Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Belarus - Money

This is my third blog post from my Belarus trip - about the money there. The first post was about the travel. The second post was about the activities. There are more blog posts planned to share about my experiences.

The first day I was in Belarus, we walked all over the city.  At one point, I told my friend that I needed to get some Belarussian money.  A bit later, we stopped at an ATM so I could do just that.

The Belarussian ruble, while named the same as the Russian unit of currency, is completely different.  I was not sure how much money I should withdraw and, at that point, I had no idea what the exchange rate actually was.  I knew that about two years ago it cost around 2000 rubles to buy one American dollar and about a year ago, it cost around 4500 rubles to buy one American dollar.  The last year had been very difficult economically, and current exchange rate was about 8500 rubles to $1.  That is more than 400 percent devaluation in two years.

So I decided to withdraw 1,000,000 rubles - making me a millionaire in Belarus.  I received five 20,000 ruble notes, three 50,000 ruble notes, and six 100,000 ruble notes.  Unfortunately, that million was worth less than $120, but it sure felt strange.  Later in my week there, I withdrew 1,500,000 rubles - getting five 10,000 ruble notes, eleven 50,000 ruble notes, and nine 100,000 ruble notes.  Again, it felt like a lot of money.

They have no coins in Belarus.  The smallest note in circulation now is a 10 ruble note, which is also smaller in size than all the others.  All but the smaller notes have pictures of famous places in Belarus along with a watermark in a white space that is clearly visible in the light.  There are notes of 10; 20; 50; 100; 500; 1,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000; and 100,000 rubles.

Close-up of the 50,000 ruble note with other notes beneath
Because I am used to the exchange rate in Ukraine, which is about 8 grivna to the dollar, it was easier to drop off the last three digits when I was shopping.  It felt strange paying more than 50,000 rubles for a t-shirt, until I remembered that it was only about $6.

My gift for Hope, it reads
"I know I'm only little but I love you lots and lots!"

My gift for Denise, it says Belarus (in Russian)
For me, having more than a million rubles was not very much money.  But for many of the people in Belarus, that is a lot of money.  Once again, it made me thankful for being an American and for the basic stability of our economy.

How about you?  Are you thankful for what you have?  Do you realize there are many people who are worse off than you?

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