"...Do they not see that only Dust can give them what they want? For it is money and power and magic all intertwined in one miraculous substance! It is the essence that binds our civilizations together."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. (The proper term for this is fiat money.) 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, there is commodity money. Not all commodity money is practical currency, however: gold, for example, until very recent times has very few not entirely decorative uses — mostly, tableware — but made good commodity money because it is pretty easy to tell what it is (to the uninitiated, silver, aluminum, and steel all look similar at first glance), rare (but not too rare, or else not enough people would have it to make many trades with), divisible (hard to make change with one cow), does not corrode, and had a generally-stable global supply (the last two combine to make it a relatively stable source to put your money in - see the Real Life entry on rice for what happens when it isn't). Weird Currency is a Super Trope; Energy Economy is a Sub-Trope. See also Gold–Silver–Copper Standard. This is often used as a way to justify Cast from Money.
— The Roving Clans, Endless Legend
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Anime and Manga
- 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.
- In one memorable scene in Silver Spoon, the upperclassmen look like they're about to mug Hachiken for his bacon, but it turns out they just wanted to trade him other farm products for it.
- In Hex, the post-apocalyptic re-skin of Jonah Hex, the standard currency are Soames: pills used to decontaminate radioactive water.
- Water in Tank Girl
- In Bone, residents of the valley use things like eggs and livestock as currency. Phoney finds this out when he tries to spend Boneville dollars at Lucius's bar, and ends up having to Work Off the Debt.
- In Batman: No Man's Land, Gotham City is cut off from the rest of the country and thus has no currency, with everyone using a barter system. Bullets are particularly prized; one man is mugged by a guy with a gun, and realizes he is in no danger. If the mugger actually had a bullet in that gun, the bullet would be worth a lot more than the paltry supplies he hopes to steal.
- The sols and lunes, Equestria's original currency in the Triptych Continuum. While the coins themselves are made of gold and silver, that wasn't the original source of their value. Their value derived from the inscription on the edge: "Good for nearly all Princess Labor, Public and Private". Any pony could, if they desired, walk up to the palace and trade an appropriate number of these coins in to get the Princesses to perform any of a wide number of tasks for them. And the coins had value even outside of Equestria, because they could be spent to pay for the raising of Sun and Moon.
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.
- In Mad Max 2, car fuel (usually gasoline) is the only reliable currency.
- Kin-Dza-Dza! has matchsticks (made of natural wood and sulfur) useable this way on Pluck.
- In In Time, time from one's lifespan is used as money. As you might expect, this creates an Unstable Equilibrium where the rich are functionally immortal and Kill the Poor is taken very, very literally.
- In Schindler's List, during the Holocaust, Oscar Schindler convinces the Jewish business community to fund his factory by offering them surplus goods that they can use for barter in the ghetto, since he cannot pay them in money as Jews are not allowed to own any.
- In The Force Awakens the closest thing to currency seen on Scavenger World Jakku are packets of dried dough that bake quickly, measured in "portions". The junk dealer Rey sells her findings to usually pays her fractions of a portion.
- In Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief, the currency on Mars is time. When one runs out, their mind gets put into a robotic Quiet work body for a few years to earn more. Think community service meets forced labor.
- In the sequel novel, Fractal Prince, the city of Sirr uses a more disturbing form of currency: human minds. The city only exists because of the Wildcode Desert that protects it from Sobornost assimilation, but the Sobornost lust for all the minds forcefully uploaded into the Wildcode Grey Goo that they can't touch, so they hire the baseline humans of Sirr to "mine" them from the 'Code one at a time in return for scraps of their posthuman technology.
- 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. The idea of paper currency started in the previous book, when people began using postage stamps as a means of exchange.
- Commerce in the villages of Lancre, where hard currency is a rarity, is more likely to be negotiated in chickens than in coins.
- Water on Dune itself and melange (spice) everywhere else in Dune. Spice is vital for the survival of the Spacing Guild, as it is necessary in order for their Navigators to use limited precognition to safely navigate through space.
- In the Uglies trilogy, "The Smoke" community uses instant food packs as currency, which makes newcomer Tally quite wealthy by the community's standards.
- Iron in Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky, made so because of its rarity (It Makes Sense in Context). A character even mentions using gold for currency, only for another character to say that, while gold is valuable, it doesn't have a lot of use. Of course, you better keep all your iron bars in a dry environment. Since many wealthy people also know the Word, they can keep all their iron valuables safe and dry in the Cold to retrieve as needed.
