FREAK Shots: When Money Goes Down the Toilet

At around 231 million percent, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation (which we’ve written about before) is currently the highest in the world.

Blog reader Ben Saltsman sent us this photo of a restroom sign in South Africa, which hints at one use for Zimbabwe’s severely devalued currency:


But is it cost-effective for Zimbabweans to use money instead of T.P.?

A roll of toilet paper costs about $1.50 U.S. dollars and has about 352 sheets per roll. That means each sheet is worth about US $.004, or 3,600 Zimbabwe dollars, according to

So according to these calculations, using a ZWD 1,000 note in place of a piece of toilet paper is a wise financial decision.

While American currency isn’t yet considered a cheaper substitute for toilet paper, there are other signs that it’s lost some value:


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  1. X says:

    With all due respect, I think you neglected to point out that the sign also prohibits another cheap alternative to toilet paper: the New York Times. Based on my area calculations, either the Sunday or the weekday edition would be quite the frugal wipe. It’s often conveniently placed too…

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    Yes, but I’d want to wash that money before using it for any body-cleaning purpose. “Filthy lucre” really is filthy.

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  3. X says:

    For what its worth, I did not intend my comment above as such an insult.
    The USA Today is arguably a more economical substitute: it’s cheaper and the opportunity cost of using it as toilet paper is also lower. However, I don’t entirely trust the fastness of all of those brightly-colored graphics so I can’t in good faith recommend it.

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  4. Michael says:

    Am I the only economics graduate around who places a high value on the quality of my toilet paper?

    Maybe it’s because the stuff at my school was so terrible. Really, newspaper would have been an improvement on that.

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  5. George Tenet Fangirl says:

    Money chafes.

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  6. Andrew says:

    If enough ZWD’s were used in place of toilet paper, could that destroy enough of the money supply to bring hyperinflation under control? Or would it just reach equilibrium at TP = ZWD?

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  7. reeza says:

    dear sir,

    maybe i’m missing something, but isn’t it presumptuous to think africans are paying USD1.50 per roll and then drawing a conclusion from there?

    i mean, unless you’re thinking of american tourists who bring their own toilet rolls to africa, and just happen to have some ZIM$ weighing them down. then they mull over the math as they’re “doing it”, and decide its cheaper.

    for example, a dozen good rolls in Malaysia costs about RM8.00, or USD2.20 thereabouts = USD0.18 per roll.

    i’m not negating the novelty or significance of the article or sign. i’m just saying if you wanna do the math to figure it out, set practical assumptions.

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  8. reeza says:


    realised that in this case, since the loo’s in SA, one of 2 scenarios might be the reason:

    1. south africans going INTO Zimbabwe can change the Rand to ZIM$, but can’t change it anymore once they’re out because at that rate of inflation, money-changers might not WANT to convert ZIM$ to anything anymore / hold it unnecessarily, or

    2. south africans who DO try to change the money back are disgusted by how much they’ve lost in exchange over just a few days, thus in both cases decide it’s then worthless to even bother – hence just using it for toilet paper after.

    i’d go with the latter. :)

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