Why do countries have different currencies?
Feb 21, 2023
Season 4 | Episode 3

Why do countries have different currencies?

And how easy is it to make money of your own? (Asking for a friend.)

On a trip to Washington, D.C., Bridget and Ryan take this question from Oliver in Illinois: Why do different countries use different currencies? There’s the U.S. dollar, the Mexican peso and Japanese yen, just to name a few. This week, we’ll explain why so many countries decided to make their own type of money. And we meet the ghost of Alexander Hamilton, who has an important money lesson to share … through song.

Image of a globe with currencies from various countries.

And now … tips for grown-ups listening to “Million Bazillion” with kids

Money Talks

After you listen to the episode, here are some questions you can ask kids about international currencies.

  • Name three world currencies.
  • What’s the most commonly used currency in the world?
  • Why do countries create their own money?

(Scroll down or click here for answers!)

Tip Jar

If you and your kids want to learn more about international currencies, here’s some extra material you might find helpful.

  1. To understand why we use money in the first place, check out Million Bazillion’s first episode: “Where did money come from?
  2. See what money around the world looks like with The World Map of Currencies.

Gimme 5

If you could create your own currency, what would it look like and what would it be called? Draw a picture and email it to millionbazillion@marketplace.org.

Money Talks Answers

  • Answers will vary.
  • The U.S. dollar.
  • To have greater control over their economy.

This episode is sponsored by Greenlight.  (For a limited time, get $10 when you sign up for a Greenlight account at greenlight.com/MILLION).

Million Bazillion: S4 E3 Currencies Script/Transcript 

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Scripts may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it

Cold Open:



BRIDGET: Here we are in Washington D.C.! Our nation’s capital!


RYAN: Thanks so much for bringing me along on this trip you won in that radio trivia contest.


BRIDGET: Don’t mention it. I’m glad knowing all the American Presidents in order finally paid off for once. [SINGING TO STARS AND STRIPES ] George Washington was the first prez, John Adams is known as the second prez, Thomas Jeffer–


RYAN: [CUTTING HER OFF]: Oh look, here we are at the Lincoln memorial! Imagine if this big Lincoln statue could talk. I wonder what it would say.


LINCOLN: (BIG BOOMING VOICE) Remember… a government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.


RYAN: Wow. Such inspiring words. And, hey look! It’s the Washington Monument. I wonder what this magnificent obelisk would say if it could talk.


WASHINGTON MONUMENT:  (BIG BOOMING VOICE) Uhhh, why am I just a big stick made out of stone?




WASHINGTON MONUMENT: You heard me. Why does Lincoln get a big monument that looks exactly like him but Washington gets me! A gray column with a pointy top? What am I supposed to even look like? A pencil?  Did Washington really like pencils?


BRIDGET: Umm, I don’t think so. I think you’re just supposed to be just a tall, impressive structure?


WASHINGTON MONUMENT: Maybe I’m supposed to be like a finger pointing up? Like number one, for number one president?


RYAN: I don’t think that’s it.


WASHINGTON MONUMENT: Or, wait, no, I think I got it! When you think about it, I really sorta look like…


BRIDGET: Ok hold on a minute, Washington monument, we gotta start the show!


–Theme Music–

RYAN: You’re listening to Million Bazillion. I’m Ryan.


BRIDGET: I’m Bridget. And We Help Dollars Make More Sense.


Ryan: Let’s hear today’s question:


OLIVER: I’m Oliver from Illinois. My question is why do different countries use different money?” 


BRIDGET: Really interesting question, Oliver. It’s true! Most countries have their own unique type of currency. “Currency.” That’s another word for money that you’re going to hear a lot on this episode. Countries usually want you to use THEIR money or currency if you’re in that country.


RYAN:  Like in Japan, they use the Japanese Yen. In India, they use the Rupee. You know…this is  actually a perfect question for us to answer while we’re in D.C., the place where a lot of the money decisions in this country are made!


