Archive for September, 2009

Once in a while I see a sign on a cash register at a grocery store, something about an “escasez de monedas a nivel Nacional” – a scarcity of coins at the National level, so they would appreciate exact change. I heard they had this problem in Argentina as well.

I realized what the problem is in Costa Rica. The coins are too big and heavy in relation to their value. It is very tempting just to leave them at home, but then you just end up bringing home more. It’s like my economic duty to load up a pocketful of these brass and steel cartwheels and go spend them. I usually give them to bus drivers, who probably love getting these handfuls of carefully counted “menudo”  (small change). Once an Alajuela bus driver got back at me by giving me eight of the big steel 20 Colon pieces in change for a Rojo (1000 Colon note).

Another part of the problem is the many varieties of coins. There are three different versions of some low-value coins, a big old steel one from 1982-85, a newer, smaller brass one, and the newest lightweight aluminum ones with the same dimension as the brass. Only the 5 and 10 Colon coins (5 colones = less than 1¢ u.s.) are made of aluminum.

The huge steel ones from the eighties are the worst. There is a steel 20 Colon piece worth three cents (and still falling) with the same size and weight of the modern 500 Colon brass coin. The most common coin in circulation is the 100 Colon, a brass coin worth about 17 cents that looks like an arcade token like my brother used to stamp out in an old airplane hangar. Four of them will get you a nice bus ride to downtown San José.

Update – Sept. 29: The Central Bank is going to take the big steel coins out of circulation


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