Santiago is my husband, and I thought that because he is the biggest influence on how I see money, it would be interesting to interview him. He is from the city of Concordia, which is situated about 400 km north of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Describe briefly the economic situation in Argentina during your teens and early twenties.
From approximately 1991 until 2001, the situation was good. The exchange rate was 1 dollar to 1 peso and this made everything imported much cheaper than anything produced in the country. This completely killed all national industry and left astronomical numbers of unemployment. In the mid 1990s, there was a big event that changed the economic situation of my family for the worse.
How did your family fare during this?
We had to cut back in every area.
How old were you when you got your first job? What did you do and what was your motivation for working?
In Argentina, that is very different; people don't usually get a job until they have completed their education. I had to do some side jobs beginning at age 15, but that was very sporadic. My first job began when I was 19. I worked at a service station and I started working there because I needed the money.
At that time, about how much were you making per hour?
2.50 U$D - but because of the high cost of living, that was probably more like 1.25 U$D
How much can someone with an average amount of education hope to make in your city?
It varies so much [like here], and I can't tell you for sure, but I estimate In the service economy, 1,000 - 2,000 pesos (approximately 260 - 500 U$D) per month. Right now, the minimum social security payment is 770 pesos (approximately 200 U$D) per month, so that gives you some frame of reference.
What are workers' rights like there?
The workers' rights are stricter than here. They have a lot of benefits. That means a big expense to the employers, and small business owners (and sometimes not so small) hire people under the table, not paying even social security. I never had the opportunity to work legally in Argentina because jobs, and especially legal ones, are very scarce.
How would you say these circumstances shaped your view of money?
It's not only these circumstances, but also my Dad's view of money that shaped my perspective. Even when my family was in a very good position, we didn't live beyond our means. We never even went out to eat. [smiling] That made it easier in the "years of the slim cows."
I don't like to waste money. I'm very careful spending money, because it is something that is hard to obtain, even though right now it's not that hard.
What were your economic hopes when you came here?
Well, I wasn't expecting to stay in the States the first time. I came here to learn English. That was my primary objective. And my secondary goal was to pay for the trip with the work I did while here.
When I came to live here, I knew that it was going to be much easier than in Argentina [to make a living].
What do you see as the biggest difference in how inhabitants of Concordia see money and how inhabitants of Western North Carolina or Americans in general see money?
Sometimes I think that there is no difference.
The biggest differences I think are in levels of education.
I personally have known people [in Concordia] that have bought shoes that cost a month's pay. That is ridiculous! Nobody should spend a month of income in shoes, or in any one clothing item.
People in general in Argentina will pay anything for electronics. They are so expensive in Argentina, and here they are much cheaper. For example, when I bought a camcorder here, that represented a week of pay. When I went to Argentina, that camcorder would have been about a year of pay. This comes from a difference in salary but also a big difference in actual price.
Here, I see people spend ridiculous [from my point of view] amounts of money on eating out. That is the biggest difference. In Argentina, people cook instead.