Money Lessons from Mexico

Money Lessons from Mexico - picture of Mayan Riviera

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A few weeks ago, my little family embarked on a seven-night vacation to Cancun. It was a little strange, really. Since Greg’s old job prevented us from traveling over the holidays, this was the first time we have ever gone anywhere tropical during winter break. With that being said, we had an absolute blast. We swam. We played. We conquered. And when I travel with my family, that’s as good as it gets.

In truth, this was one of the laziest vacations we have ever been on. In addition to renting a car to visit a water park and going to downtown Cancun a few times, we spent the bulk of our week lounging by the pool or on the beach. Honestly though, I wouldn’t change a thing. I spent a ton of quality time with my husband and kids, and that’s what matters most!

Fortunately, we didn’t have to spend a lot of money on this trip, either. (The following offer is no longer available.) We turned in 360,000 Marriott points for an Air + Hotel package that included 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points and seven nights in a Category 8 property. That meant that our hotel stay was 100% free and our flights worked out to $320 total in government-mandated taxes and fees. The rest of the money we spent, which ended up being around $1,000, was on lunches and dinners, a car rental, gas, groceries for our room and various incidentals. In total, that means we spent around $1,500 – which is pretty darn good for a seven-night trip to Mexico for four people!

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5 Money Lessons from Mexico

Although Cancun is a thriving tourist area, it feels a lot like home. Still, I learned several money lessons from this particular trip to Mexico – a few of which are shocking!

Lesson #1 The Exchange Rate Matters

The last time I was in Mexico, which was in August of 2014, 1 U.S. dollar was worth around 12 Mexican pesos. During this trip, 1 USD was worth 17.5 pesos. I’m sure you can imagine what a difference that makes! Although we brought around $200 in U.S. currency to tip people, we paid for the bulk of our expenses with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. That meant getting an exchange rate that was on par with what the banks were offering, but without paying to exchange our money.

Over the course of a week, we charged all sorts of things to our room – bagels from the downstairs gift shop, slices of pizza, lunches by the pool, and a few on-site dinners. Our final hotel bill came out to 12,000 Mexican pesos, which resulted in a charge of around $688 on my credit card.

Lesson #2 Your Hotel May Offer to Exchange Your Money

Before we left for our trip, I considered exchanging some money for Mexican pesos at home. I ran out of time, however, and wound up bringing American dollars instead. I figured I would just withdraw money out of a bank-affiliated ATM when we got here, and accept whatever exchange rate I was offered.

Because everywhere we went accepted credit cards, I wound up not needing any Mexican pesos at all. The only exception is when we rented a rental car and I needed local currency to add gas to the tank. I had read on a forum ahead of time that some gas stations don’t take credit, so I asked our hotel if they knew somewhere I could get Mexican pesos. They offered to exchange $20 USD for me using the hotel rate of 16.5 Mexican pesos per U.S. dollar. Since I was only exchanging a small amount, I thought this was fair.

>>Related: Mexico Travel Guide

Lesson #3 Watch Out for Scams

Before we travel anywhere outside of the country, I always read the forums on TripAdvisor for advice on things to do, places to eat, and scams to watch out for. Sadly, there are a lot of scams in Mexico to be wary of, many of which involve rental cars, gas stations and corrupt police.

One particular scam I read about involves gas station attendants pumping more gas than you ask for, then demanding the money in Mexican pesos whether you have it or not. Second, Mexican gas stations are known for telling people their credit cards have been denied – even after they charge a huge sum to their card or write down their card numbers to use later.

The crazy thing is, the first scam I mentioned actually happened to us! I had read all about it before we rented a car, so I was careful to get $20 USD in Mexican pesos to refill our rental car before we turned it in. There was no way I was handing over my credit card after all I had read. When we went to a gas station to fill it up, Greg told our attendant in Spanish that we just wanted 320 Mexican pesos in gas – and no more. She turned the pump on and walked away, and before we knew it, the pump was climbing up over 320 pesos! Greg had to actually get out of the car and stop it. Fortunately, they didn’t try to coerce us into using an ATM for more pesos, and let us pay for the overage in USD instead.

The Bottom Line

Despite the fact that a gas station attendant tried to pump more gas than we asked for, we still had a blast in Mexico. Not only did we do a whole lot of relaxing at our resort, the JW Marriott Resort & Spa, but we went into downtown Cancun a few times, visited the La Isla Mall, rented a car, and visited Xel-Ha for a day of snorkeling. I would definitely go back again, and highly suggest Cancun for anyone seeking a family-friendly destination with white sand beaches and crystal clear water.

Safe travels, and we hope you enjoy these pictures from our trip:

cancun 1
cancun 2
cancun 3

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  1. Like seriously, trying to charge you more for gas?! That’s so wrong. :-/

    Did you guys feel like there was prejudice for not being Hispanic?

  2. Love your photos! Love, love, love Mexico. We were in Riviera Maya last summer, but we did not rent a car. The collectivo system worked so well and was so inexpensive ($2 a person to get to Akumal Beach from our resort) that we didn’t feel the need. Plus, I love my husband, but I don’t know that I could totally trust him driving in a foreign country. It’s smart to inform yourself of scams when you travel. It’s always really interesting to me that people are so cautious of getting scammed abroad, but then I hear so many stories of people falling for scams right here at home!

  3. Looks like y’all had a great trip, aside from the scammy gas station – we’ve seen the same thing before when we’ve been to South America unfortunately. That said, makes me look forward to our trip to Cancun in May.

  4. Honestly, lounging around and not doing much seems like an ideal vacation! I get wanting to see the sights, but there’s something to be said for just chilling out and enjoying not working. Too many people rush around all the time on their trips. Or maybe that’s the chronic fatigue talking.

  5. We didn’t even leave the resort when we went to Cabo for Thanksgiving. We slept late, walked on the beach, played in the pool, and watched the cheesy entertainment at night and had a blast. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and drink pina coladas before noon!

  6. Yay! Mexico is in my bucket list. Thanks for sharing what you learned from Mexico. I know that these will help me when I get there!

    1. Saying that Cancun is “Mexico” is like saying that Disney world is America. It’s a huge tourist trap. Go to the interior for a much better (and cheaper) vacation.

  7. Your pics brought back memories of our holiday to Cancun about 5 yrs. ago. We also did a day trip of snorkeling & tubing at Xel-Ha and absolutely loved it! I’m glad to hear you had such a good trip to Mexico because I’ve only heard & read that travel to the area hasn’t been advised lately. Good to know it was safe & such a good time for you & your family.

  8. We are hoping to take our kids on a vacation to Mexico in the next couple years. We have always loved traveling in the Yucatan Peninsula. Thanks for the tips! We love using Marriott credit card points.

  9. Looks like so much fun! I remember one of the few family vacations we took when I was younger was to Cancun and it was a blast.

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