WASHINGTON MONUMENT: (BOOMING) Hey, I think I figured it out!


RYAN: Oh, Washington Monument. You’re back.


WASHINGTON MONUMENT: You know how Washington had wooden teeth? Maybe I’m a tooth! Like a big, long sharp tooth!


RYAN: (BEAT) I think you nailed it. Ok, let’s go to another part of the city far away from the Washington monument.


BRIDGET: Good idea, we’ll be right back after this break.


-Asking random kids NOT SO random questions-

ANNOUNCER: And now it’s time for asking random kids NOT SO random questions. Today’s question is: Why do you think money exists?


RANDOM KIDS: So, in old times, we would trade. So you can buy stuff without bartering and not carry so much heavy stuff. What if someone didn’t want that thing. So we can spend it! To make things fair. Um, well, to buy stuff. Because people need it and the king of coin created coins. Because if you don’t have money you can’t buy anything to live. You’d just be naked and walking around and stuff. So people can buy stuff. So people can buy what they want and need. It would hurt your feet by the time you got the thing you think you needed.


ANNOUNCER: That was…Norah and Connor from St. Louis., Allen from Missouri, Mickey and Joshua from Denver, Elliot from Saudi Arabia, Aaron and Roman from New York City, Josephine and Isabel from Los Angeles, and William from Pittstown, New Jersey. This has been asking random kids not so random questions.

Part 1:



BRIDGET:  Welcome back, we’re here at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. This is part of a bunch of museums created by the U.S. government to keep and display important historical pieces and to do research and a bunch of fun learning stuff. They also have this HUGE money collection.


RYAN: Hey Bridget, I just bought us some tri-corner hats so we’ll look like old-timey people. Look at me. I look like Paul Revere in this hat. A great look for me! Put yours on!.


BRIDGET: I’m not sure a felt triangle on my head is my best look. Do we have to?


RYAN: No. No. I did just spend 57 dollars on these hats, but you don’t have to wear yours.


BRIDGET: Ok, fine, gimme the hat. (Sounds as she’s putting on the hat) So we’re here to find some answers to Oliver’s question: why do different countries use different money? And the person I immediately thought of talking to is Ellen Feingold. Regular listeners will remember her – she’s the curator of the national numismatic collection here at the Smithsonian.


RYAN: Numismatic is a fancy word for money and currency, right?


BRIDGET: Exactly right, Ryan. Ooh, there she is! Hi Ellen.


ELLEN: Hi, I like the hats.


BRIDGET: Okay well let’s just get to it…our listener Oliver sent in this question. “Why do different countries use different currency?” He actually was inspired by your last Million Bazillion episode, when we talked about the way Canadian and American money looks different. So…what do you think, how would you answer this?


ELLEN: That’s a great question! [laughs]


BRIDGET: He actually was inspired by your last Million Bazillion episode, when we talked about the way Canadian and American money looks different. So…what do you think? How would you answer this?


ELLEN: So each country has the opportunity on their banknotes and coins to tell their own story.


RYAN: Tell a story through money? What do you mean by that?


ELLEN: One example of that is in Guatemala.


BRIDGET: Here, let’s bring up a picture of what money looks like in Guatemala. Ryan, can you describe it?


RYAN:  Okay, so these bills are  really colorful and there are different people featured on one side. There’s other scenes on the other side. All seems to be very historical. Also, they all have this bird flying across with this very long flowing set of tail feathers.


ELLEN: The bird is called a resplendent quetzal. And the currency is actually called the Quetzal, after that bird. The reason for this is because historically, that bird’s tail feathers were used as currency among Indigenous communities there. And so the use of the image of that bird, its tail feathers, and the naming of that currency is part of how the Guatemalan government shares, remembers, and commemorates their national history.


BRIDGET: Okay so, awesome to have this physical thing that helps tell the story of your country and its people and its history but…there’s gotta be another reason why countries go through the trouble of making their own money, right?


