Money, It’s a Hit

United Kingdom CoinsTop Row (Left to Right): one penny, two pence, five pence, ten pence; Bottom Row (Left to Right): twenty pence, fifty pence, one pound, two pounds.

Ah, money. When I first arrived in the UK, the money seemed like play money, which it wasn’t, of course. I knew I’d have to adjust to the new currency, but I didn’t expect it to go as it did. I thought that the more I used the money and the less contact I had with US money, the more real the UK money would seem. On the contrary, the more I use UK money, the more unlike real money it seems.

First, a short story about adjusting to new money. Within days of my arrival to the UK, I was paying for purchases at a store, counting out correct change. The cashier became irritated with me when I shorted her by about 20p. I had miscounted because I’d mistakenly thought (or didn’t think) that the 5p’s were equivalent to dimes. Well, they sure looked similar to me. This was not my only currency kerfluffle, but you get the idea.

Perhaps the 5p to 10¢ error was made, innocently enough, because initially I converted all my purchase prices in my head to US dollars. Most things here seem to cost just slightly less than in the US, assuming a one-to-one conversion. But then I’d do the math, which is roughly multiplying by 1.5 (1.6 exchange rate including a 20% VAT (value added tax), which is included in the price of many goods and services, compared to $1 plus the tax that would have been charged if I’d been in the US). Not quite as good a deal after conversion. Repeatedly I concluded that I was paying more for the same thing than I would have had I bought it in the States. Then I realized, “What difference does it make? It costs what it costs. Do you want it or not?” I stopped converting to US dollars.

Then I started thinking about the subjectiveness of money in general. Conversion rates fluctuate, prices are driven by supply and demand (or so I’m told), salaries are somewhat arbitrary around the margins. Right? As a result, money seems less real to me now, period. Money is worth what its holder thinks it is worth, what the holder is willing to give up in order to get. I doubt I’ll ever look at currency as I used to even after I return to the US. This is never what I would have expected upon moving overseas. Go figure.

With UK money seeming more like play money, it doesn’t surprise me that I should literally play with the money.

Shield on Reverse of UK Coins

Matthew Dent’s Design Featuring the Royal Coat of Arms.

In 2008, the Royal Mint announced the winning entry in a public competition to design the first new British coin series in 40 years. Matthew Dent’s design featuring the royal coat of arms, a symbol of the reigning monarch, won the competition. Part of the royal coat of arms appears on the reverse of each of the coins from 1p through 5op and can be pieced together to form a nearly complete image of the royal coat of arms. The £1 coin features the complete shield. Mr. Dent’s design was particularly special because it was the first time a single design had been used across a range of coins in that way. The coins’ fronts bear the portrait of the Queen designed by Ian Rank-Broadley as coins have since 1998.

I think Matthew Dent’s design is pretty cool. Just like with the release of the US’s 50 States series of quarters, I eagerly look at the reverse of coins to see what I might find. Bills are also worth contemplation. Obviously, money is currency; but money is worth more than just what it can buy. It’s art and history and the latest in counterfeit prevention and…. Real or seemingly not, it’s a gas.

Note: Lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Money” (Dark Side of the Moon) were used in this post.

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About satnavandcider

An American expat living in England, exploring the United Kingdom and Europe through five senses and a camera lens.
This entry was posted in All Posts, Expat Life, United Kingdom, US/UK Differences and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Money, It’s a Hit

  1. Nice post. In years gone by and on holiday in Europe I used to waste hours trying to get the best conversion rate. Now, like you, I think ‘what the heck’ it costs what it costs. On a another point have you ever considered just how confusing it is for a Brit visiting the US? – All of your notes look so similar – our system is better I think – using different colours and sizes!

    • I have thought that US bills would be better if they were different colors and sizes for quick identification and less confusion (especially for the blind). However, I prefer the US $1 bills to the 1 and 2 pound coins. My handbag gets very heavy with change.

      • Pit says:

        I agree on the size and colour of the US bills. And what also strikes me as really weird still – even if I’ve known that now for more than 10 years and should be used to it – is the fact that there seem to be no bills in circulation above a twenty-dollar bills. I know they exist, but you rarely see them. In Germany, it’s not unusual for me to get a €100 bill, and I’ve seen – and used myself – even bigger ones. And I’d also prefer one-dollar coins [again, I’m used to 1 and 2-euro coins and I like them] to one-dollar bills. I really don’t mind the weight.

