Tiene Cambio?

Ask any backpacker about what drives them crazy about traveling in developing countries and they’ll probably talk about either bad toilets or…lack of change. Despite going through the change hoarding routine a hundred times now, I still find it exasperating. If you pay rent on a store and have it stocked with hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, can’t you manage to keep some extra change on hand?

Apparently not. I am now in Acapulco, Mexico and just tried to buy a water bottle so I could use my SteriPen Traveler instead of buying bottled water for a week and adding to the litter. The price was 30 pesos, a tad under $3. I gave her 50 pesos, less than $5. “Tiene cambio?” she asked. Huh? If I were handing her a huge bill, okay I get it. But she can’t handle 20 pesos change on 50? No, she opened up the register drawer and there were exactly two bills in there: another 50 and a 100. So unless someone hits it just right, no go.

She shrugged, I left. Sale lost. I still don’t get it.

Comments
  1. Arvind

    I grew up in India, and am quite familiar with the situation. My father used to run a hotel and when I was a kid, one of the things I used to help with out with was acquiring the change. Usually, this involved taking the bigger notes and going to the shops that accumulated smaller coins and notes and exchanging with them.
    There were not a whole lot of other alternatives, most small businesses are not able to get their change from banks – they might not even have accounts (everything is cash), or the banks are at a distance, not everyone has a vehicle to get around, etc. etc. To get your change, you’re usually limited to the places you can reach on foot.

  2. kevin p

    When I lived in Syria I was given this explanation of why there is never enough change…. There is a company based out of Canada which prints most country’s money. They charge by how many bills they print and not the value of the bills. So it is much cheaper to print 1,000,000 large bills as opposed to 100,000,000 smaller ones. I have no idea if this is actually true.

  3. Gustavo

    The answer is probably a simple lack of trust. The owners tend to keep the till as empty as possible to minimize employee theft. I live in Mexico, and can tell you that no one trusts anyone, and all too often, with good reason. Employee theft is a reality.

  4. Gustavo

    I forgot to mention that the above, together with Arvind’s observations, will probably account for most situations. Arvind is quite right: the banks are not cooperative. A lot of small business people selling from stands on the street often ask the bus drivers for change–they always seem to have enough.

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