ELLEN: Money is also a really important symbol and signal of national sovereignty.


RYAN: Ooh, sovereignty, that’s a fun word. It means when a country gets to be its own boss!


BRIDGET: Ooh, Ryan, you really studied up on all these new words we’re using! Awesome.


ELLEN: Having the power to issue your own currency is a really important part of being a nation.  And it says, we are in control of ourselves and we have our own money. We don’t need to rely on another country. We also don’t have the interference of another country in our national economy.


RYAN: This is kinda like what happened in the U.S. We used to use the British pound, but then we didn’t want to anymore. So we made up our own system.


ELLEN: In this country, the constitution actually says, this country can have a mint and make our own coins.This was a big step from being the colonies under the control of Great Britain. Where we could have been required to put the monarch on our coins and we would have another place, another country controlling not much how our money looks but also how much we can have, and what denominations it’s made in. So this is a big part of national independence, controlling your own economy and deciding for yourself, what you want to see on your money. 


BRIDGET: So this is like, basically the country’s version of being able to say: my room, my rules. My country, my money, yeah?


RYAN: But we’re all friends here now, why not have everyone just use the SAME currency, like it would make traveling from one country to the other SO MUCH EASIER.


ELLEN: This is such a great question because it’s nice to imagine what that might look like.


RYAN: I’m feeling a “but” coming on.


ELLEN: But we can explore together also what some of the challenges to that might be.  Money is a way that countries say, “we’re in charge of our own money.” So if countries all gave up that power, they would lose some political and economic independence that comes along with having your own currency.  So we’d all have to agree globally on what our money should look like. When would there be too many bank notes in circulation and what we would do if there wasn’t enough?


BRIDGET [TO RYAN]:  I’m starting to think she doesn’t think we’re going to get a global currency.


ELLEN: Creating a global currency would create a global consensus, a global agreement and there are many things that we wish we had global agreement about. For example, some of the crises with the climate and other important global issues but we haven’t been able to come to agreement on those things. So it is hard to imagine a global agreement around currency.


RYAN: Yeah, I don’t think you get all the countries to agree on how to spell currency. Well thanks for spitballing that with us.


BRIDGET: Yeah, we really appreciate your help. I think maybe we’re gonna go look around the rest of the museum now.




TOUR GUIDE: And kids, welcome to the Smithsonian’s tour of our permanent money exhibit, the Value of Money! We’ve got a special display out now about the history of money in Ukraine and of course, coins, currency, and medals from all throughout the world.(FADE OUT UNDER RYAN)


RYAN: Hey, can we tag along on this tour?


BRIDGET: Wait, are we allowed? We’re not with this group?


RYAN: This is an institution of LEARNING, Bridget, why would they deny us sweet knowledge?


TOUR GUIDE: Hey, you two in the tri-corner hats, I didn’t see you two pay to get in this special exhibit. Did you just sneak in with this field trip group?


RYAN: Ummmm, we’re not people. We’re… (BRITISH ACCENT) museum exhibits come to life.




BRIDGET: (SIDE MOUTH) What are you doing?


RYAN: (SIDE MOUTH) Just play along.


TOUR GUIDE: Ooo, living exhibits, eh? Like in Night at the Museum?


BRIDGET: (BRITISH) Yes! Like Night in the Museum!


TOUR GUIDE: I don’t think you museum exhibits come to life at all! I think you snuck into this exhibit and are just pretending to be exhibits come to life!


BRIDGET: No, we’re not real people. We’re Bri-ish.


TOUR GUIDE: British people are real people.


RYAN: (BRITISH) Oy! Let’s run!


BRIDGET: Yeah, let’s escape and we’ll be right back!


RYAN: Cheerio, chappies!




Part 2:




RYAN: Heheee! I can’t stop rolling perfect skeeballs. Some people are built for b-ball and some are built for skeeball and I’m built for skeeball!


