One of the big things you’ll be concerned about on a trip like this is how to manage money. Fortunately, the Internet has made this very easy to deal with.
We have long had most of our bills “on automatic,” meaning the biller sucks money our of our Wells Fargo account. A few payees receive payments from WF BillPay service; this can also be set up for automatic recurring payments, or you can log on and send one manually. You should get every bill you can delivered by e-mail, especially if it isn’t the same amount each month.
That only leaves the “input” to the account to worry about. During working days, that came from automatic payroll deposit. Now it comes from automated IRA withdrawals. So once a month, each of our IRAs coughs up a certain amount. We send 12% to the feds and 4% to Sacramento for tax withholding.
You want to avoid credit and ATM cards with a foreign transaction fee, which can be up to 3%, or any kind of a foreign ATM fee. We use a Chase Marriott credit card; there are others from Capital One and others that don’t assess a foreign transaction fee. We have a bank account and ATM card from Stanford Federal Credit Union. This account sucks our monthly cash allowance from WF (free, although WF wants $3 to push it in the opposite direction). Then we just use the SFCU card in the local ATM to get euros. Wells Fargo wants a $5 fee and some percentage for each use, so that’s why SFCU gets our business.
Local ATMs (they’re called Bancomats in Italy) are about as common as at home, and ones located at a bank have never charged a fee. Some are directly on the street; others are in a little foyer to the bank, and I prefer those. We always get the current honest exchange rate, and SFCU doesn’t charge a fee. There are other Bancomats along the street which are independent; I suspect they charge a fee, as did the one on the cruise ship.
And the transaction will show up in a few minutes on your credit union’s website.
Before you leave home, think about the size of your wallet. Euro notes are different sizes. The €20 note is about the size of US currency and just barely fits in my wallet, and the 50 is definitely too tall. It is easy to buy a €35 leather wallet here, but hard to find a $6 nylon one. Shop before you come with this in mind. Also, it is suggested that men carry the wallet in a front pocket, and the larger it is, the harder it is for someone to fish out while you’re distracted.
The smallest bill is €5, and it really is the size of Monopoly money. Coins are 2 and 1 euro, 50, 20, and 10 cents (in brass), and 5, 2, and 1 in copper color. Because tax is rolled into posted prices, you don’t end up with a lot of little coins unless you buy produce by the kilo and pay in cash. Otherwise, almost everything is priced in even euros, or with cents that are either 50 or divisible by 20.
One odd thing is that the 50-cent coin is larger than the €1 coin and smaller than the €2 coin; however it is solid brass and has a roughly fluted edge, whereas the 1- and 2-euro coins have a central disk of one color and an outer ring of the opposite color, and their edges are finely milled (a finer ribbing, like out quarters). This takes a little getting used to, particularly in the dark, as the three are so similar in size.
Here’s another observation: Some places, when you pay you are expected to put your payment down on a dish or tray. The cashier picks it up and puts your change down. People seem not to want to touch your hand directly. I don’t know if they think we handle the money with gloves …. This was more prevalent in Rome than it is in Florence.
As we visit Florence in May 2015, a euro costs about $1.12. We were lucky to pay for some accommodations back in March when it was as low as $1.06, but as long as it says at the current level we just think of euros as about equivalent to dollars (as prices already include tax). We are finding that many things are about the same as at home. A bus or metro ride is €1.50 in Rome, 1.30 in Assisi, and 1.20 here. Milk is €1.20 a liter (and we have yet to find a larger size). Some fruit and veggies are cheaper, some more expensive. A whole chicken is €3.00 per kg, which is about $1.50 a pound. No extra charge for the head and feet, if you like.
Museums seem more reasonable than I remember them from last time. We’ve seen admissions from 3 to 13 euros; 20 for the Uffizi with online reservations, which are needed. You can usually stay all day, if you feet hold out.
Oh yes… public restrooms are usually €0.50 to use, and the free ones are not so nice, in case you’re wondering what the money goes for. Ones in small shops may be “free for customers” but again not well maintained. The McDonald’s in Rome has a digital lock, and the code is on your receipt.