxes on my property. Maybe I’m off to buy myself a new donkey or mule, and, hey, while we’re out, hit the blacksmith for a new file or hitch bar, or a septic man to come check my system. I’d like to be able to work in relatively small amounts like $20, $40, and $100, but I may also want to deal with $500-$2K.

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With Suisse Bars, I can fit several thousand dollars flat on my person inside a belt, inside the lining of a vest or coat, inside my holster, and inside two or three pockets.

Suisse bars – especially in conjunction with some coins for $2-10 purchases – give me that flexibility, and I can fit several thousand dollars flat on my person inside a belt, inside the lining of a vest or coat, inside my holster, and inside two or three pockets. I need just that spot price, whether I print it weekly or cut it out of a paper and stash it monthly, and that fits nice and flat, too. They add some weight to a canteen, to the stiff panel of a holster or mag pouch, but they don’t add a lot of bulk and they don’t add the weight of 1925 dimes or 1943 quarters.

Compared to just the coins, the Suisse bars do take up more space due to the packaging, but that packaging is what allows them to be readily used as currency and barter even with people who aren’t currently preppers and who are going to be suspicious of the junk silver we like unless we present – and sometimes even with – a “real” book that shows their silver or gold value. The lack of trust may end up limiting our future options. The book alone is one more thing that I have to carry around, or I may end up losing more opportunities from non-hoarders. Since we like to do things in three around here, it’s not just one book or one set of cheat sheets.

Anything limiting is bad. Options are good.

I’d like to be able to use them pretty easily. Marked as they are, Suisse bars inspire a fair bit of confidence in recipients and come with an ease for calculation, use, and carry that coins or rolls of coins just don’t. Not for me.

Suisse bars versus gems

Something I see come up regularly when we talk about PM’s on forums or in person, is that soul who points out gems. It’s a point I acknowledge. However, when you start talking about gems you need three things: a knowledgeable buyer, tools for assessing value, and to be spending a fair bit at once.

You’re way past a how-to book for the uninitiated with even small diamonds. You’re into a loupe, and you have to find somebody willing to take them. If we run into the “you can’t eat a coin” mentality when we discuss PM’s, that goes double for the stones folks. Fewer people will just take your word for it on the value of a piece. A certificate for a stone or a piece of jewelry isn’t going to carry all that far, really, unless somebody can find a jeweler to confirm that value. There’s more time, more equipment, and more specialized skills needed to use gems as currency.

SuisseCreditCard

Now, if the Bad Thing that happens turns us into refugees fleeing into a working, functional country and city, my theory is dumb. Somebody with some nice, rare stones and gems stuck in the hollowed out chunks of their boot heels, grandma’s cane, and Cousin Louie’s hood seam are going to be able to readily find a shop, trade their gems for monies, and go be successful. I’m going to have a harder time stashing the same cash value worth of <5g Suisse bars than gem people or people with 1-oz. gold coins.

That’s a pretty specific scenario, though. Because they’re more versatile through more disasters of lesser and greater scales, I prefer the Suisse bars.

Buying in

There are some real scams out there associated with Suisse bars, especially. There are some stupidly overpriced coins, too, but because of the packaging, Suisse bars end up seeing a lot of markups and some unsavory types will always take advantage of wants, needs and fears and mark things up further.

Do your homework. Always.

A three-minute internet search can give you the going rate of bars and denominations, their shipping costs. That knowledge can be carried to a supplier (remembering that brick-and-mortar shops pay for overhead and that increases the price further). We can also call around to shops before we even go out the door so we know what a general starting price is for our areas and not be taken advantage of by unscrupulous types in our towns and cities, or plan a detour to buy from a larger supplier in a larger town somewhere, where bulk consumption helps keep consumer prices lower.

If you choose to buy online instead of with cash, for sure and 100% at least compare the prices against a reputable dealer like JM Bullion or APMEX, and be really, really sure Amazon and eBay are going to insure your purchase and the shipping. Do a BBB and internet search for the seller and company to find reviews. If they’re not 5-star sterling, buy elsewhere.

Suisse bars as a currency

The sizes and ease may make Suisse bars part of a solution for somebody who’s ready to invest in more than savings, retirement, and consumables. They aren’t for everybody, and neither are PM’s. I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all fix for anything in life, really. But they are an option for backup or alternative currency, and they’re one I rarely see discussed (besides the scam alerts) so I wanted to point them out.