- There is a scene where the protagonist sees a flagship of The Empire with its sides gold-plated (to show off, not for armor). He muses that they could've easily afforded to iron-plate the entire ship, but it would, of course, rust at sea.
- In Mary Gentle's novel Rats and Gargoyles, humans are not allowed cash, with a few exceptions; on one occasion, Mayor Tannakin Spatchet tries to pay the White Crow with a wheelbarrow full of brass pans, cheese, candles, paper, and so on.
- Mistborn: The Original Trilogy has fairly standard coinage, but it's also the go-to weapon for steelpushers, to the point that steel mistings are called coinshots.
- And this coinage is backed by Atium, an ultra-rare metal that gives Mistborn the ability to see a short distance into the future. While having your economy be dependent on a substance that gets regularly used up may seem like a bad idea, Atium seems to be renewable, and the people who own the mine are very rich, even after the Lord Ruler takes his cut.
- Another Sanderson example, from The Stormlight Archive: The currency is spheres, tiny chips of gemstones encased in marble-sized glass balls. But they're not valuable because they're gemstones, but because the gemstones can act as magical foci for various things, particularly Soulcasting (transmutation magic). Diamonds are the least valuable, because they have the least useful Soulcasting property, whereas emeralds, which can be used to turn stones into food, are the most valuable denomination.
- There's one other use for spheres: they trap Stormlight, though this is mostly just used for illumination....unless you're a Surgebinder, who powers one's abilities using Stormlight. Thus, the money can be used to fuel superhuman magical powers, though few people actually know this.
- In Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace, the prevailing currency in a post-apocalyptic California is alcohol. It's a fuel, a disinfectant, and a beverage as well as money.
- In Gene Wolfe's Book of the Short Sun series, the inhabitants of the Whorl (a giant Generation Ship at the end of its journey, now orbiting a pair of potentially-inhabitable planets) have taken to using circuit boards as currency due to their scarcity. This, of course, means that the ship's already-strained technology is failing rapidly, and the theft of boards from the ship's few operational shuttles means that soon there'll be no way out for those who haven't already left.
- In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle, the interstellar currency is largely based on skilled professionals. If a planet needs someone or something, they hire out a specialist in exchange. The economy of the Fourteen Worlds is based on the trade of contracts, which not only affects political decisions, but also drives the plot of several stories.
- 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.
- A side comment by a Free Jaffa merchant in Stargate SG-1 suggests that naquadah is used as currency, or at least a standard of measuring value for barter.
- It would have to be a specific kind of naquadah. Weapons grade naquadah is extremely dense, as shown in an episode where two Jaffa (who are much stronger than regular humans) are carrying a weapons grade naquadah brick the size of a laptop. Daniel, being physically enhanced by an alien artifact, knocks out the Jaffa and stashes the brick into his backpack, having no trouble carrying it (why the backpack didn't rip is not clear). When the effect of the artifact wears off, he has to dump the naquadah in order to even walk. There is also the liquid kind.
- In Jeremiah's post-apocalyptic world canned food is used as the main currency.
- 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 (gunpowder) as currency and prefer to be paid in it.
- Invoked in Dragonlance, where the primary currency is steel coins. After the Cataclysm, metals with no practical value like gold fell out of favor. Subverted, however, in that fans have pointed out that there are many reasons why steel coins don't make a lot of sense, not least of which is the fact that it rarely costs as many steel coins to buy a sword as would need to be melted down in order to make one.
- In the Mystara setting:
- The Red Steel region has Cinnabryl, a metal which nullifies the effects of toxic contaminants in the soil. When depleted by prolonged contact with the afflicted, it becomes the titular red steel, which has no curative powers but is of higher quality than ordinary steel. Cinnabryl is used in high-value coins as well as jewelry, while red steel coins are lower-end currency. Because cinnabryl coins are constantly being depleted by whomever can afford them, only constant cinnabryl-mining keeps the economy from collapsing.
- High-end coinage in The Magocracy of Glantri is permeated with magic, which wealthy wizards can utilize to aid in certain arcane laboratory procedures.
- 4th Edition introduces residuum, a metallic dust infused with magic. It's a common de facto currency in higher-level play since it's ten thousand times more valuable than gold by weight and can power every variety of ritual magic, including the creation of magic items, in place of the normal spell components.
- Gems are a high-value trade good that can be exchanged like currency, which comes in handy for the mages who need them as components or focus items for various spells.
