Created By: Glucharina on April 29, 2011 Last Edited By: Glucharina on June 5, 2011
Troped

Practical Currency

Money that isn't only good for buying things

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Normally, your money is not inherently useful. Sure, you can melt down coins and make them into some sort of art project, or you can try to use your paper money to start a fire, but for the most part, money only has value because people agree that it does. The moment people lose faith in it, money will be worth nothing.

Not so with Practical Currency. You can actually use it for something. Maybe it's some kind of food, medicine, or weaponry. It's not too different from a barter economy--it's still goods in exchange for goods and services--but unlike barter, it also serves as a universal medium of exchange (people who don't need the item itself will still accept it because they can trade it for something else) and a universal measure of an item's value.

In the real world, this is called commodity money.

Weird Currency is a Super Trope; Energy Economy is a Sub-Trope.


Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex an episode took place at a "wine fund" were wine was used as a investing or speculating vehicle, since wine is hard to reproduce synthetically and increases in value with age. not really currency though.
  • The metabugs in Dennou Coil. Useful for making programs to muck around in cyberspace, and as such to playful kids they're quite the commodity money.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Comic Books]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Film - Live-Action]]
  • In the Elvis Presley film Jailhouse Rock, his prison mentor is the richest man in prison, with hundreds of cartons of cigarettes in his cell.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • 2nd Edition Maztica Campaign boxed set. The Mazticans use cocoa beans and ears of mayz (corn) as money.
    • Giff in Spelljammer use smokepowder as currency and prefer to be paid in it.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • Metro 2033 (and videogame) - ammo is used as money everywhere
  • Much discussion of this in Making Money, including pointing out that gold is worthless on a desert island, that it's also worthless in a gold mine (where the medium of exchange is the pickaxe), and the contrast between what happens when you bury gold vs. when you bury a potato. Oh, and in the end they decide to base the currency on golems.
  • Water in Dune.
  • In the Uglies trilogy, "The Smoke" community uses instant food packs as currency, which makes newcomer Tally quite wealthy by the community's standards.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • In the TV series Love And War waitress Nadine is an aging socialite whose husband is in prison from the Savings & Loan scandal of the early Ninties. At one point she mentions she's going to visit him and bring 2 cartons of cigarettes in order to buy him his way out of his latest Noodle Incident.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Game]]
  • Gothic - in penal colony magic ore is used as a currency. It is supported by the fact that outside world desperately needs this ore and ready to give food, booze and hookers in exchange for it
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • At least a couple Transformers continuities have Energon as both a currency and...Cybertronian Food, I guess?
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
  • Ancient "coins" frequently were goods spontaneously promoted to this role by the barter economy just because they are compact and valuable. Such as knife billets or small furs. Precious metals became universal the same way, but mostly for decorative value.
  • Some countries use cell phone minutes as currency.
  • Colonial Virginia (at least) used tobacco as a form of currency.
  • Real life ancient Mexicans like the Mayans and Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. Therefore the rich could afford drinks like xocolātl(where we get the word Chocolate) more often.
  • Cigarettes are a common form of currency in prisons.
[[/folder]]
Community Feedback Replies: 61
  • April 29, 2011
    thegrenekni3t
    I like this trope idea. (By the way, money is a singular noun in English--so it should be "But this money is different. You can actually use it", etc.)
  • April 29, 2011
    Glucharina
    Thank you, I'll fix it
  • April 29, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Copying this over from the Weird Currency YKTTW.

    In prison (or at least in fictional prisons) cigarettes are used as money.
    • In the Elvis Presley film Jailhouse Rock his prison mentor is the richest man in prison, having hundreds of cartons of cigarettes in his cell.
    • In the TV series Love And War waitress Nadine is an aging socialite whose husband is in prison from the Savings & Loan scandal of the early Ninties. At one point she mentions she's going to visit him and bring 2 cartons of cigarettes in order to buy him his way out of his latest Noodle Incident.
  • April 29, 2011
    Thebes
    I support this.
  • April 29, 2011
    troacctid
    The existing term for this is commodity money, and it's Truth In Television.
  • April 29, 2011
    TBeholder
    • Ancient "coins" frequently were goods spontaneously promoted to this role by the barter economy just because they are compact and valuable. Such as knife billets or small furs. Precious metals became universal the same way, but mostly for decorative value.

