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I knew going into this week that I would be in arrears on a couple of things, one of them a group blog post on the dia de patromonio which I attended with Margaret/Peg and where we were schooled in many architectural details and then doused with a bucket of cold water on a sunshiney day, this in the form of the tour given by a torturee from the Pinochet era of house where he, along with many others, were held, tortured, and some killed (though obviously not him).

And that has absolutely nothing to do with what this blog post is about, which is about saving and financial planning. Sort of.

Here in Chile, if you make money doing something not on a contract, you are paid via something called boletas. Basically, I do work for you and I send you a boleta (or ask the SII website to send you one, in my case, since I have virtual boletas (boletas electrónicas), and you use that number to show where your money has gone.

Fine. It’s a system that’s different from the one in the states, and I get that. What is strange to me is that I will pay a flat fee (10%) of that money to SII, and then, in May of next year, I will await an automatic deposit of this same money (most of it, I think, though this is not clear to me, though I do know that they have the money in an interest-bearing account, and pay you interest on it).

I was talking about this system with a friend, and feeling annoyed at having to take 10% out of a check of money that is mine, to give it to the government, and know that it will later be returned to me. She responded, “but it’s a savings account!” This is the way people see their yearly tax refund here. Okay. I guess in the states some people see it the same way. yay, refund! But I seem to always owe (except for when I owned a house), and so I never got into this mindset.

The idea that your very own money returned to you later would bring you such great joy made me think about another middle/lower middle class “savings account” operation here in Chile. It’s called a polla.

The polla will be among neighbors, friends, coworkers. Ideally there are twelve of you, one for each month, and each of you has to put the same amount of money in the “pot” once a month, on payday. In the polla I was asked to join, it was 10,000 CLP, or about 18 dollars by today’s exchange rate, and this seems pretty standard. Once a month, you pay this amount in, and once a year (if you have twelve people, one for each month) you get 12X that amount of money back. When I was first approached about doing the polla, I was perplexed. I’m a money saver from way back, and would be just as happy to take my 10,000 CLP and stick it in an envelope which I then open once a year, if I rolled like that (I prefer the bank option, strangely).

So I thought about it. Are my friends unable to save their own money? Possibly. But if I had to guess I’d say it’s a way to show that you trust friends or coworkers and feel solidarity with a cause that “benefits” everyone. So when I rejected the offer I probably offended some deep trust that had been put in me. We know you won’t rip us off, they said. We know you like us. Wrong, and wrong, I said, by rejecting the polla, and keeping my 10,000 CLP for me, me! (insert evil laughter).

Oh, and I also never “paid the floor” (pagar el piso) (thanks Peg!) with my first paycheck in the administrative part of the school I used to work at. Here you buy cake or something to share with everyone with your first monthly paycheck. Missed that, too. Poco solidaria (not a team player), I guess.

I’m beginning to think being my own boss really is the best thing for me. Fewer chances to offend, less administrative blabla and less cake. Unless it was panqueque chocolate or merengue lúcuma (two cake varieties here), in which case I guess I’ve just shot myself in the foot. Alas, maybe in May when I get my money back.