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Funny money: I got scammed by a kid with pesos

old Mexican pesos
I got these pesos from a kid in my hometown in the US. They turned out to be worth nothing.

I was planning to write a post telling you all how smart I was for acquiring pesos before my Mexico trip, while avoiding currency exchange fees. Except, it didn’t quite work out for me. Instead of feeling super smart as I spent the pesos I brought to Mexico, I ended up feeling like a fool because I sort of got scammed by a kid.

Not really. The kid didn’t mean to rip me off.

My currency exchange hack

This story starts last summer, when Pebbles was heading to Thailand and I was trying to figure out the best way for her to bring money on her overseas youth trip. I very wisely (I thought) posted on some local Buy Nothing groups to see if anyone had Thai Baht to get rid of. Someone did! I stopped by a neighbor’s house and bought about $30 worth of Thai currency at the current exchange rate, and we both felt like we got a good deal. Pebbles used the baht in Thailand so she didn’t have to go to an ATM for cash right away. The hack worked!

Trying the hack again, but for Mexico

So this month, preparing to travel to Mexico, I tried the same trick. Again, a neighbor answered my post offering to trade Mexican currency for US dollars. It turned out to be a kid who my son knew who wanted to do the trade, so I gave the kid $25 and he gave me a handful of coins that he said were worth about $420 Mexican.

Now, I’m no dummy. I looked at the coins. Indeed, four of them said $100 pesos on them, and one said $20 pesos. Deal!

No coins accepted?

At the Puerto Vallarta airport, I knew I would need a $10 coin for the bus, so I proudly handed a $100 coin to a woman in a shop to buy a bottle of Coke. She told me, “No coins,” (or that’s what I thought she said) and waved it away. I was surprised that stores here could decide they didn’t accept coins, but I pulled out my $50 bill instead, which she accepted.

The next day, I tried to pay for a cup of coffee with one of the coins, and was refused. I said, “You don’t take coins?” The perplexed cashier told me, “We take coins. But these are not Mexican coins.” Huh? It says Estados Unidos Mexicanos right on it! How could it not be a Mexican coin?

Finally, I got an answer when I showed the coin to an employee at a dive shop. He told me that Mexico had changed its currency years ago, and basically lopped two zeros off the end of everything. I looked it up, and sure enough: Mexico’s currency was devalued in 1994!

The coins I was trying to spend are dated 1985, 1988 and 1989. Apparently none of the young people I tried to give them had ever seen coins like them.

My poor young neighbor is not going to be thrilled to learn that I want my $25 back, since he was excited to get money to buy boba.

Next time I’ll be smarter

After this experience, will I still try to avoid currency exchange fees by buying a few dollars’ worth of currency at home before an international trip? Sure! I’ll just make sure to do a tiny bit more research next time before making a deal with a fast-talkign 14-year-old with tapioca balls shining in his eyes.