    • Giff in Spelljammer use smokepowder as currency and prefer to be paid in it.
  • April 29, 2011
    Thebes
    ^^I support a name change to Commodity Money.
  • April 29, 2011
    Fanra
    In Robert A Heinlein's Have Space Suit Will Travel, Kip (the narrator and protagonist) points out to the readers that U.S. currency can be used to measure things. That is, a dollar bill has a certain length and width, which he has memorized. It's handy when you don't have a ruler.
  • April 29, 2011
    foxley
    I just added this to Weird Currency, but it probably belongs here.

  • April 29, 2011
    Stormtroper
    • In Final Fantasy, you can throw money with Coin Throw/Gil Toss/Spare Change ability.

  • April 29, 2011
    dalek955
    • Much discussion of this in Making Money, including pointing out that gold is worthless on a desert island, that it's also worthless in a gold mine (where the medium of exchange is the pickaxe), and the contrast between what happens when you bury gold vs. when you bury a potato. Oh, and in the end they decide to base the currency on golems.

    • Real Life: Some countries use cell phone minutes as currency.
  • April 29, 2011
    CAD
    In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, through a coding oversight, you can put coins into your inventory rather than your money pocket. They can then be thrown or placed around to detect enemies in the dark.
  • April 29, 2011
    Thebes
    The Have Space Suit Will Travel and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon examples are inversion: practical uses for arbitrary currency.

    ^^^The Final Fantasy example might be the same way, but I don't understand the ability being described. What purpose does it serve?

    ^^ That last sentence should be spoilered.
  • April 29, 2011
    Glucharina
    The point of the trope is money value is secured by universal application for it. Simply using money for something like measuring length doesn't count. Throwing coins is arguable, I didn't add it now, maybe will later.
  • April 29, 2011
    Thebes
    I just noticed, the subtitle should be "Money that isn't only good for buying things." hottip: I don't actually know if it's technically grammatical (the placement of "not only" is what I'm worried about), but it's natural-sounding. I'm an Amateur Linguist first and a Grammar Nazi second.

    You should probably provide links the the wiki articles for commodity money and fiat money.
  • April 30, 2011
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons
      • 2nd Edition Maztica Campaign boxed set. The Mazticans use cocoa beans and ears of mayz (corn) as money.
  • April 30, 2011
    Bisected8
    In the Discworld series, after Lipvig invents the idea of stamps for posting letters in Going Postal they become an impromptu currency (both for their use in posting letters and their value to collecters). Arguably an inversion (since they went from a gold backed coinage system and the stamps are wholly token based) when it's taken to its logical conclusion in the sequal to the book they're introduced in, which deals with the introduction of paper money.
  • April 30, 2011
    Glucharina
    I don't think this fit as you describe it. Stamps are government-backed useless paper. They are not required for mail delivery as petroleum is required to make cars running, it's arbitrary rules to not accept mail without stamps.
  • April 30, 2011
    Bisected8
    As I pointed out; they became a currency because they were a commodity to collecters. There value stopped being because the post office used them as tokens and came about because people were willing to pay you money for them.
  • April 30, 2011
    MorganWick
    Colonial Virginia (at least) used tobacco as a form of currency.

    I'm too lazy to look up references for more details.
  • May 1, 2011
    Thebes
    The Discworld example is a weird cross between fiat and commodity money.

