Hope and Change…or Gaming the System

Today I feel the need to comment on something that I have struggled with for the past three years.  Money, or more specifically cash.  I love that Euros come in all different sizes and colors.  It just makes sense (cents?  Sorry for the pun) that the bills are different sizes depending on their denomination.  Bigger bills have a higher value.  The currency in the US is boring.  All the bills are the same green color and all the same size.  I suppose that means that they all nicely fit in my wallet, but it also means that a $20 bill can easily be hidden in a stack of $1 bills.  I feel sure that at some point in my life I have mistakenly given away a $10 or $20 when I meant to give a $1 note.

In the US, if I needed to withdraw $100 from an ATM it would give me 5 $20 bills.  That gives me a lot of flexibility on how I’m going to spend it.  Maybe I’m just getting some cash to spend on lunches throughout the week and only wanted to make one trip to the ATM?  Who knows what I’m going to buy, but the point is I have a lot of flexibility in spending it.  The ATM at my bank here gives out the fewest number of bills that add up to my withdrawal request.  Ask for 20 € and it spits out a single 20 € bill.  Likewise, a 70 € request results in a 50 € and a 20 € bill.  From a programmatic perspective this is great.  Ask for 100 € and get 100€, works as expected.  The ATM is dispensing the money in the most efficient way to minimize the number of bills involved.  The problem is then that I am stuck with a 50 € or a 100 € bill.  My problem then is how to get rid of these high value notes without making the local neighborhood merchants despise me by taking all their change.  Nothing that I would spend cash on would cost close to 50 or 100 € and I always use my card for larger purchases.

So, we have had to learn how to game the system.  It may sound a little strange, but Kelli and I allocate ourselves a 50 € weekly allowance each for spending on whatever we want.  In order to get 100 € from the ATM that means that I must do it in four transactions.  40 + 40 +10 + 10    This is the only way to ensure that we will have an even split of small denomination bills for the coming week.

I know what you are thinking, first world problems, right?  But in the world’s current situation I would much rather not touch anything more than I absolutely must.  I can only imagine what lives on the buttons at an ATM machine out on the sidewalk.  

I love the touchless card readers at the grocery store, and I have seen a few stores start implementing self-checkout too. 

Hopefully our bank will eventually offer the option of selecting small bills at the ATM.  And don’t get me started on all the coins in my pocket.  Nothing worse than getting 4.99 € in change. For my American friends, that would be all coins. There is no 1 € bill.

2 thoughts on “Hope and Change…or Gaming the System

  • I had already spent a lot of time each year in Barcelona when hubby and I flew LA/Paris for $287 after my retirement 3 years ago. I’m used to the bills and have a process to get rid of coins when I get to many: put all of the $1 and $2 euro coins in the right pocket and the rest in the left pocket, although I put off this effort till I have too much. 1. I NEVER noticed the variation in the increasing size of the bills. I was so surprised to read this! 2. I bought a beautiful wallet in Paris. Damn. It didn’t hold coins and it is too short for US bills. 3. If it’s busy, it is always so hard to get rid of coins when you put off using them and then can’t count them out quick enough since you don’t know what they are and people are standing there waiting and watching. Yep, 1st world problems.


  • I don’t know why we keep bothering to take out ‘the allowance’ when there is no where to spend it, since its just for coffee or general cafe money, and we have jars and jars of coins by the front door. I think its become a challenge, like a slot machine. ‘Come on! Show me the small bills!’ This is what happens during the boredom of lockdown. Its the little stuff that makes you crazy 😜 .


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