Currency Exchange Rates? There's an App for That!

A story for the mathematically challenged

I have never been good at math. I’ve never even pretended to be good at math. Sometimes a calculator doesn’t even help if I’m not sure which way I need to multiply or divide or which numbers to start with. I know there are a lot of people out there who can relate, and this post is for you. Today’s story is an embarrassing account of an ATM experience I had, recently enough that I still feel the burn when I tell it.

Our flight to Nicaragua arrived late at night, and by the time our taxi got us to San Juan del Sur a couple of hours later, my friend and I were pretty tired and in need of sleep despite being excited. Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling, I like to wake up early and basically seize the day; it’s not every day that you are in a foreign country, why sleep through it? We stopped at the ATM on our way to breakfast, a little groggy and completely unsure of how much local currency to pull out or even exactly what the exchange rate was. Our brains were still jet-lagged as we stared at the numbers on the screen, pressured by the “Do you need more time?” alarm. Since my friend is no math whiz either, we guessed at a number, repeated it a couple of times, are you sure? Yes, do it. Okay, we pulled out that amount and met our other friends at breakfast, where we promptly learned that we had just pulled a grand total of about $8 out of the ATM.

Why this is bad:

  1. My bank (Wells Fargo, like most US banks) charges a fee for using an ATM not owned by my bank, a fee which happens to double when I’m abroad.
  2. A foreign transaction fee (although under a dollar) is also charged to the transaction.
  3. I had to go back to the ATM after breakfast and pay the same fees all over again to take out more money. At least our $8 got us through breakfast? (Trying to see the bright side is hard sometimes…)
  4. This is a very bad example of traveling on a budget. Please learn from my mistake.

An app that does currency exchange math for you

xe currency app

I recently learned about an app that will be life-changing for me and others who are numerically challenged. It’s called XE Currency, and it’s free. All you do is select the currency of the country you are visiting and add it to your list of currencies, then you enter how much money (US$ or the foreign currency) you want to convert, and it does all the math for you and tells you exactly how much to get out of the ATM (or exchange or pay for breakfast or whatever you are doing with it). Whenever your mobile device is connected to WiFi, it updates to real-time currency exchange rates.

Now, I know you might be thinking, “doesn’t a calculator do that?” Well, sure it does, that is if you are aware of the exchange rate and exactly how to configure it, and of course you have to have a calculator with you. Like I said, a calculator doesn’t always help me when I’m not sure which numbers to start with or whether to multiply or divide, especially on the first day in a foreign country on little sleep. Trust me people, there are many of us who struggle with math. I am a language person, not a number person; I usually rely on my husband for math but this was a girls’ trip, so he wasn’t there. Instead I have a story for you with a good example of what not to do, and a solution to the problem.

I must say that was the first time I had ever made that kind of mistake while pulling money out of the ATM, and I’m pretty sure it will be my last. It’s one of those stories I wish I could just bury, but at the same time, these things happen so we might as well learn from them and move forward, right? There is enough to think about when traveling in a foreign country, who wants to worry about math? Has this ever happened to you or someone you were traveling with?