You’re about to take off on an international trip, and your luggage has already been packed. Everything’s set up passport, tickets, hotel reservations, even the itinerary. But wait! You realize that when you checked with the airline, they quoted you a price for one particular ticket in U.S. dollars. The problem is, those dollars are worth less than they used to be. So how much should you actually pay for that ticket?
If you were back home using your local bank or credit union, this wouldn’t matter so much. They’d convert your money into their own currency, then give you whatever amount was required to get you where you needed to go. In other words, if someone handed them $100 U.S., they could easily turn around and hand over $120 Canadian (or some other currency). As long as you had enough cash on you to cover the difference, you’d be fine.
But when we travel internationally, things change a bit. First of all, there may not be any banks available at our destination. Second, the currency might be different from ours (and therefore different from the currency we use locally), which means that converting our money isn’t quite as simple. And thirdly, many countries don’t allow us to simply walk into a foreign country and try to spend our hard-earned American bucks like we would at home.
So what happens when we need to make changes to our itineraries because of currency fluctuations? We can either choose to fly at a higher cost or find out what our money will really buy once we arrive. Either way, knowing more about these issues beforehand can help save time and stress later on.
The Meaning of “Currency” Rate
When you hear people talking about currency, they’re usually referring to something called the “convertible currency.” This is any type of currency that’s pegged to another currency. For example, the United States Dollar (U.S.) and the Euro are convertible currencies.
With convertible currencies, whenever the value of one of the currencies drops below its value against the other, the weaker currency automatically adjusts itself upward. Let’s say, for instance, that the Euro suddenly goes down in value against the U.S. dollar. If the Euro falls to $1.10 per U.S. dollar versus $1.00, each Euro becomes $0.90.
This process works in reverse, too. When the value of one currency rises above the other, the stronger currency will adjust downward. Let’s say for instance that the U.S. dollar shoots up to $1.50 per Euro. At this point, each U.S. dollar buys more Euros than before, since $1.50 is now equivalent to $1.80.
In order to keep their values stable, convertible currencies must be adjusted every few weeks by government officials known as central bankers. These adjustments are made through open market operations, meaning that these currencies’ values are determined by supply and demand.
Central banks also control interest rates. Since most countries peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar, this affects prices everywhere. That’s why you’ll often see headlines saying that “the dollar fell,” rather than “the Euro fell.”
While currencies aren’t technically real objects, they still represent actual amounts of goods and services. So if you want to understand how currencies affect prices, think of them as coins. A coin represents 100 units of a certain commodity. One hundred quarters equals $25, while 2,000 pennies makes $5.
Now let’s talk about how currency tables are calculated.
Exchange-rate charts show how much various currencies are worth against each other. On average, the rate fluctuates a little every day, although the overall trend is pretty predictable. Here’s how it works:
A currency exchange rate tells how many units of one currency you need to purchase with a unit of another currency. Some examples include:
- $1 British pound = $2.22 Indian rupee
- 1 U.S. dollar = 0.97 Japanese yen
- 1 Australian dollar = 14 Norwegian kroner
- 1 Swedish krona = 0.77 Danish crowns
Once you know the exchange rate between two currencies, you can determine how much money you need in one currency to buy an item priced in another. For instance, if you’re traveling to London and you want to buy a book from Amazon.com, you can look at the exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the Pound Sterling.
Using the conversion chart, you can figure out that $3.75 U.S. Dollars will buy you one pound sterling. Once you have this information, you can decide how many books you want to buy based on how much money you have.
- An increase in inflation results in a decrease of purchasing power.
- A decrease in income due to unemployment causes a decrease in spending.
- War causes a decrease in spending.
Government intervention such as tax increases, economic stimulus packages, etc. Let’s take a closer look at how currency exchange rates work.
Understanding Exchange-Rate Tables
The next step after learning about how currencies work is understanding how currency exchange rates are calculated. There are several methods, including floating and fixed exchange rates.
Floating rates are determined by supply and demand. However, unlike convertible currencies, they aren’t locked in place. Instead, they tend to fluctuate daily. Most economists consider this method unstable.
Fixed rates are considered the safest option. Generally, they’re pegged to another currency, like the U.S. dollar, making them relatively consistent. However, since these rates only reflect supply and demand, they don’t necessarily guarantee stability.
There are three main factors that influence exchange rates:
Demand – Demand is defined as the total amount of goods and services that consumers desire. The greater the demand, the lower the rate.
Supply – Supply refers to the total amount of goods and services that producers can produce. The fewer products produced, the higher the rate.
Reserve requirements – Reserve requirements refer to the number of reserves held by a given nation’s central bank. Reserves consist of cash, gold, silver, and other assets. If a country needs extra cash, it borrows from another country whose reserve holdings are low.
Thus, the reserve requirement tends to drive exchange rates downward. Conversely, if a country doesn’t require additional funds from the outside world, its central bank reduces reserve requirements, thus raising the exchange rate.
Another factor influencing exchange rates is confidence. Confidence plays a big part in determining whether investors will invest in stocks or bonds. Investors feel confident that a company’s stock will rise, so they put more money into buying shares. If investors lose faith in a company, however, they’ll pull out their investments, causing the price of the stock to plummet. This can cause a chain reaction, leading to further losses.
The final factor affecting exchange rates is capital flows. Capital flows occur when a person exchanges his or her money in one form for another. This can result in an influx of cash into a country, driving the exchange rate upwards. Or, if there’s a large outflow of capital, the exchange rate dips downwards.
Knowing all of this, let’s return to the original question: Why does it matter what your money is worth?
It matters because it will affect how much you can afford to spend. If you have a lot of vacation saved up in the U.S., but you’re planning to spend it in Europe, you can expect to spend more than you planned.
On the flip side, if you’re saving up for a European holiday, you can shop around and compare prices until you find the best deal. In addition, knowing what your money is worth helps you plan your budget.
Why Does It Matter What Your Money Is Worth?
Knowing what your money is worth is important for a variety of reasons. Knowing how much your money can buy in different places allows you to maximize your trip. For example, if you’re planning to stay longer in Paris, knowing that a gallon of coffee costs €4 ($6) compared to €2 ($3) in New York City lets you splurge on coffee without breaking the bank.
Traveling overseas offers all kinds of unique experiences. Learning about the culture and economy of your destination gives you a better idea of how to navigate the area. For example, let’s say you want to visit Rome. By doing research ahead of time, you’ll learn that a pizza costs about €9 ($13) in a restaurant there.