Culture & History, Mexico City

La Quincena: The Cash Behind the Friday Rush

Calendar Days

Friday afternoon traffic is naturally busier than that of other weekdays, as people tend to leave work early to get ready for social events, or to head out of town for the weekend.

But on one particular kind of Friday in Mexico — viernes quincena — when pay day coincides with the last day of the week — the congestion is even greater. Not just the traffic thickens. As the working people have money to spend, this day you can find yourself in long lines for restaurant tables, cinema tickets, or at the supermarket checkout.

People mill around at malls, and finding a parking spot can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. (Navigating the narrow underground parking lots is a particularly useful skill to develop in busy cities.)

The advent of direct deposit for wages did away with much of the lining-up at banks to cash checks, which in years past was about as daunting a prospect as can be imagined. But people in Mexico still often prefer to use cash so lines at ATMs have replaced many of the lines at bank branches.

What the British call a fortnight the Mexicans call the quincena—a 15-day period between pay days. And as most wages are paid bi-weekly, the pay day is also referred to as la quincena.

The noticeable buzz of commercial activity illustrates the fact that much of the working and middle classes, here as elsewhere, live from one paycheck to the next. Sales numbers from the retailers association Antad, and from its biggest member Walmart reflect this. Months that have an extra Saturday — a typical shopping day — tend to see bigger increases in sales, and the effect is even greater when the weekends coincide with payment of la quincena.

Officially pay days are on the 15th and 30th of each month, or the nearest prior working day. So if the 15th or 30th falls on a weekend, wages should be paid on the Friday before. Pay days that fall on the Monday can be devastating for weekend plans.

And as there are 24 pay day quincenas per year (52 weeks), inevitably there are a number of quincenas largas, or long quincenas. These are usually following months with 31 days, and they can become even longer if the preceding pay was deposited ahead of a weekend.

Social media provides many examples of the anxiety surrounding the timing of deposits and the efficiency of HR and payroll departments. The Twitter account @MundoGodinez addresses with considerable humor the daily life of the typical Mexican office worker, and la quincena looms large as a subject at the front of most minds.

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