In Indonesia, I’m experiencing a throw-back to the days when I didn’t have a washer and dryer and compulsively collected quarters for the laundromat. In this case: it’s taxis. Dave Ramsey–the American financial evangelist for a debt-free, cash-based lifestyle–would endorse the economics required of ex-pats. Unlike Korea, Indonesian taxis do not take credit cards or cash cards or any cards.
And most vitally, they DON’T carry SMALL BILLS for change!!!
Bear in mind that Indonesia is a country where the largest bill in popular circulation is essentially the equivalent of a $10. Which is a whole other issue.
In any case, my strategy is to withdraw weekly the fistful of 100,000 ($10) and 50,000 ($5) rupiah required for “taxiing around money” and then break them before needing a ride.
The best places to collect small bills:
- Tolls (If toll collectors have unlimited supplies of small bills, why is this not available to taxi drivers?): I usually pay tolls with a ten-spot and the toll collectors return the sweet 20s ($2) and 10s ($1) and even some 5s (50 cents) and 2s (20 cents) within seconds–quick as lightning.
- Grocery stores: Obviously, you might think. However, I watch the clerks carefully and request my change in 20s and 10s . . . No fivers, please. This is all done in English, which requires withstanding an awkward exchange involving me pointing to the section of the cash register with the lower bills and refusing the equivalent of a $5. Classiness is an unfortunate casualty in this option.
On the flip side, I often accumulate a heavy bag of confusing coins that are less than 1 cent. So today on my weekly drive to church, I tried to outsmart the system by paying my 7500 rupiah toll with the aforementioned 100,000 note. But this time also, craftily, with a 500 coin.
As we pulled up to the toll booth, I noticed the taxi driver had not offered the coin with the bill. I began insisting, “500, pak!! 500, pak!!” To which he seemed like a confused dad who simply proceeded to pay the toll while his toddler was fussing from her car seat in the back.
As we pulled away from the toll booth, he immediately pulled over to address the situation–again, like a dad.
I responded by taking the change which included the 500 coin that I was hoping to avoid and added it to the 500 coin I had given him and showed him that I had wanted to receive a 1000 note in exchange for these coins. His face brightened. He registered my thought process.
At the next toll, 7000 rupiah, I gave him four 500 coins and a 10,000 bill and we received a 5000 note in return. Keep up, math people!
Terima Kasih, pak!! Teri-ma Kasih!!!
These are the simple pleasures borne from the challenges (irritations) of life as an ex-pat who thinks she can manage her money Ramsey-style in Indonesia.