        • Having worked in retail and restaurants in my younger days, I saw plenty of larger bills, but they almost always went to the bank in the next deposit; larger bills weren’t needed in the till because $20’s were adequate for large-bill change. I think larger bills are given out and returned to the bank rather quickly. As for the $1 coins, I never understood why they didn’t catch on. I wonder if, like me, others prefer bills in the wallet compared to change in the pocket.

  2. leiah says:

    Hey! At least I know for when I visit, the Euro coins have the same values. I think they are trying to get rid of the 1 and 2 cents. In Holland they already often round to the nearest 5 when giving change. Dad had to get used to the fact that here coins actually have value.

    Yeah, thinking too much about exchange rate hurts my head. An example is that we bought something earlier that mom needed to pay back for. When we bought it, the American dollar was worse than now, so I was trying to figure which rate we charge…

    • Coins here definitely have value. A 2-pound coin is about US $3.20, but it sure doesn’t seem like that much because it’s a coin! At least the dollar is a little stronger now, but not really enough to make a difference unless large sums of money are involved.

  3. Pit says:

    Luckily you didn’t visit Britain before 1972, when the old system of pounds, shillings and pence was still in use. That made it really difficult, with 20 pence to the shilling and twelve shillings to the pound. Try, e.g. to add, say, 1 pound, 9 shillings and 9 pence, 2 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence, plus another 7 pence, which, if I figured it out correctly, makes 4 pounds, 6 shillings and 4 pence.
    At that time, you could ask a person what their LSD situation was, and that would not mean if they were taking drugs, but how they were doing financially, from the abbreviations “L” for “pound”, “S” for “shilling” and “D” for pence.
    Btw, the term “pound sterling” for the British currency derives from the fact that 240 pennies made [before 1972] one (money) pound and in the Middle Ages, when that system was created, 240 of the silver pennies, at that time called “starling” as they had a star on one side, made exactly on pound of weight.
    Have a good one and stay dry,
    Pit

    • I did not know any of that. Thank you for sharing this very interesting information.

      I wondered why money was called “pound,” yet didn’t seem to be about weight (at least that I knew of). I also wondered why the Brits use stones for weight, then thought maybe it’s because it would get too confusing to talk about pounds weight and pounds money. Or maybe there were a lot of 14-pound stones lying around at some point. ;)

  4. I’ve always thought money was fun to play with. When I was very little, my dad who was an officer in the Navy used to bring me coins from the countries he visited and I’ve had a fascination with them ever since. I love the new British coins! What a cool, clever design. Our US coins were so dull for so long until the quarter series and our dimes, nickels and new pennies are still pretty dull.

    • Thanks for you comment. I agree with you in that the US coins (other than the quarter) could use some spicing up. I’d love it if the US Mint released coins for circulation similar to the British coins where you need one of each coin demomination to complete a meaningful picture. One can hope.

      I just saw that the Mint started another quarters program in 2010 depicting 56 national parks and other sites. I don’t recall seeing any before I moved to the UK.

  5. An interesting tid-bit about the US dollar: In 1794, “…our first dollars were coins made of silver. The word ‘dollar’ comes from the German word ‘Thaler,’ which was a large silver German coin. Because these silver ‘Thalers’ were popular everywhere, other countries began making their own versions. American colonists were used to the ‘Spanish dollar,’ a coin often used in the nearby lands that traded with the colonies. So ‘dollar’ was a pretty easy choice as a name for the brand-new currency of the United States.” http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/circulatingCoins/index.cfm?action=CircDollar

  6. They use money to make people accept their life under the whip.
    Everyone is forced into the monetary system, and when the banks were about to collapse, instead of following the “rule of capitalism” (if you can’t make it, you’ll go bankrupt), the politicians stole money from the voters and handed it out to the banks, so that the system wouldn’t collapse.
    If people stopped believing in money, the people with power would have lost all their powers – and they sure don’t want that! The monetary system creates slaves & masters.
    On the other hand I’m glad I live in country with a strong economy – at least it gives me the freedom to travel and see other places (ironically I can’t afford to travel in my own country).

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