BRIDGET: Ok, so today while on a trip in Washington D.C., we’re trying to answer Oliver’s question: “Why do different countries use different currencies?” We were chased out of the Smithsonian museum and have currently stopped for lunch at Bobo’s Pizza, one of D.C’s favorite arcade eateries.


RYAN: Hey, Bridget Bridget Bridget!  I just won 200 Bobo’s prize tickets. That’s enough to buy a big stuffed doll of Bobo the Possum at the prize counter!


BRIDGET: Hey, when you think about it, those prize tickets are a kind of currency too, don’t you think?


RYAN: Hmm. How do you mean?


BRIDGET: Well, you’ve been winning ALL these Bobo’s prize tickets…which can be used for…


RYAN: Oh, to buy things from the Bobo’s Pizza prize counter! They’ve got everything, t-shirts, frisbees, a personal-sized light-up disco ball…


BRIDGET: Bobo’s decides how many tickets you get when you win a game, they control how many tickets there are, basically.


RYAN: Yeahhhhh.


BRIDGET: And can you use those prize tickets anywhere else?


RYAN: Sadly, no.


BRIDGET:   Right, it’s a kind of currency that can only be spent in this one pizza parlor. And Bobo’s probably doesn’t accept tickets from any rival pizza shops.


RYAN: No, I tried that, and they actually LAUGHED in my face. Hmmm. So it’s kinda like Bobo’s Pizza made their own little currency.


BRIDGET: Yeah. And everyone here is happy to use these Bobo’s tickets because they know they can use them at the Bobo’s prize counter. They trust that Bobo’s will honor the tickets and the prizes will be good. That’s just like money in the real world.


RYAN: And anyone could make a currency of their own.


BRIDGET: I think it’s a pretty complicated process–




RYAN: I think a lightbulb just turned on in my head. I should make a currency of my own.


BRIDGET: What? I’m not saying that at all.




RYAN: Too late! I’ve just hatched the perfect plan. We break into the U.S. Mint and add my own currency design to one of the presses. If I can make a real-looking currency, I can start my life anew in a sovereign state of my own, my pockets stuffed with Ryan Bucks. I sketched out the design of my currency on this grease-stained napkin. My dollar features me, looking wisely into the middle distance with huge biceps that I’m working on getting, high-fiving Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin. And look, you’re on the dollar too Bridget, cheering us on from atop that creepy pyramid with the eyeball that’s on the regular dollar.




BRIDGET: So, wait, go back, you want to sneak into the U.S. Mint so you can smuggle a new currency… in?


RYAN: Yes! That’s an excellent way to put it. Doesn’t even sound like a crime when you put it that way.


BRIDGET: Well, first of all, there are a few issues with your plan. A) They print paper money at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, not the Mint.


RYAN: Ok, whatever. We’ll go to whichever one prints the money..


BRIDGET: And B) you’re definitely going to get caught.


RYAN: It’s worth the risk! I want to break free of this American currency I can never seem to earn enough of. It’s time to take a big risk, and even though my plan may be bad, it can’t be worse than crypto.


BRIDGET: You might have a point.


RYAN: So tonight, I’m sneaking in! What do you say, you wanna help me?


BRIDGET: Ok, if you try to do this by yourself, you’re definitely going to get caught, so I better go with you.






RYAN: Ok, here we are at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We’ve made it past security and onto the floor of the big money press where our reverse heist is about to go down.


BRIDGET: Agh! Why do I let you talk me into these things?


RYAN: Now I’ll just stop the presses, and add my own design here—




RYAN: Bridget, you keep a lookout while I sneak my engraving onto the press. Annnnnd it’s all set. And they say there’s no such thing as a license to print money. All I have to do is pull this lever and…


HAMILTON: Wait, don’t do it!


RYAN: (GASP) Who are you?


HAMILTON: I’m Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.


BRIDGET: Alexander Hamilton? But didn’t you die centuries ago?