- Deadlands: Hell on Earth: Although the game itself uses dollar values for convenience, it mentions that most places operate on a barter system and any spare 'cash' the characters have is usually in the form of easily transportable luxury items. Also, bullets are hard currency pretty much everywhere, due to consistently high demand and low or non-existent production.
- BattleTech: ComStar's currency, the C-Bill, is based upon a fixed amount of transmission time on the organisation's Hyper Pulse Generators. The exact amount seems to fluctuate, though its stability versus the currencies of the Great Houses, and that for inter-planetary communications, ComStar is for all intents and purposes the only game in town, make it very desirable. In the Dark Age, after the HPG network has collapsed aside from a few planets, the C-Bill has naturally become nearly worthless and an economic crisis has occurred throughout the Inner Sphere. One sourcebook mentions that because of all the instability, one of the most commonly used forms of "currency" has now become crates of ammunition.
- In Exalted, jade is the most common Magical Material, and has significant practical use as a construction material, but is used by the Realm as a currency (jade coinage is actually significantly more valuable in its practical uses than the value attached to the coins). This is partially because it helps control the flow of jade, partially because it enhances the mystique of the Realm (ruled by the Dragon Blooded, the Exalted associated with jade), and partially to create a sense of legitimacy and continuity with the Old Realm.
- The Old Realm actually tied the practical and monetary values of jade together; ritualised financial transactions were necessary for keeping large portions of the world from dissolving, and jade's natural magical stabilizing properties made it the ideal currency for such transactions.
- In Mage: The Awakening, it's relatively easy to whip up normal funds by magic, so mages often demand payment in tass, a form of condensed and distilled Mana that has a wide variety of uses: it can make spells stronger or safer to cast, some magic needs an expenditure of mana, and a truly hard-up mage can burn their mana reserves for a quick-and-dirty form of healing.
- Trade is implied to be this in Star Realms. The starting units that provide Trade are not merchant craft but rather Scouts and Explorers - ship types that usually used to gather intelligence and scientific information respectively. Such data is useful in itself in research or navigation, but it can also be used in barter as well.
- Gothic: In the penal colony, magic ore is used as a currency. It is supported by the fact that the outside world desperately needs this ore and is ready to give food, booze, and hookers in exchange for it. You can also find coins, which unlike most objects have zero value.
- In some of the Sonic the Hedgehog games, rings are often used as a currency. Rings have had practical uses (such as protection) since the beginning of the series.
- System Shock 2 has nanite packs as a basic exchange unit.
- Guild Wars
- The game uses gold and platinum for its official currency, but characters can only hold 100 platinum on their person at any given time: enough to buy anything from an NPC, but nowhere near enough for trades in the player market. Thus, the de facto currency is ectoplasm, chosen for its use in crafting rare armour. It's measured in "globs" and is bright pink; its currency symbol is e, as in 100e.
- Pre-Searing characters cannot acquire ectoplasm, so high-end trades are instead based on black dye, an item used to dye items black. It is the rarest dye and thus most valuable, even in the main market.
- In a similar manner, the Diablo II community used certain well-known "rare" items (well, they drop rarely, but given the size of the playerbase there are still tens of thousands of them) such as the traditional Stone of Jordan ring as currencies. Though each trade was effectively a barter, valuable items would have an agreed-upon market value in, say, Stones of Jordan or Zod Runes. Later, due to a mechanics update, chipped gems (the "least valuable" kind) became especially useful in crafting, and became the de facto newbie currency (for players still too young to trade in Stones of Jordan).
- In Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, the primary form of currency is pre-apocalyptic, military-grade bullets. When fired from a normal riflenote , the damage they deal is enormous compared to the ammo the Metro produces. One can also exchange "Metro" rounds (low quality, recycled ammunition) for military rounds - though the skills and tools remain to make ammunition, They Don't Make Them Like They Used To.
- Souls are the standard currency in Demon's Souls and its Spiritual Successor Dark Souls since they are a source of great power. Some unlucky people in Demon's Souls actually need souls to exist since they (like yourself) are already dead and need souls to keep their own souls from fading away.
- Kingdom of Loathing is some kind of an example, since its currency is Meat. You can't eat it, but you can make "meat paste" to combine items, and smith the Meat into weapons and armor.
- Freedroid RPG trades in Valuable Circuits, which also turns all droids into Money Spider.
