have you got any change?

November 6, 2008 | By More

The Brazilian Central Bank acknowledged recently what anybody who’s been to Brazil for longer than two months knows perfectly well: there is a serious shortage of small change in the country. The reasons are diverse. The bank blames piggy banks, poor things.

Whether the pigs are guilty or not, the truth is that a by-product of the lack of small change is the irritating practice of always rounding up the change – in favour of the seller, not the buyer. This is a constant practice in all commercial transactions, and 9 out of 10 times the balance is tipped against you. If you pay with a R$5 note for something worth R$4,97, you can be sure you will not get any change in return.

While one tends to accept this practice in the case of small shops or people selling stuff on the streets, one wonders what the impact of this practice is on the cash-flow of large supermarket networks.

Even more annoying is the practice of trading money for sweets or chewing gum. Your meal costs R$9,80 and you pay with a R10,00 note? You might be offered two pieces of chewing gum instead of the R$0,20 you are owed. Please note that this is a one-way practice. You will never be allowed to pay for your meal with chewing gum.

P.S.: of course this is a common practice in many other countries around the world. But in my personal experience, this practice happens in Brazil with an alarming frequency.

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Category: Money, Typical Brazilian

Comments (5)

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  1. polyana says:


    i didn’t realize this was a problem everywhere!!! i’ve been getting irritated with vaious vendors because they always ask me for change. i used to walk around with tons of change in my wallet and now i can’t seem to find any. the worst is when you say, “i don’t have any,” and they say, “sorry, can’t do anything for you…” – i’d take gum over “can’t do anything,” anyday 🙂

    gostei do seu blog – muito legal!!


  2. Mircea says:

    Well…I think this is a popular practice in the not too developed countries. We have the same situation in Romania since 2 or 3 years – chewing gum has become the new 10c coin. If you go to a shop in the morning they say “I just opened and don’t have change!”, if you go in the evening they say “We’re out of change, come back tomorrow morning” 🙂 So I decided to give them a bag of coins one evening to solve their problems – it was a long talk until the coins were accepted!

  3. Tony says:

    polyana, Mircea, I had a strong suspicion this would be a kind of universal issue. Thanks for your comments!

  4. That was a great post, LOL 🙂
    Great tip for foreign tourists. I try to carry a small coin bag to keep some change. That also helps with those dudes who want to “take care of your car” while you go to a park, too.

  5. Tony says:

    Hi Tiago, yes, small change on your pocket comes handy when you park on the street.