If you are wondering why your bag is so heavy after a week of traveling around Costa Rica, you probably have a pound of change gathered at the bottom. In the states, you pretty much want to throw your pennies away. They are worthless unless you’ve gathered together at least 100. Then, if you can exchange them for four quarters anywhere, you can park for 40 minutes in downtown Key West. That’s pretty much the only thing $1 will buy you these days.
In Costa Rica, the coins are even more ridiculous. For starters, they are all quite different in weight and material from each other, no consistency. The shiny ones feel like poorly made token coins. And are probably as valuable. If you took a colon [ko-LOAN] coin to the central bank of Costa Rica and demanded the Actual Money, what would you get? Probably the same coin handed back to you. This is their Actual Money. There is no gold or silver store in Costa Rica backing their currency. You know. Like there is in the U.S.
Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! And I have a bridge in Florida for sale.
Actually, colones [ko-LOAN-ace], like U.S. coins, aren’t worth the metal from whence they come. The only coins worth carrying are the 500 (it’s worth $1 and can actually buy stuff), and the 100s (worth 20 cents) and 50s (10 cents). These last two are excellent for tipping parking guards and grocery carriers. The seven other coins you see in the picture just take up space and weigh you down.
And confuse the hell out of you. Note that there are 3 different 10s (worth 2 cents) and 2 different 5s (worth a penny). Not only is getting change a bummer, but trying to pay with exact change is a test for old eyes and tired snyapses. I do keep a bag of coins in the car for the peajes [pay-AH-hays, tolls]. I love the challenge of getting 75 colones exactly out of all those different coins. I am easily amused.
Remember the good old days when we just carried around gold coins? If you wanted to pay for something that cost less than your whole coin, you just bit off a piece and paid with that. We should go back to that system. Simple and worth the effort.
The coins, in addition to being useful for paying tolls and tipping guardacalles, are useful for paying busfares. If you give colón bills to the bus drivers you will be CERTAIN to receive back a small handful of coins with your change, and it will accumulate quickly. I use small coin to pay busfares and it keeps the accumulation to a minimum.
Also coin is good for leaving tips for helpful, friendly waiters and waitresses. When I DO tip them (the tip is actually included in yout restaurant bill by law) I usually try to leave an amount equivalent to the cost of city busfare if I’m in San José. I feel that with the already excised 10% added to my food bill only a little more left for exceptional service is more than ample. I am not tempted to tip in US fashion simply because of that 10% included on my bill.
A useful trick i have learned, like ST, is to separate all the smaller coins and leave them at home and take with me the larger ones for busfare or taxi fare.
Sometimes I will take a handful of smaller coin to pay busfare, if there is enough of it. Also if I need to make a phonecall to someone at a payphone, I like to use the smaller ones in the angled slot on top of the phone. They will drop in at intervals and get used up pretty fast that way if your conversation lasts any length of time! (Another reason that it is better to use small coins for payphones is that if you put big ones on top of the phone you of course get more minutes for each one and so if you happen to hang up right after a big one drops you don’t get any change back.)
I learned to do these thing out of self-defense, so that the weight of all that coin wouldn’t pull my trousers down on one side or tear out the lining of my pants pockets. I have actually had both happen in the past, so finding ways to get rid of all that coin was paramount.
And all that coin tends to jangle in your pocket as you walk along, calling attention to the fact that you have a pocket full of change. I never seem to hear any ticos jangling along that way on the streets. I suspect they know even better ways to keep the coin-overload to a minimum than we expats and expats-soon-to-be have yet to figure out!
I can see Xavier rolling his eyes and saying, “don’t get her started on gold!”
At the rate this is going our coins are going to be as useless as USA coins (unfortunately for me which have most of savings in USD)
The USA abandoned the gold standard in 1971 (that is, the USD is NOT backed up by gold either…in other words each time the Federal Goverment needs more money ….they issue bonds and print more money…sounds exactly what my ‘nice’ goverment does in CR)
That plus the recent fiscal deficit are making my USD bills worth less every single day)
Tem um Blog interessante….
Hoje em dia a transmissão de conhecimentos e de opiniões através da blogosfera é algo que os poderes instituídos jamais conseguirão controlar.
Pode ler Manuel Bancaleiro – Algumas Verdades em:
I usually don’t bother with trying to make correct change. It’s so much easier to just give them bills and then take the change home and save it for a rainy day.
Hi Wolfie: Yes, U.S. currency is no longer backed by gold… I mis-spoke. I have a beginner’s understanding of the quagmire created by central banking… but there is supposed to be a store of gold that is owned by the American citizens, held in trust by its government. Like there is a store of money from which I will receive my social security checks every month starting in 11 years. Now would be the time for: bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.
Manuel: I wish I knew what you said in Portuguese… I’m working on it. I’ll get back to you…
The whole economy innerworks is a total mistery to me so you are not alone (I am a science kind of guy..so most economists confuse the hell out of me when they explain their ‘methods’)
We (CR) also have gold reserves (dont really know what for……..LOL), it appears that many countries (including CR) have their gold reserves (part of them I supose) in store at the Federal Reserve (I was shocked when I discovered it was free to store it there…..then again if I wanted someone to give me their gold I might as well make it easy, the place is in NY http://www.newyorkfed.org , I bet they also have gold/USD reserves in the Central Bank that is in San Jose downtown)
Interesting enough in the Tico Times of this week they report CR money reserves to be 3.1 billion USD
Regarding Social Security……I hope you make the ‘cut’ , I have no hopes for me (or someone my age in the States for that matter) to ever see that money…….however I have a few of those piggy banks full of our CR coins 🙂
I never was very good at figuring out the costa rican money, it’s a good thing that I only visit and don’t live there.
These days, if you can’t get gold, piggy banks are the way to go!