The Challenge of Change

Among the reasons I retired to Mexico was to make changes in my life, routine, and attitude. Little did I realize that making those changes would be vastly easier than getting change in stores, restaurants, and other local businesses.  Money, its value, and how readily available it is, is one of the most obvious differences between the US and Mexico. As a result, I am constantly aware of the change and denominations of bills I have on me because having the right change is oftentimes a necessity here. It can be a matter of life and debt.

To explain this situation best, one has to start at the ATM.  When one uses an ATM in the US, the smallest denomination one gets is $20. When one goes to a Mexican ATM, the largest denomination given is 500 pesos, which is currently about $25 USD. And, as is the custom, when requesting 3000 pesos, or about $150, one will receive 1500 or 2000 of that amount in 500s. This is highly impractical because most small stores and restaurants don’t have change for a flood of 500s. Even at a large business, such as Walmart, cashiers frequently don’t have enough change on hand when a customer pays a 175 peso bill with a 500. Neighboring cashiers are called to see what bills they have. Supervisors are summoned. Faces reflect frustration. Lines build in back of change-challenged customers. The 500 is scrutinized by all involved employees as if it had El Chapo’s DNA on it. Americans in the growing line sigh with impatience. Mexicans  calmly wait. The queue lengthens, becoming a queueueueueue. The people in it age, begin wasting, and grow beards. Toddlers in the line graduate high school.

But eventually the problem is solved and the clerk may give you your 325 pesos change. But he does so in coins, five peso coins and ten peso coins. You are then so weighted down with coins, it is necessary to request assistance to the parking lot. The assistance is to help you steady yourself as you walk, not for carrying the bags. Hopefully, two able-bodied employees are available to support you by the elbows and steer you to your car, a taxi, or a bus.

Hailing a cab or taking the bus, if you don’t have sufficient coinage or small bills like 20s or 50s, presents your next “change” hurdle.  The taxi ride might cost 60 pesos or $3 USD, but if you pay the driver with a 100 peso bill, he very likely will not have change.  If you board a bus, which will cost between six and nine pesos, you had better have coins or a 20 peso bill. Anything larger, will cause the driver to go into apoplectic shock, sending the bus across oncoming traffic, and careening into the nearest insufficiently stocked ATM.

Change problems are common in restaurants, too, if you are lacking in 100 and 200 peso bills.  Assume your total for food and drinks is 180 pesos, or $9 USD, and you wish to tip the server 15-20%, but the smallest bill you have is a 500. It is very likely the change you receive will be a 200, 100, and a 20. Try to form an appropriate 27-40 peso gratuity out of that. Leaving only the 20 will make you look cheap, insult the waitperson, and cause an outpouring of anti-American graffiti on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico wall. Scrounging under the table for a 20 or small coins will not be fruitful. To save face and avoid an international incident, you will be forced, like I have been numerous times, to prostitute yourself on the street in front of the restaurant, hoping to raise another 15 -20 pesos. Then, weeks later, after you have finally raised the money by performing sexual  acts you had only read about in the Trump-Russia dossier, you return to the eatery to tip the waiter only to learn he is no longer there; he has been jailed for murdering an American who under-tipped him.

Even at home, having cash in small denominations is important. For example, a maid cleans my casita once a week. While she is paid by management, it is customary to leave a tip. To do that, one has to plan ahead, making certain he has the proper amount of pesos available for the woman.  If one doesn’t, he will have to find a way to break a 100 peso or larger bill. Going to a nearby small store or vendor is not the answer; they will not have change. I have been known, therefore, to rush to a coffee house ten minutes away, order coffee and a muffin, cookie, or more fancy dessert which will total 40-70 pesos, scarf it down, pay with a 100, grab my change, dash home, place the tip in its usual place, and vacate the premises so the maid can do her work without my repeated panhandler-toned pleas of, “Change, ma’am? Spare change?”

Thus far I have addressed issues regarding change in regular daily life. But it can also be a problem when dealing with the underbelly of society. While I have never bought drugs in Ajijic, I have been told it would be advantageous to have the correct change. Drug dealers, I would think, do not carry cash registers with them. But, like I said, I have no experience in that area.

I do have experience, however, in a different area that some might frown upon.  I have learned having correct change and appropriate denominations is necessary when sticking tips in the G-strings of male exotic dancers or strippers. Oh, are you shocked I would know anything about this practice? Well, I do. But, rest assured, I am only involved in high-end, classy establishments of this nature and only when it becomes absolutely necessary. But, through my minimal involvement, I am certain, I have received many 500 peso tips from my small-change challenged admirers when they only wanted to tip me 20.

In that same vein, when I have been particularly … oh, how shall I say this? … deprived?… needy?… OK! Horny! … I have had frequent problems paying for high-class hustlers, gigolos, or male prostitutes that I have met while buying drugs on the street. I can’t figure out how much two-bits is in pesos.

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