The 5 Dollar Debate

Luke Sewell from Beforeiforgetitall

Everyone knows that five dollars in your pocket in New York has a vastly differing real value compared to if you were in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The value of a dollar varies impressively throughout world economies, and has a powerful effect on entire continents.

The value of a currency is a powerful representation of the inequality and disparities in purchasing power across the world.

The value of a currency is a powerful representation of the inequality and disparities in purchasing power across the world. It not only highlights the abstract notion of money itself through its huge variability in value but also underlines the struggle for developing countries with weak currencies to receive imports essential for development and growth.

One of the most illuminating sectors to look at in terms of economic disparities, is technology. A mobile phone or laptop has the same essential utility, be it to a hot shot banker in the US or to a local business in Latin America in terms of how it can assist and improve productivity. However, due to the economic disparities within the world such luxuries are as of yet only cheaply accessible to those in the western world and hinder development in less advanced economies.

the five dollars1

Think about the basic question, what can you buy for five dollars? When posed to people all around the world is an eloquent way of stimulating debate and highlighting how variations in cultures and economies affect the opportunities available to its inhabitants. Five Dollar Comparison has started asking exactly that, by asking the world to send in photos of their five dollar purchases. It has created a great visualisation of these differences.

As expected, the variation of exactly what you can buy for your five dollars is impressive and ranges from seemingly nothing at all, all the way up to full meals, beds for the night or even live animals!

For five dollars you could have 0.2 ml less than a sniff of the $17,000 bottle of the 1990 Cristal Brut champagne from France, one of the most expensive bottles of champagne that money can buy. This is about as close to nothing as it gets, hardly life changing. Whereas in parts of Africa, the five dollar medicine to cure a child infected with a parasite, truly is.

In Uganda, you can sit down and have you hair washed, curled treated and dyed. If that doesn’t seem like a good buy, perhaps purchase a living creature such as a chicken for your five dollars!

On the more expensive end, in Montreal, you can leave your bicycle against a post for two hours for your five dollars, it is strange how the value of even a street post changes so drastically from corner to corner. Or, if you fancy travelling in the centre of London, try jumping into a Taxi and for your five dollars, you can travel a good 10 meters before your meter would run dry.

The cheapest country in the world according to a cost of living survey is Paraguay, where rent will set you back around $150 USD monthly; let’s not even begin to compare that to the average rent in Manhattan, New York. Your five dollars down in Paraguay will even stretch to get you a clean, good hotel for the whole night. In Argentina (rated as the third cheapest country), you can find some of the best prices in the world to send yourself to a Spanish school in Buenos Aires or for your 5 dollars take an take a whole dance class.

The powerful difference in purchasing power of currencies is responsible for population shifts, tourism trends and even the rise and fall of countries and empires.

As a traveller in Latin America, this fact becomes all the more apparent. Through travel you really begin to appreciate these disparities as they are presented to you on a daily basis. It´s a poignant realisation to see the common imports that you consider essential to be way outside of the income of those earning in a weaker currency. You can’t help but feel a strange sense of guilt creep over you as you look back at all that junk you have bought in your life, I am sure it is a common guilt among travellers from more fortunate countries, but I think that it is one that should be realised by all the more fortunate in the world.

About the author:

Luke Sewell is a Brit who left the jungles of Costa Rica for the concrete ones of Buenos Aires. He writes about his experiences at Beforeiforgetitall.

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Discussion »

  • #1mike crosby

    I was checking hotel prices in Los Angeles last night on Expedia. I thought it’d be fun to hang out for the day. Prices averaged $150-$400. Truly, I just want to sleep where I’m safe and protected from the elements.

    I believe when in Vegas the reason money is converted to chips is because it cheapens money. Ah, throw a $100 chip on the table, it doesn’t mean much.

  • #2Scott

    You have to keep in mind though, that while a flat in Paraguay is only $150 and the same flat may be $3500 in Manhattan, the income in New York is typically in the six figure $100,000+ range; I’m sure not many in Paraguay make that kind of $.

  • #3Bill

    You have to compare prices with salaries. It’s like saying that gas in the US was 25 cents per gallon fifty years ago. Sure, but people only made a couple of bucks an hour (and one one person in the family worked). In some countries, the salary/price comparison is horrendous. People have trouble buying food and shelter. In other countries, the prices are cheaper, but most people live decently.
    When the Euro was at its strongest, prices in the US were comparatively “cheap” for visitors from Europe(depending on location in the US). In places where prices are low, but in line with salaries, differences with other countries becomes most apparent when their residents try to visit those countries.
    This isn’t to diminish the plight of struggling peoples (I know that much of the world is struggling) – just to add some perspective.

  • #4Jason

    I just returned from a trip to Egypt and the power of the dollar is very evident. At many of the sites locals will try and show you something special your guide failed to. Once they are done they expect a tip. They are happy with $1, but if you give them $5 you have made their day.

  • #5Sean

    I am currently living in Barcelona but am English and am can clarify the difference between the euro and the pound us changing so regularly and particularly over the last 2 years where for 500 pound, you are now getiing about €450 but 2 years ago, it was abotu €350. Making the euro good to visit at the moment as well as being cheaper in general (rent plus living costs etc)

  • #6Dan S.

    I’m not entirely sure what the ‘in Montreal, you can leave your bicycle against a post for two hours for your five dollars’ is supposed to mean. I have lived (and biked) in this city for 44 years and have never had to pay to lock up my bike anywhere.

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