Dollars and Pesos

photo by Seemi Peltoniemi

photo by Seemi Peltoniemi

By: Caroline Rubach

Living in Argentina (where the peso is worth one-ninth of a dollar, but at the “blue dollar” rate is actually worth one-fifteenth of a dollar), I can get a lot out of the little dollars I put in. It has been quite fascinating to live in this way, now working with a different currency in daily life – both in the bill itself and in the way of retrieving it. I do not directly use a debit or credit card here, so my options consist of converting the cash I brought from the United States into Argentine pesos at the glorious blue dollar rate or using the wonderful invention of Xoom (a paypal service that transfers money digitally).

First, the blue dollar. There are three markets here: the official market, the blue market, and the black market. The government officially declares that the United States dollar is worth nine Argentine pesos, which is interesting because although the economy is fluctuating by the minute, the exchange rate remains neat and stagnant here in Argentina. Well, for a more realistic picture of the economy, the blue market exists. The blue market is something I have still yet to fully understand, but it essentially takes place in a store that advertises “Compro Oro,” or “We Buy Gold.” You walk in and receive pesos in exchange for your dollars, but somehow they have increased in value from one-ninth of a dollar to one-fifteenth of a dollar, and on a good day, one-sixteenth.

As for the black market, the exchange rate is a bit higher because it occurs in the private homes of Argentines who recognize the fault in their economic system. These people have realized a way to maintain the value of their wealth: converting it to dollars. The dollar has a lower inflation rate than the peso; when exchanged back, it has not lost nearly as much value as a peso would have.

Experiencing a foreign currency, gaining understanding of the wide range of ways to attain pesos and the differing exchange rates, I have come to realize a truth about what lies beneath the coins and bills.

Money is just a tangible, physical representation of what we value. We can communicate and reveal much of ourselves through where we spend our money, how much we spend of it, and how much significance we assign it in our lives.

For example, I often go to the San Telmo fería, or market, and I bargain with Cesar, an artist who sells his beautiful, intricate, ocean-themed paintings. I tell him that I am willing to pay 300 pesos for his painting, originally marked for 350 pesos. I am getting a better deal, yes, but paying less is not all that is happening in this interaction of words and bills:

I am communicating to Cesar how much I value his work.

Since the beginning of coin production – really, since the beginning of trading – we have recognized a need to express value for the work or service of another person. In order to have a fair trade, we had to standardize the system. This way, the seller is able to benefit from the time and effort he or she has put in to gathering, creating, or organizing their pieces of creation or services.

Enter money: bills and coins.

So, what do I spend my money on? What does this reveal about my priorities and my values? Most of my money can be traced back to my value of intimate conversations with friends. Countless receipts of restaurants and cafes represent the hours I have spent with friends over a cup of coffee or a delicious meal.

Whether we choose to or not, we communicate our priorities in our daily purchases and in our long term investments. Join me in being cognitive of this, asking in every transaction: what do I value most? How can I best invest my money where my heart lies?