Mark Pearl

Having gone through a recent budgeting process, I am struck by the ambiguity of the $ symbol. The $ symbol is contextual shorthand for many currencies but does not tell you the exact currency type. For instance, $1 could refer to USD 1, NZD 1 or AUD 1, depending on who’s quoting it.

For organisations that are larger than a handful of people, there is a lot of sending amounts back and forth between individuals, groups and departments during the budgeting process. If you assume the wrong currency, this can lead to some very costly mistakes. If you have confused a million New Zealand dollars with a million US dollars, that’s an expensive mistake (roughly a small house). Getting contextual units mixed is not a new problem. NASA lost USD 125 million, where two groups confused metric and imperial measurements.

So, my advice. To avoid confusion and ensure clarity, always include the three-letter abbreviation of the currency, such as NZD, AUD or USD, when recording currency.

That means it’s never $10. It is either NZD10, AUD10, or USD10. This way, any confusion or misinterpretation associated with using the $ symbol is totally avoided.

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