    They went from commodity money (gold worth its weight), to fiat money (stamped coins backed by gold), to fiat-commodity [stamps backed by posting value (fiat) and/or value to collectors (commodity)].
  • May 1, 2011
    Kellor
    The Daily Show once did a report on a man who believed that Pez would be the new currency following the Y 2 K apocalypse.
  • May 1, 2011
    MC42
    • Real Life example: The same traits that made gold useful as currency allow it to have a large amount of uses outside of currency and jewelry, including electromagnetic radiation protection, heat dissipation, reflective layering on CDs, anti-icing on aircraft cockpits, high-energy electrical wiring, cancer treatments and as a garnish in very high-end and expensive restaurants.
  • May 1, 2011
    AGroupie
    Tobacco (and other addictive drugs, see opium as another ancient example, cocaine and methamphetamine as more recent ones) has been used as "currency" in a lot of settings, from ancient and modern. A couple of examples there would be tobacco as currency in an institution or a place where there's a limited amount of it compared to the amount of smokers, or among poor people or people bumming cigarettes from each other.

    As another example, cocaine or methamphetamine as payment for sex, whether it be musicians and stars letting groupies snort cocaine from their stash or prostitutes being paid in crack or meth at "crack houses."
  • May 1, 2011
    AGroupie
    (And added to that, off topic, the idea of alcohol and/or tobacco as currency is what possibly makes it a good idea for a nondrinker/nonsmoker to keep some in an emergency kit - whereas your cash may be worthless in the aftermath of whatever disaster has befallen people around you, that bottle of wine or whiskey or pack of smokes may be far more likely to be traded for food/water/clothes/transportation/gasoline/whatever than even an absurd amount of cash.)
  • May 2, 2011
    Reflextion
    Energy Economy would be a Sub Trope of this.
  • May 2, 2011
    Glucharina
    ^Indeed
  • May 4, 2011
    TBeholder
  • May 10, 2011
    GiantSpaceChinchilla
    not sure if it's an example but

    in Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex an episode took place at a "wine fund" were wine was used as a investing or speculating vehicle, since wine is hard to reproduce synthetically and increases in value with age. not really currency though.
  • May 10, 2011
    Glucharina
    I think commodity money is not exactly what I meant, though. Gold coins are commodity money, but they don't fit this trope, because gold is valuable mostly because everyone agreed to value it. It has applications in chemistry and electronics, but mostly its value is virtual.
  • May 10, 2011
    Rolf
  • May 11, 2011
    Micah
    • The main currency in Strata by Terry Pratchett is "Days", which are effectively coupons redeemable for a medical treatment that makes you live that many days longer.
  • May 13, 2011
    Kenzamaka
    Name suggestion: Practical Currency

    Also, an example: Metro 2033 features military-grade bullets as the main currency. You can even use the bullets to buy more bullets.
  • May 13, 2011
    Glucharina
    ^I like practical currency. Metro 2033 is already under Literature section (Book was first)
  • May 13, 2011
    Rolf
    ^^ I like it, but techinically all currency is practical as I can use it to buy useful stuff too.
  • May 14, 2011
    StarryEyed
    • In the Uglies trilogy, "The Smoke" community uses instant food packs as currency, which makes newcomer Tally quite wealthy by the community's standards.
  • May 14, 2011
    Augustine
    Misaka Mikoto from To Aru Majutsu No Index uses coins as the projectiles for her railgun.
  • May 14, 2011
    Thebes
    ^That's an inversion.
  • May 17, 2011
    fillerdude
    • The metabugs in Dennou Coil. Useful for making programs to muck around in cyberspace, and as such to playful kids they're quite the commodity money.
    • An interesting case in C is that the cash really is just plain cash... unless you're an Enterpreneur, in which case you can use your money to fashion weapons and cast spells in order to fight against other Enterpreneurs. Yeah, it's a weird show.

