How to help Greece – go on a holiday spending spree

Greece is in dire straits, but that doesn't mean you should cancel your holiday, says Merryn Somerset Webb. The Greeks need your money more than ever.

If you are about to head to Greece on holiday, you might be starting to think that the nice villa you booked six months ago was cheap for a reason. You're right. It was. Greece is in the middle of the bout of political and financial turmoil that MoneyWeek has been waiting for for five years. This is causing immense social upheaval and individual suffering across the country, something that could have nasty consequences for much of the rest of Europe.

This does not, however, mean you should cancel your holiday. Far from it. If the Greeks need anything right now, they need other people's money. And visiting them as a high-spending tourist is one of the best ways to make sure they get it. So, given the fact that you can now only take €60 a day out of Greek cash machines, how can you make sure you spend enough to make a difference?

The first thing to note is that, in theory, it shouldn't be difficult. As was the case in Cyprus when capital controls were put in place there, the system makes no difference to the credit and debit cards most tourists use to pay their way: they should all be accepted (and work) in the ordinary way.

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The same goes for pre-paid cards from the likes of Caxton FX and FairFX. However, problems might arise as ATMs empty (as two-thirds did over the weekend) and restaurants, shops and hotels, panicked about the solvency of their banks and well aware of the premium value of physical cash in a world of capital controls, start demanding to be paid in cash. That's why the UK government is advising visitors to bring "enough euros in cash to cover emergencies, unforeseen circumstances and any unexpected delays".

With this in mind, it seems the best thing for those heading to Greece to do is to find the best euro rate on offer and take a large pile of cash on holiday with them. At the moment this means Debenhams, Caxton FX, Travelex and Sainsbury's and now's a good time to get on with it: the pound has risen by more than 3% against the euro in the last three weeks.

Otherwise, Moneycorp has a money back offer on the go, with Greece in mind. Buy more than £500 and less than £2,000 worth of euros and they will guarantee to take back everything you don't spend commission free at the exchange rate it was bought at (and their rates aren't too bad at all £500 got you €690 earlier this week).

And if you do take that much cash? Be careful with it. Cash is something everyone wants to take from everyone else at the best of times. But this week, physical cash is a rarer and more valuable thing in Greece than usual. So spend it. Don't flaunt it.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.