HAMILTON: I’m the ghost of Alexander Hamilton and I live here at the Bureau, but I can only come out at night.


RYAN: Wow, this is like the Night at the Museum thing we were pretending to do, but for actual real-real.


BRIDGET: Wait, how do we know he’s a real ghost?


RYAN: Look, my hand goes right through him!


HAMILTON: Stop that! It tickles! [GIGGLE]


RYAN: I can’t believe we’re talking to ghost Hamilton, one of our greatest American presidents!


BRIDGET: Hamilton was never President.


RYAN: Picky picky.


BRIDGET: What? Knowing all the presidents is how we won this trip!


HAMILTON: I appreciate your hustle, young man. But you don’t know the first thing about starting your own currency. Believe me, I was one of the people who helped create the American system of currency.


RYAN: Well, then you’re the perfect ghost to give me advice then!


HAMILTON: You can’t just make up a currency celebrating yourself for your own profit. You have to have a reason to do it. It has to do with a country wanting to be able to make its own decisions, control it’s own destiny because money is a type of power- you know what? I think this is a lesson best conveyed… through a song.


BRIDGET: You really mean that, ghost Alexander Hamilton? You’re going to rap for us?


HAMILTON: Rap? Why do people keep asking me to rap? I don’t even know what “rap” is. When I say “song”,  I mean I’m gonna play a little polka ditty.


RYAN: Oh no.





When America was starting out

Tryin’ to shape its destiny

We didn’t want to use the British pound

So we made our own currency!


I wanted that currency centralized 

Through a stable American bank

Called the First Bank of the United States

And for that bank you have me to thank!


Not everyone was a fan of my plan 

Including Thomas Jefferson

He thought the bank would be monopoly 

But eventually my plan won


Then in Seventeen-Ninety-Two 

The Coinage Act was passed 

Creating the U.S. dollar

And the dollar caught on fast 


With that dollar, we could pay our debts

And establish our independence

And create a sustainable economy

For for our eventual descendants



BRIDGET: OK, well, this has been an informative polka, but we should get going.


HAMILTON: But wait, I’m not done with the song!


RYAN: Really, I could listen to polka music all day, but Bridget’s right, we should scram.



Now grab a wad of paper cash

And tell me what you see

On the single you’ll see Washington 

On the ten spot you’ll see me! Weee!


My polka song is almost done

I sang it just for you

With any luck, I’ll sing it one day

In a huge Broadway revue!


I can’t wait to sing this song!

In a huge Broadway revue! Wooo!

So, what do y’all think? Can’t you just imagine that song being a huge Broadway hit?


BRIDGET/RYAN : (OVERLAPPING, TISKING) Uhhhhh, yeah, Broadway’s tough / You can take it around town. Get more feedback./ I think if you workshopped some more/Yeah get more eyes, more ears on that/More ears would be really good


HAMILTON: Ok, cool cool. It’s not final by the way. I’m still toying with it.


RYAN: Wow, so I guess it was kind of a big deal when America said they wanted their own money, and put so much work into creating it. . . Maybe it’s more important than something I should manipulate for my own gain.




SECURITY: Freeze right there! Don’t move!


BRIDGET: Oh no! It’s security!


RYAN: Awwww! Right when I was starting to learn my lesson. I was this close to walking away without getting caught.


HAMILTON: You can still escape! Just make a run for it through that door to your left!


RYAN: Wait, my left or Bridget’s left?


HAMILTON: Bridget’s left!


SECURITY: Who on earth are you talkin’ to?


BRIDGET: The ghost of Alexander Hamilton! You mean, you can’t see him?


HAMILTON: Only those truly curious about currency can see me!


RYAN: Is that how ghosts work?


HAMILTON: That’s how Hamilton Ghosts work. Just run!










BRIDGET: Phew! I think we made it!


RYAN: Wait, I need to go back in! I left my currency design in there!


BRIDGET: Ryan, we don’t have time for that! Let’s keep running until they can’t find us!


