Monday, April 23, 2007

The mystery of the missing monedas (Ken)

There is some oddness that goes on here with the money. After four months of observing it, I am sure it is not my imagination.

You have to manage your money here. I don’t mean saving, investing, and budgeting. I mean you have to make sure that you have a variety of bills and coins at all times. This is not as easy as it sounds because people don’t like to give change or break big bills. Also, the ATMs dispense $100 bills unless you request an amount under 100. For example, if you punch in $400, you get four 100-peso notes. If you punch in $390, you get three 100-peso notes, four 20- peso notes and one $10. You are still stuck with those $100s that no one wants to take.

“¿Tienes más pequeño?” seems to be the mantra for all sales clerks here.
However, the coin situation is even more odd. First, there are no one-centavo coins (well, there are no one-peso bills either). So everything is rounded up or down to the nearest five centavos. No problem there; it all seems to work out: sometimes in your favor, sometimes not, but it all works out over time. But the strange thing is that no one wants to GIVE coins, they only want to GET coins.

If my purchase if $17:55, the clerk will ask, “¿Tienes cincuenta y cinco centavos?” OK, so if I dig through my pocket and give her $20.55, she gives me back $3. However, since there are no one-peso bills, she needs to give me back a $1 coin. I have even been in the situation where she gave me back six 50-centavo coins because she was running low on $2 bills—and that is AFTER she just asked me to give her 55 centavos in coins.

The alamcen across the street is one of the worst where this is concerned. One day, after Helen told the woman she had no monedas, the woman opened a drawer under the register that was FULL of coins. (This is also the woman who likes to say she has no 5-centavo coins and offers a small piece of 1-centavo candy in its place)
It is like people hoard coins. And we all need them. The colectivos only take coins and there is no one on or near the bus to give change.

To break the big bills, we have to wait in line at a bank—usually the bank where the ATM was that we got the big bills in the first place. But, because people here don’t use checking accounts and pay all there bills in cash at the bank, the lines are long. You have to take a number like at the deli counter. So I have worked out an ingenious solution to the big-bill dilemma: The race track.

Hipódromo de Palermo is a short colectivo ride away (and 80 centavos that I have to make sure I have ahead of time). At the race track is a huge slot machine casino with many cash cages. I take my big bills and go from cage-to-cage saying, “Cambio por favor,” until I have changed my big bills to small bills. There are no coins though. You feed bills into the slot machines and get your winnings in the form of a paper voucher that you take to the cash cage to exchange for money. So, I need to make sure I have the 80 centavos for the colectivo ride back home.

So I have devised a work-around for the big-bill situation, but I am still puzzled by it. I have been told that there have been coin shortages in the past. Argentinos remember them all-too-well and the stores have developed these practices to make sure they never run short of coins. But the big-bill aspect of it all is confusing. Wouldn’t it be easier to close out a register at the end of the shift by counting big bills?


greekinargentina said...

Hey Ken and Helen

We look forward to seeing you there

Friday, April 27th - Dinner Meeting

Our next dinner meeting is going to be next Friday, April 27th in Cheff Iusef Restaurant -- Malabia 1378 (Palermo Viejo) -- at 8pm.
Cheff Iusef is probably the most authentic Middle Eastern restaurant in Buenos Aires.

Entrance fee is 30 pesos without soft drinks, 35 pesos with soft drinks.

What is included:

Meat Dishes:
Entrees: kebbe, lebanese meatball, basterma armenian dried meats,stuffed grape leaves filled with rice and meats.
Main courses: cafta lebanese sausage, shish kebabs chicken and beef and lamb and more.

For Vegetarians:
Entrees: chick pea dip eggplant dip arabian cheeses, falafel chick pea fritters, greek salads taboulie.
Main dishes: stuffed eggplant filled with rice and vegetables, persian rice, vegetarian kebabs, arabian vegetarian pies and more.

For more information about the restaurant please check saltshaker, guia oleo and

Hope to see you there.

We look forward to seeing you at our next party on Friday night

emilyeffinconrad said...


Chas said...

I think the solution to this coin mystery is a job for the long-silent Mia.

yanqui mike said...

I've seen the capital go thru cycles of this.

I hoard coins like a yanqui does back in the old country...mainly because they're a pain to carry around. But when one of the coin shortages rolls around...I break them all out and every quiosquero sings a big thank you.

There are occasional/cyclical shortages of small bills, as well. There even was/is a television commercial about the "good things in life" that included: a taxi driver that has a five.

The US is pretty cool about breaking big bills...but keep in mind that you can't pay in 100's for everything there either.

Thanks for stopping by the party! It was great to have you.

Dr. K said...

It is true you can't use a $100 everywhere in the USA, but the ATMs dispense $20s.

Matt said...

Always, always, always say you have no change-if they want the sale they'll find the coins somewhere. my girlfriend used to buy chewing gum with 100 peso notes in kioskos to get change for the bus. they'd moan and bitch like nobody's business but, like your local almacen, they always miraculously find it after a while. supermarkets are also a good place to break money-no matter what the cashier says, they always have change. i never had to go to a bank to change large bills in all my time in BA. it's all a game-no one wants to admit they have change and you shouldn't either!

taxis are a different matter altogther-anything over a 20 and you'll likely to be on the receiving end of a good insult and most probably fake notes as your change...

and compared to ecuador, where i regularly had to wait 10-30 minutes for $2 change from a twenty (more than once over half an hour whilst the owner sent the kids out to find the change they had in their till all along), BA is easy!

Chas said...

This change-hoarding habit is said to be a defense against periodic coin and small bill shortages. But, ironically, this behavior effectively creates a PERPETUAL shortage! How will you know when the next shortage hits?

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Hi! I am reading your blog because we want to visit Argentina. We live in Merida, Mexico and we have to play the change game here too. The ATMs like to give 200 and 500 peso notes (Mexican pesos is apprx 10 to 1 to the dollar), so no matter what I buy at a supermarket or Walmart I pay with 500 peso notes. For our local tienda I use the small change. I am struck by how much Argentina is like Mexico.