- EVE Online uses ISK as its currency, but in-game time cards also act as currency, both for in-game and real currency, since it can be purchased with either.
- Possibly in Ratchet & Clank. The series features all kind of technology, and the currency you collect is bolts. But we're never told for sure whether people use the bolts to create more machines, or whether there's a difference between bolts used in machinery and bolts used for money.
- Zigzagged in the Player-Generated Economy of Team Fortress 2. The main currencies are various hats, specifically rare and/or limited-edition ones, such as the Earbuds (only released during the week or so when Team Fortress 2 was released for Apple computers) or Bill's Hat (a promotional item for the Left 4 Dead series). These are completely cosmetic, but are used as a form of "currency" when bartering doesn't quite work out. A straight version of this trope is Refined Metal, which can be used to craft almost any weapon in the game.
- There's also crate keys — they can be used to open crates (which have items in them, including a 1% chance of getting an especially valuable "unusual" hat with a particle effect), or simply traded for other things.
- The problem with the hat backed economy is that hats have no set value. When using earbuds, the demand for them kept their value high but when the demand fell the economy plummeted badly as things were tied to the value of buds. With keys, they have a set price and are backed with real currency and therefore they're less likely to lose value, which is partially why TF2's main trading site, backpack.tf, switched to them.
- In the Fallout series, bottlecaps are normally Weird Currency instead, but in games where you can craft bottlecap mines... In addition, Fallout: New Vegas gives you the crafting recipe for filling a shotshell with silver coins, courtesy of Caesar's Legion.
- One mission involves a represenative of the Crimson Caravan Company sending you to find an operating cap-making machine and shut it down, as any newly-made caps lower the value of the currency. She also notes that people waste caps when they use them as land mines.
- The setting's equivalent of the gold standard is this as well, after a fashion. Caps are backed by the most precious resource in the wasteland: Clean drinking water. Which doesn' help the New California Republic as their drinking water backed currency has taken a dive in value around the time of New Vegas (though the cold war with the Legion hasn't helped either).
- In the Roguelike FTL: Faster Than Light, the "scrap" you collect throughout the universe can be used to pay merchants for repairs, supplies, or new weapons and systems. Or you could actually use it as spare parts to upgrade your existing systems, which also makes this a mix between Experience Points and currency.
- Another roguelike, Eldritch, has "artifacts" which can be used as currency in the stores or as fuel for your magic spells.
- In Path of Exile, the economy is based on using a barter system due to the fact that the continent of Wraeclast is a penal colony where gold is more or less useless. Rather than money, selling items to shopkeepers gets you scrolls to identify equipment as well as jewels that augment the stats of your equipment.
- Penguin Adventure has penguins using fish as a medium of exchange.
- Dust in Endless Space, Endless Legend, and Dungeon of the Endless, is an almost magical substance made of nanomachines created by the Endless. All factions (bar the Harmony) use it as their currency. In Endless Legend, set on the medieval Lost Colony of Auriga, the Roving Clans revere the substance, being a nation of traders, even though they do not fully understand it, and in Dungeon of the Endless there are merchants who trade Dust. Dust is also the lifeblood of the Broken Lords, who had to encase their souls in Animated Armor sustained by Dust in order to survive Auriga's collapsing climate. In-game this is represented by (most) empires being able to speed up building upgrades and recruiting units by 'spending' their Dust.
- The bushels of grain produced by your fields in Hamurabi can be used to buy additional land.
- In the Homeworld series the currency is the Resource Unit (RU for short), an amount of mined resources that can be used to build starships but the Bentusi will take as currency in their trade.
- Similarly, the Earth starbase in Star Control II used RU as a credit system representing raw materials that could be used to supply their replicators and build upgrades for your ship. Other factions had their own currencies, as well; the Druuge traded in slaves, while the Melnorme were information brokers.
- In the Mega Man Legends series, while the currency is still called "zenny," money in this world is not real money, but quantum refractors, which are used to generate energy. Particularly large refractors are used to power machines, but smaller and weaker refractors are traded as money. Nobody knows how to make more refractors, but they were used to power all the Lost Technology left behind by the Ancients, including the Reaverbots. This explains why robotic enemies in ancient ruins drop money when they explode, and why there's a Global Currency (resources are scarce and everyone needs an extra refractor in case energy runs low).
- Macca in Shin Megami Tensei games is represented as odd bronze coins, but in fact is a form of Pure Energy edible to demons and necessary when summoning them from the Compendium, and as such, is a hot commodity on world suffering from demonic invasions.