    Not really sure about the C example though.
  • May 17, 2011
    ricojes
    Real life ancient Mexicans like the Mayans and Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. Therefore the rich could afford drinks like xocolātl(where we get the word Chocolate) more often.
  • May 17, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Willy Wonka pays the Oompa-Loompas in cacao beans, which are an Oompa-Loompa's Trademark Favorite Food.
  • May 17, 2011
    Duncan
    Water in Tank Girl.
  • May 17, 2011
    Glucharina
    ^^Unless they can trade them for something else, they are just working for food
  • May 19, 2011
    Bisected8
    Water has more uses than being drunk....
  • May 19, 2011
    Fearmonger
    At least a couple Transformers continuities have Energon as both a currency and...Cybertronian Food, I guess?
  • May 19, 2011
    Gatomon41
    Childe Cycle: The interstellar economy is based on the trade of skilled professionals. If a planet needs Mercenaries, they then trade off their Psychologists.
  • May 19, 2011
    Riddlewizard
    Cigarettes are a common form of currency in prisons.
  • May 19, 2011
    SonicLover
    I just noticed that there are two Tabletop Games sections up there.
  • May 19, 2011
    Discar
    @ fillerdude: C redirects to One Letter Title, so the article in question is C The Money And Soul Of Possibility.
  • May 19, 2011
    EzzyAlpha
    Real Life: In many grade schools and playgrounds, cards and other collectibles are often used as currency by children. Most of these also are attached to some sort of game.
  • May 20, 2011
    Thebes
    I think there should be a caveat for solid metal coins, in that the general use of solid metal coins is ignored unless the work itself draws attention to the fact that the value of the coin is exactly the same as the value of the material.
  • May 20, 2011
    Glucharina
    I deliberately removed "commodity money" part, because gold is still pretty much fiat money, Worthless Yellow Rocks and all this.

    I heard somewhere about setting where coins are made of iron, so you can melt them and forge a sword or something, that would fit.
  • May 20, 2011
    Thebes
    What about when the work makes a point of the gold content of the coins, or when the difference in value between gold pieces and silver pieces is discussed as directly related to the difference in value of their materials? Examples would be Spice And Wolf (gold content) and The Name Of The Wind (value of materials, with a history lesson about the evolution of coins from large blocks of material), also discussed in Harry Potter And The Methods Of Rationality (buying gold coins at their coin value selling them at their material value).
  • May 20, 2011
    Arivne
    ^^ @Glucharina: You may be remembering the Dungeons And Dragons DragonLance setting, where iron (and steel) were quite rare. Coins were made of steel, and each one was worth as much as a gold piece was worth in a regular campaign.
  • May 21, 2011
    Thebes
    ^The Name Of The Wind has coins in iron, copper, silver, and gold, in varying sizes of each.

    The values of each size of coin refers to a fractional part of a "standard bar," but it's not clear if the coins are actual cuts of metal, or if the names are hold-overs from the old system.
  • June 4, 2011
    Glucharina
    So, I guess, let's launch it?
  • June 4, 2011
    troacctid
    I rewrote the description to correct grammar 'n' stuff and changed the AC markup to folders. Should definitely be ready to launch now.
  • June 4, 2011
    Madrugada
    In Robert Heinlein's J.B., The protagonists encounter one world where nails are used as currency, although gold is still acceptable. He gets something like "a spike, two ten-penny nails and a handful of tacks" in change for a gold piece. (I don't have the book at hand to look it up exactly)
  • June 4, 2011
    Sooku
    Basically the entire plot of C The Money And Soul Of Possibility.
  • June 4, 2011
    Aielyn
    In Ancient Domains Of Mystery, Merchants in particular can use gold (the currency of the game) quite effectively as a missile weapon.
  • June 4, 2011
    Arivne
    ^^^ @Madrugada: I've read almost everything Robert Heinlein ever wrote (I'm an Entry Pimp for him here on YKTTW), but I can't remember ever reading this in any of his works. I also can't find any work of his titled "J.B.": the closest is Job: A Comedy of Justice.

    That novel does have a scene where Alex pays for a bar of soap with a gold coin (worth $10) and receives nine "cartwheels" (silver dollars) and 95 cents in change. No spikes, nails or tacks, though.
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