Loose change we can believe in

“If you’re having cash problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but sencillo ain’t one.”

A couple of weekends ago, I helped a family friend count some money, a little more than 600 Bs. F. For an hour I felt like those money counters that work at Vegas.

You can say that amount is nothing, that it doesn’t even catch up with the minimum wage. But that amount was still very valuable. Why?

It was in coins and small-denomination bills.

For quite some time, the sencillo (as we call here the low-denomination currency) has become a worthy commodity in the street. There’s not much of it, and retail businesses (big and small) are actively looking for it. Every time I go to the market or another kind of store, it ends somehow with the same question at the time of payment: ¿Tiene sencillo?

Some retailers struggle with their lack of sencillo and many customers are not in a better position. ATMs give in most cases brand new banknotes of 100 and 50 Bs.F. Some hold on to their own sencillo, as they believe it’s useful to spend “less” money in the short term while saving more of it in the long term.

A couple of retail employees told me that they have to do many things in order to get some sencillo. The existence of middlemen who get the sencillo for them was implied, but they remained tight-lipped about it. Like a lot of things, it’s done far away from public view.

At the same time, not all sencillo is wanted. The lowest of the low denomination coins (1, 5, and 10 cents) are unwanted by both businesses and customers. When the re-launch of the Bolivar, the most curious aspect was the return of the locha (12 and a half cents), used back in the day and very present in the anecdotes of our grandparents. Now, it’s simply useless as most prices are rounded up, even if the Chavernment doesn’t like that.

Scratch underneath the macro-economic discussion about a new Bolivar devaluation, and you find stories like this which present the true face of our economy and how people must work hard to balance what they have with what they must spend. Even after having enough nickels and dimes, they still have to deal with more problems.

We’re in tough times, and after the holidays are over, they’re gonna get even tougher.

UPDATE: Setty has some very interesting graphics related to this issue in his blog.

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