Thursday, October 1, 2015

XXXIX. Dinero Divertido

Funny Money

Upper left clockwise: Frida Kahlo, 500p; Nezahualcoyotl, 100p,
Sister Juana de Asbaje, 200p; Jose Maria Morelos, 50p
No disrespect intended but compared to the stodgy hunter-green, tan and black of Yankee dollars with their elaborate scrollwork reminiscent of a 19th century death certificate, just looking at a Mexican peso bill can make you feel a little giggly. They’re all smaller for one thing, and instead of that heritage, counterfeit-befuddling linen paper, pesos have a crisp plastic feel, each one a different, pastel color. And not just engravings of a bunch of dead white politicians either—you’ve got a pre-Columbian poet-warrior with an unpronounceable name that means “Coyote something or other”, a 17th century nun and writer who was the subject of a weepy telenovela, and the iconic Frido Kahlo, although admittedly on the flip-side of Diego Rivera—both artists, though.

So, there’s the appearance for one thing, and the value, for another, that make you want to shout “¡Olé!” as you spend them left and right. At least that’s the initial feeling we had when we arrived with a thick stack of Mexican currency in this balmy land of rustling palms.

You've got that $8 US bottle of tequila; $2 US more buys you
all the the ingredients shown for some guacamole, plus limes
to go with your margaritas.
Getting down to brass centavos: it wasn’t too many years ago when we would “only” get a little over 11 pesos to a dollar. When we moved here in May the exchange rate was 15 to 1 and we counted ourselves lucky; now it’s up to a little over 17. That’s half again more bang for the buck than it was when we began coming to Mexico. Makes you giddy, if you’re a Yank. (For Canadians the past few years have been less than kind, and of course for the locals—not so good; they receive fewer dollars for things they make, and it costs them more dollars for things we make.) But, an important note: we haven’t noticed any inflation in peso prices.

This money takes some getting used to—the color, feel and size—and it’s not only the exchange rate, either. When you were holding $6 the day before you got on the plane in Seattle and once you landed in Guadalajara that translated to a hundred pesos, you felt richer. And then when you realized that same hundred pesos could buy you a tasty breakfast for two (as long as it wasn't in the airport), including a couple of fine cups of coffee— Well, throw it down! 

Our favorite restaurant has a standing menu plus
weekly specials. The prices listed range from
So, it’s not only that you’ve got more zeros behind the whole numbers in your pocket, it’s also that the price of most everything is cheaper here than it would be in the States. For example, when you convert from peso to dollar and compare with prices back home, our rent is 2/3 what it was in Edmonds, Washington for similar size and better quality. And we’re paying about 1/2 what we were for utilities. Our $12 a month for electricity is considered profligate, as is the $30 monthly we spend on propane, from which we get heat, shower, stove and dryer. On the other hand, internet and telephone are not too much less than US prices.

A recent eye exam with a highly recommended ophthalmologist was 1/4 what we would have paid en los Ustados Unidos. An excellent haircut is about $8 for him, $10 for her, comparable to $30 and $60 US, respectively. When my stylish spouse wants a good, relaxing pedicure from the shop around the corner? Seven dollars including tip. Bottom line: almost anything from the service sector is greatly discounted.

We enjoy eating out much more often than we ever did in the States, about twice a week, at least, although it still feels a little shameful. Most excellent lunch entrees go for about $4 US a serving, dinner dishes about $5-8. Add $2 for una copa de vino. Our regular Sunday afternoon treat of two extra tall mocha frappes at Black and White Coffee on the plaza sets us back $5, including tip.

We buy our house coffee by the kilo from the young man who hand grinds the Vera Cruz beans and vends them from a wheelbarrow in the plaza—140 pesos, which translates to less than $4/lb. Antonia at the dispensa up at Colon and Hidalgo orders eight small containers of greek yogurt (coco flavor) for us to pick up each week at half the price we’d pay for the same brand at Krogers.

Here's a picture of that $5 Chicken Satay
In this land of tequila, a regular-sized bottle seems overpriced at about $7.50 US (though still only 1/3 what we pay back home), but those big limes (confusingly called limóns) only set you back two pennies apiece. If you’re making a guacamole botana (appetizer) to go with your margarita, you’ll want aguacates (avocados), of course. They always seem to be perfectly ripe at about 50 cents each. Roma tomatoes were recently on sale at Surly’s (our name for the perpetually dyspeptic proprietor) Frutas y Verduras for the clearance price of less than half a buck a pound. 

It’s not everything that is so inexpensive, though. The price of gasoline at any of the State-owned Pemex stations is currently $3.10/gal—about the same, I imagine, as it is in most of the US. And cars are no bargain, although our recent rentals have cost less than they would have back home—$200/wk including all insurance. Electronic goods, though, are on a par with what we’d pay Amazon.

Of course, all these prices that I’ve converted to US dollars would be un poco mas caro (a little more expensive) if the exchange rate were to fall. That extra two pesos we’re getting over what the rate was when we arrived in May has added almost 15% to our Yankee purchasing power. I expect that as this rate stabilizes we’ll gradually stop automatically translating everything into dollars as we shop or eat out. 

Meanwhile, we're three weeks into a three month period keeping track of all our expenses, trying to set up one of those whatchamacallit—budget thingys—now that we're dancing around the edge of End Game, seeing how far we can push things here in our inexpensive paradise. In the meantime we'll continue to enjoy for free all the things that really make this a special place—the friendly and fun-loving people, the near-perfect weather, vibrant colors and culture.


  1. We're on our way! Well, not really, but maybe someday.

  2. Come on down, Katie, any time. I'm sure you'll enjoy it--there's a vast variety for one thing--for a visit or something more.