12 Comments

  1. Huples

    April 9, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Not my thing as I’m more inclined to skills bartering. Chimney sweeping will be very much in demand year two
    The Canadian Mint frequently sell silver coins at cost so 20$ coin costs $20. Have a few for gifts and shtf but this won’t be more than $2500 as that seems plenty.
    These coins get around the purity issues and can never drop below purchase price. For Americans buy when my loonie is low I.e now and below oil rises

  2. mb

    April 9, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I prefer Brass, Copper, & Lead as precious metals. An ounce or two of gold to make a tooth crown is fine, but I would rather have $5000 worth of ammo than $5000 worth of gold. Paper money can be used to help start fires when TEOTWAWKI arrives.

  3. Bolofia

    April 9, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Well written and informative! I have a few Krugerrands in one ounce and 1/10th oz. denomination, but moved away from precious metals as a Prepper strategy a few years ago. There is a tendency to fall victim to thinking in terms of present versus future value, and two things have troubled me about PM in a full-blown SHTF scenario.

    First, I think everyone will be looking for food and physical security above all else. And, as Huples says, skills will be a great asset. If Huples cleans your chimney, he will likely expect you to feed him and his family for a day or more. So, why would he accept a gold or silver coin (or bar) in trade for a skill when his immediate need is food?

    Second, who sets the value of any precious metal after SHTF? The spot price for gold yesterday was $1236.80 per ounce on the NY market. In a post-SHTF world, if you offered to give me one ounce of gold, it would be unrealistic if you expected me to trade you $1236 of food at today’s cost. I don’t think anyone would expect that price to hold against the value of essential commodities, food and security. A welder will value a tank of acetylene more than a gold coin, and the acetylene will be far more useful to him. In other words, gold/silver will depreciate against the value of scarce and dwindling commodities. The person or group that has the local corner on a given commodity will determine the value of the coin.
    For that reason, I see precious metals as a way to potentially get out of an immediate jam, but not as a device for long term survival.

    • R. Ann

      April 9, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      PMs and alternative currency are always a divisive topic. This is written more for those who are interested in PMs, but aren’t aware of or have seen negatives involved with Suisse bars without any of the positives.

      Everybody has different expectations of what will happen when and how, and what the likelihood of varying disasters are.

      I tend to look at history a fair bit, as far back as we have records for. There are an awful lot of stumbles and falls where all of society does not entirely break down, or where after a breakdown, order is restored. We have a lot of history — distant to fairly recent — on pretty much every continent where one type of currency or another utterly fails, and it requires buckets of paper to make a purchase, but where certain things (metals, jewels, stones, etc.) do retain value.

      I think survival comes first. (I actually think 50-50 invest time and money in skills and getting out of debt.) But I also keep savings on hand for rainy days, insurance deductibles, and retiring.

      For me, PMs fit there in the “stuff happens daily” and “there’s a chance of A, B, and C disaster as well as X, Y and Z” savings and hedge categories. They’re a tangible thing that I can hold onto and redeem even if/while a specific bank exploit or identity theft is being adjudicated, inflation or serious deflation hits and my dollars themselves aren’t overly valuable, and coming out of some sort of more minor disaster such as the Great Depression, Argentina, or Greece.

      I knew the article would be hit with people who don’t agree with PMs at all, even acknowledging the counter-arguments and setting up some prioritizing suggestions. Just the nature of the beast. So long as somebody out there thinks about some o the pro’s and con’s to Suisse bars as part of a PM plan or alternative currencies and comes out firmer in their own choice – whatever it is – I’m happy.

      🙂 – Rebecca Ann

      • Huples

        April 10, 2016 at 3:22 pm

        True gold, silver, and platinum will be valuable in a partial collapse leaving trading largely intact but I always think worse case. That’s why I’m not really into PM hoarding.

        As I said I have a few silver and gold coins in low weights for those times but in reality I’d cash out my retirement savings and buy food in a partial collapse. Yes, currency would devalue but I’ve big enough savings accounts to not worry and massive food buys even if hit with a 95% devaluation. I’d also move early. In a full on collapse those accounts are gone but my retirement will be different!