RYAN: (DISAPPOINTED) Ok fine! We’ll keep running and be right back after this!





ELLIE: Hello, I’m Ellie from Novi, Michigan and I’ve got a money joke for you! What has a hundred heads and a hundred tails? Give up? One hundred pennies! If you have a joke that you would like to share, email millionbazillion@marketplace.org. Thanks!


Part 3:



BRIDGET: Well, here we are at our final stop on our trip to D.C., the Pool of Reflection, reflecting on… our mistakes.


RYAN: We’ve been banned from pretty much all of D.C’s historical buildings. But I do think we learned the answer to Oliver’s question, about why different countries have their own money.


BRIDGET: So true.




BRIDGET: Countries want to have their own currencies because they want to be able to make decisions about their own economies. Having a currency that works really well for the people there is one way that a country tells the world how awesome it is. It’s probably harder to start your own currency than slipping a few of your personally designed bills into the money supply…and that’s probably a good thing. For people to use a country’s money, they have to trust it.


RYAN: AND don’t forget, countries like to make their money look pretty, and include pictures of things that are important to them. It’s like a way to tell the rest of the world what you’re all about, and about your history, without saying a single word or singing a single note.


BRIDGET: And if you want to learn more about currencies and why they exist you might want to check out the very first episode of Million Bazillion. Season 1, episode 1, where we go into that a little more. If you have more questions about the many currencies of the world, send them to us, through our website, marketplace.org/million.


RYAN: Hey, speaking of currency, look what I got in my pocket? Two Bobo’s game tokens!


BRIDGET: I got an idea. Want to make a wish and throw them in the pool of reflection?


RYAN: Good idea. I wish-


BRIDGET: Wait, you’re not supposed to say your wish out loud.


RYAN: Oh that’s right.




RYAN: Hey, you ever think what the pool of reflection would say if it could talk?


POOL OF REFLECTION: (ECHOEY. AND SOUNDS AS IF UNDERWATER) Hey! You’re not supposed to throw coins in me!


RYAN: Whoops, sorry, I’ll take the tokens out. One second, I’m just gonna reach in and…


BRIDGET: Watch your footing, Ryan!




RYAN: Ok, I  think I’m done with D.C. for a while.


–Theme Music-

RYAN: Thanks for listening to this episode of Million Bazillion! If you want to know more about different currencies, check out the tip-sheet for this episode at our website, marketplace.org/million.


BRIDGET: You can also sign up for our newsletter while you’re there, and get next week’s episode delivered straight to your email inbox. We are going to answer a bunch of the questions listeners sent us! I am SO EXCITED FOR IT!


RYAN: Million Bazillion is brought to you by Marketplace, from American Public Media. This episode was written and hosted by (me), Ryan Perez. Bridget Bodnar is the senior producer and co-host.


BRIDGET: And thank you to the voicing talent of: Kimberly Adams, Sabri Ben Achour, Emily McCune, Mel Rosenberg, and Julian Stern.


RYAN: Special thanks to Ellen Feingold at the Smithsonian for her help answering Oliver’s question.


BRIDGET: Million Bazillion’s producer is Marissa Cabrera. Jasmine Romero is our editor. Chris Julin is our  sound designer. Bekah Wineman mixed this episode. Our theme music was created by Wonderly.


RYAN: Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts at Marketplace. Francesca Levy is the Executive Director of Digital. Neal Scarbrough is the VP and General Manager.


BRIDGET: Million Bazillion is funded in part by the Sy Syms Foundation, partnering with organizations and people working for a better and more just future since 1985. And special thanks to The Ranzetta Family Charitable Fund and Next Gen Personal Finance for providing the start-up funding for this podcast, and continuing to support Marketplace in our work to make younger audiences smarter about the economy.


RYAN: If Million Bazillion is helping your family have important conversations about money, consider making a one-time donation today at marketplace.org/givemillion. Thanks for your support.

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