Tracking Money to the Centimo

Armando y Celia Luz
Armando and Celia Luz Flores Flores, a poet and guest presenter.

While I was preparing for SST during the summer, I was thrilled to see that the American dollar was worth 2.8 times more than the nuevo sol, Peru’s currency. In my mind, I pictured being able to buy tons of goodies and gifts for practically nothing.

When I landed in Lima’s airport, this dream seemed even more possible. My mere 120 American dollars transformed themselves into 300 soles! Unfortunately, what I failed to realize was that many items in Peru are priced very closely to American prices and require more soles than one would imagine.

My first experience with this reality was at a local Wong, Peru’s equivalent of Walmart. Ten soles for a tiny stick of deodorant! Que ridiculo! It seems as if my dreams of buying an endless supply of goods in Peru was coming to an abrupt halt. After learning this, I realized that I would have to be more careful with what I need in Peru.

Armando with his host mother.
Armando with his host mother, Olinda Soto.

Fortunately, street vendors and markets are plentiful here. Although humble in appearance, these small businesses have a vast array of candy, clothes, entertainment and even cooked food. I have now learned that the only trick to getting a good deal with vendors is to look and sound as Peruvian as possible.

It is not uncommon for vendors to hike up the prices of goods for a gringo who doesn’t know any better. At this point, bargaining for goods takes immediate priority.

During my time shopping here, I have learned that 99 percent of the prices are negotiable. You can bargain for a candy bar, taxi ride, a kitchen set and anything else your mind could imagine.

In this game of bargaining, every sol and centimo matter. Why pay one sol for a pack of cookies when you could try to get two for $1.50? Also, if you are clever enough, you might be able to outsmart the vendor and get something for free.

Here is an exchange that I had with a store owner near my home:

Me: Señorita, how much is that necklace?

Shop owner: 5 soles.

Me: Oh. (Long stare at the necklace). Can you do 4 soles?

Shop owner: No, no, 5 soles. The necklace is made of stone and is very pretty.

Me: Oh, OK. And how much is that bracelet?

Shop owner: 1.50.

Me: OK, I’ll take the necklace and the bracelet for 5 soles.

Shop owner: Yes, that’s fine.

Even though I am not as rich as I initially thought, I have still been able to purchase a lot of things in Lima. I have learned the value of a dollar and what it is able to purchase, as well as how important it is to not overpay for goods. Unfortunately, I will not be able to negotiate prices when I return to Indiana and will have to pay the full price for everything I want.