Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Money makes the world go around.

Ok who’s got Cabaret stuck in their head now? I’m having a tough time sorting out the money here. It doesn’t help that I’m no financial wizard at home either. There’s three things going on here that are tripping me up.

$1,840 baht - I'm rich.*

1. The exchange rate, it’s about 30B = $1, and if I were properly math-empowered I could do the math in my head and have a good idea of what things cost. But I’m not, so I do the best I can, I figure a 20 baht note (their smallest paper money) is about a buck, a 50 baht note is roughly $2, 100 baht is $3, and a 500 baht is a $20 (it’s more like $15 – but I need round numbers!). So even though the numbers on the bills are big, it’s really not that much money in US $. But still, when I first got here I was hesitant to carry a 500B note around because my brain thinks “$500 – that’s a lot of money” when it’s really really not. And when my sheets and pillow cost 880B, I inwardly grown and think – that’s too much money – when in actuality it’s less than $30. I did pay more than I wanted to for a phone though. I think it was 1,800B total (Sim card and 30 min. talk time). $50 is not unreasonable for a phone (Nokia) – and it was the cheapest one I found in the mall… but at home I got a Go-Phone for $19.95. Which brings me to my next issue.

2. The cost of living is different here. A lot of things are cheaper than in the US, but most western type things are going to cost more here. There was Gouda cheese in the supermarket, and if I did my math right it was about $30 for less than a pound. Street food, like that gyro/taco I had was 20B, a serving size bag of fruit is 10B… but an American Breakfast or curry dinner at a sit down place in the tourist area is upwards of 100B. I mango shake (had one last night – YUM!) is 20B, a can of Coke is 45B. So street food meal = 50B, sit down western meal = 145B.

My rent & security deposit for the month was 10,000 baht or $300. But I probably won’t end up getting paid more than 30,000 baht as a teacher = $1,000. So while my bank account looks pretty plump right now, I need to stop spending like an American on vacation and start thinking like a Thai person living here. But I’m not a Thai person, and I don’t have any close personal Thai friends (yet) so that brings me to my final issue.

3. I have no idea what things *should* cost. I’ve gone to the mall & the grocery store so I know about what things cost there. And I’ve gone to the markets and been told what they want me to pay there. But I don’t have much of an idea about what’s expensive and what’s cheap *for Thailand*. I’m guessing a supermarket in a mall is more expensive than one out in a neighborhood… but how much more expensive? I know I’m getting ripped off in the markets & on transportation because I don’t know how to haggle – but I don’t know by how much. So I’m spending money with little sense of it’s value or the value of the things I’m buying.

I’m sure I’ll get better at all of this, and it will help when I get a job and start getting paid in Baht, because I’ll be able to budget accordingly and the exchange rate won’t matter that much anymore.

*US $54.45


Michael5000 said...

You're just the new kid, is all. Couple of weeks, this will all be second nature to you.

Doug Anderson said...

I'm enjoying your reactions to Thailand; they echo mine from when I first visited in 1988.

Find an Asia Books or B2S bookshop (in Robinsons and Central Dept Stores) and pick up the Speak Easy Thai CD for 800 baht; it teaches Thai vocabulary using pictures and sounds, and includes a grammar ebook.

I found the biggest hassles with Thailand were: the squat toilets, crossing the street, and diarrhea from eating fruits and vegetables from the street vendors. Cooked food was OK, but that melting ice was deadly.