About halfway into the summer I realized I was quickly running out of money. Living in the city can definitely have its rewards. However, some come at a cost. Things like cab fares, grocery bills, going out to eat, beer, etc. all add up. Luckily, there are ways to save money without having to sacrifice the pleasures accompanied with life in the city.
Bargain before you step in:
Sometimes you have to know when to walk away from a cab. After you approach a driver and tell him where you want to go, you want to ask how much by saying Cuanto es? or Cuanto será? A short cab ride within the city should be about 2 or 3 dollars, never more than 5. If you’re with a group, a dollar or two per person. If the cab driver insists on anything more than that, just walk away and find another. You could also take the “Brian Clair approach” and let them know you mean business by saying Soy gringo, no soy estúpido.
Use anything to your advantage:
It was gonna be a $5 cab ride from Albrook to Hispania. Cab driver made me wait a minute while he went inside a store to grab something. When he came back I said, Debe ser 4 ahora, no? Porque esperé. He chuckled and said hesitantly said ok. The same type of strategy could be used in many other scenarios. For instance, if there’s no traffic and your cab ride was fast you could say, Como no había tranque, el viaje debe ser (1 or 2 less than the previously agreed amount), no? This is kinda like throwing a baitless line out into water, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right? Another good idea is to let them know what you’ve normally been paying for taxis. The good thing about having a city full of taxis without meters is that the playing field is a little more level. Also, depending on time of day, there might be lots of taxis driving by, so you can be a little pickier than they can.
Pit vendors against each other:
Bargaining with vendors is in general pretty easy. But a good strategy to take when strolling through the artesian shops is to use the differences in prices to your advantage. If you have your eye on an item that isn’t particular to just one shop, see which vendor you can talk down the most. You can often make them come down on the price of something if you tell them it’s being sold for less elsewhere.
You may sometimes find yourself tempted to go for the imports instead of the domestics when making your alcohol purchases. Take my advice… it’s not worth it. Stick to Abuelo, Panamas, and Balboas. For 3.55/b for a 6 pack of Panamanian beer, you have to take advantage as much as possible. You could also buy the other two Panamanian beers, Soberana or Atlas, but I don’t know why you’d want to.
Take back what’s yours:
If by the end of the semester you find yourself scrounging the apartment looking for any kind of spare change you can find just to get a meal on the weekend, then you can consider this option. If not, I’d advise waiting until you have expended all your other options before resorting to this. Anyway, there are several places around the city where you can go to make lots and lots of money. The catch is, you have to spend some in order to make some. Oh, and I should mention that there’s a chance you could lose a bunch of money too. These places are called… casinos. My first three visits to the casino were fantastic. I was able to make enough money to support my living expenditures for a couple of weeks. However, I’m sad to say Lady Luck was nowhere to be found during my next two visits. Long story short, my casino-going days in Panama are over. I’ll admit, winning became addicting, and greed eventually became my downfall. If you find yourself up a good amount of money, learn from my mistakes and just go home instead of trying to win big. Again, use this as your last resort.
Looking back over the summer, I realize I probably could have been a little more frugal with my money. Having to resort to gambling to fund your last few weeks in Panama isn’t an ideal situation. Nevertheless, the one thing I realize as our time here nears its end, is that the memories you make mean so much more than the money you lose. While you don’t have to spend money to have a good time, you also shouldn’t let money ruin your good times here in this great country.