        The Canadian coins are often sold at face value. $20, 50, 100 for a coin with the same cash value. Many are higher to buy than their face value especially gold so I mainly only buy silver. They have the Queen on them, have a government backing them, and are low enough cost to use. I calculate the mark up is 2 to 3 times the current value of the silver. How does this compare to the Suisse bars as you have now got me curious 🙂

        Oh for chimney sweeping I’d expect a few days food and I’ll try to push it to a week. Year Two onwards a lot of chimney fires are going to happen. That’s when I drag out my flyers and advertise locally. I’m dead by then or a community exists. The investment is minimal now and seemed an easy addition to the nursing and gardening which is my main focus after shtf has killed off the many

      • Huples

        April 10, 2016 at 3:28 pm

        Oh is ampex good to buy from? Price seems decent

        • R. Ann

          April 10, 2016 at 5:52 pm

          AMPEX and JM would be my choices for online, but you have to check shipping. They fluctuate back and forth for being better priced the lower-denomination weights of coins and Suisse bars.

          Re. the Suisse bar markup – yes and no. As of Friday’s paper, SP is $1236.80. AMPEX 1-ox gold coins are running $1290-ish, 10 1/10oz coins would run 1418.90, gold Suisse bars in sheaths are running $1269.89/1oz and 1281.89 by manufacturer, the 25-gram 1-g chip-off sheets are running $1133, and 6x 5g Suisse bars are $1300ish (28.3 grams to the ounce). So, some markup on the spot price, but that’s expected of any retailer, and you always pay more for specialty and smaller amounts. Markups are going to be higher in brick-and-mortar stores.

          I prepare for the worst, but I also prepare for the daily/seasonal and the things that seem to strike repeatedly every 10-25 years and 50-100 years somewhere in the world, focusing on nations and groups that were thriving and “advanced” for the time and lost it. Sometimes they’ve lost it all, and my focus on sustainability and self-sufficiency will serve relatively well there, but usually they’ve dropped pegs – sometimes a lot of them – without a major die-off and without total loss of civilization.
          I’ve traveled to an awful lot of 3rd world nations where coins and bars and gems had the value of cash and cattle (and drugs; not my thing), even when two blocks over we’re running Humanitarian Aid med bays and food distro. I’ve also seen a lot of the world, to include some white nations, where black market drugs aren’t for sale for 500# of wheat and I wouldn’t choose to give those types my firearms or ammo. I’m prepared to lose loved ones for want of meds (yeah, I do herbal, and sometimes they don’t do the trick), but some inflation/deflation proof coins, yeah, they’ll get stuff for my diabetic and to keep my Pop’s ticker going (or land us some fresh TP or Nyquil).

          I kind of see it in a health wheel format, four wheels to move my little buggy. I need them to run smoothly in order to thrive, so each little wedge of my various preparedness needs for the timescales involved to work well. We all have different viewpoints and priorities, and that’s okay – listening and understanding why and how others prioritize gives us a matrix to judge our own choices, and amend or hold them as-is with more consideration behind the decision. Is good to not all agree and end up sinking in groupthink. 🙂

        • R. Ann

          April 12, 2016 at 7:05 am

          It’s APMEX. It’s one of those things where I heard it one way and it’s now fully stuck in my head as “ampex”. I apologize!

          • Huples

            April 13, 2016 at 12:00 am

            Thanks. I took look at their site and definitely will consider a few purchase to go with my Canadian coins! Always best to ask someone who has been there and done it!

  4. Arcangel911

    April 11, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    great article! Thank you!

    • R. Ann

      April 12, 2016 at 7:03 am

      Thanks. PMs on their own are always a subject of great debate and requires prioritizing, but the Suisse bars have enough advantages, I’m always surprised not to see more of them with the junk silver and the special currency gold and silver coins. Have a good one!

  5. Jason London

    April 24, 2016 at 4:34 am

    Holding and trading in PMs is non-starter unless you also have chemical test kits and non-electronic scales – there are so many fake coins and bars coming out of China that you can’t trust anyone once the banks / official sellers have closed 🙂
    – just search on YouTube for fake bullion bars to see how ridiculous it is – just because it’s sealed in a pretty plastic case, doesn’t mean it’s the real deal – you would have to cut them open and test to be sure!

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