Keep the Change

My personal measure of inflation is what I call “the pretzel index.” When I first lived in Munich in 2014, a pretzel with butter cost around 50 cents. When I moved back here in 2016, prices were already closer to 70 cents, and after New Year’s Day in 2018, the fact that they now cost more than 1 euro sent gasps throughout the subway station. Another five years later, we went from 1.60 to 1.90 to 2.10 euros within a matter of months, and it does make you think: Not everything has quadrupled in price in less than a decade, but wages definitely haven’t. It is no wonder people can barely keep up, let alone dream of a utopian goal like owning a house or even an apartment.

My wallet, too, is bleeding, but, thankfully, so far, I’m still doing okay. I don’t do it as often, but in times when prices hurt more than usual, it is an even greater privilege and pleasure to say: “Keep the change.” If you want to make someone’s day today, these three words will do it. Of course, kept change, too, needs to be earned. Perhaps the bakery next door is consistently friendly, your hairdresser makes great conversation, or the lady at the coffee shop always adds an extra dash of cinnamon.

Whatever it is, wherever you’re being appreciated, try to mirror that appreciation back when you can. “Keep the change” is just an easy, universally understood way of doing so — and a financially efficient one at that. A cake store won’t know you’re buying an extra slice just to support them, but the 20 cents you gift them on top of the actual bill? On a rainy day, those will feel like 20 bucks.

Whether you use a simple tipping formula, round up to the nearest dollar, or offer words where your wallet won’t stretch, remember to appreciate those who appreciate you — and that gratitude, like everything, must be shown to truly be felt. As long as you do that, even when both you and your baker squirm at pretzel prices, you’ll still have something to smile about at the end of the day.