- At least a couple Transformers continuities have Energon as both a currency and... Cybertronian food, I guess?
- It is also their blood, and literally the blood of their home planet.
- And it is also the ammunition for their energy-based weaponry, and it powers their non-sentient machinery as well. Transformers can't really do anything without Energon, which is why they've fought wars over the stuff.
- Many ancient "coins" were some other kind of good that was/were spontaneously promoted to this role by the barter economy just because they are compact, common, and valuable. Knife billets or small furs come to mind. Precious metals became universal the same way, but mostly for decorative value.
- Deer pelts were sometimes used as currency, since they were very useful in making tent walls, blankets, and clothing. This may be the origin of a "buck", the American slang word for a dollar.
- Squirrel pelts were often used as the smallest form of currency, and the price of larger skins was counted in how terms of how their size compared to them.
- Some countries use cell phone minutes as currency. This is most notable in Africa, where cell phones are the go-to method of developing communications infrastructure (towers are easier and cheaper to construct than landlines).
- Medieval Japan used rice as currency (the Koku, or ~150 liters, being defined as the standard ration of rice for a soldier for a year).
- And ran headlong into the economic crisis, because advances in agriculture and increased wealth (and thus bargaining power) of the city merchants led to the collapse of the rice prices. Which meant that the country-based daimyos and the samurai class, who were traditionally paid in rice, became practically penniless.
- Japan also used gold coins known as ryô that the Imperial authorities tried to peg to the value of a koku of rice, but, as with many commodity currencies the relative values of gold and rice fluctuated wildly over time.
- Colonial Virginia (at least) used tobacco as a form of currency, and the certificates issued for delivering tobacco to warehouses were the first truly American currency.
- Real life Mayans and Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. Therefore, the rich could afford drinks like xocolātl (from which we get the word Chocolate) more often.
- And just to prove that people have always been the same, archaeologists have found forged cocoa beans, made from (among other things) clay.
- Cigarettes are a common form of currency in prisons.
- And in the late 1940's occupied Berlin.
- In some prisons where tobacco is banned or hard to acquire, prisoners use postage stamps instead, since they're not only legal but are small, easy to carry, and have a small round price.
- Now that most prisons have banned tobacco, cigarettes have become too valuable to be of practical use. Items from the commissary, usually packaged ramen noodles or canned fish, have replaced them.
- Vodka was often used as money in Russia during the Nineties crisis. Sometimes still used, mostly in remote areas.
- Actually the use of vodka as currency predates the Nineties as it stated in the USSR due the government's (unsuccessful) attempts to restrict the sale of alcohol via such clever measures as destroying the vineyards (despite the country's drunks never being interested in wine), restricting the sales of alcohol only to that time of the day everyone must be working and even rationing vodka. Which led to vodka becoming this trope.
- People would also often receive small change in the form of matchboxes at some stores.
- In ancient Rome, soldiers were sometimes partially paid in salt.note Someone who wasn't worth what they were paid wasn't 'worth their salt.' In fact, the word 'salary' is based on the Latin word for salt, sal. All that said, the salarium (the ancestor of the "salary") was not usually paid directly in salt, but rather was a quantity of money given to each soldier so he could buy salt on his own.
- During parts of history, rum has been used a currency in Europe and Australia. The New South Wales Corps, one of the first European military forces, was also known as the Rum Corps because of the corps' major use of rum as a currency, as there wasn't a feasible alternative (shipping currency in would take up room that could be used for more useful things and local infrastructure wasn't developed enough to make their own). When William Bligh (of Bounty mutiny fame) tried to restrict the trade, it led to a rebellion suitably called the Rum Rebellion. Armed rebels temporarily took over the government, the only time this has ever happened in Australian history.
- Given the low worth of the Italian Lira, it wasn't really economic to make small value coins, even out of plastic, so sweets were often used instead. 21st century Mexico has reached this point also, with smaller coins than the 50-centavo piece being replaced by gum and the US dollar accepted in a lot of border regions.
- Inverted with the giant Rai stones of Yap, as documented on the Weird Currency page.
- All too common during times of hyperinflation. German history textbooks contain both pictures of ridiculous amount of currency being worthless (at one point in 1923 one Dollar was worth 4.2 Trillion Mark) and signs specifying "prices" like "One piece of coal" for the cheapest seat in a theater.
- In the coca-growing areas of rural Colombia, bags of cocaine base are commonly used as currency.