It happened again today at the grocery store. I was buying an assorted array of items I needed for the bake-fest I'm having this afternoon. And after the nice lady behind the counter told me the total, R$65 (US$38) she asked, "Um ou dois?" (One or two?) I was already in the process of handing her my debit card, and the question threw me off, just like it always does. I repeated the question back, "Um or dois???" with my usual look of extreme confusion. She repeated herself again more loudly and slowly this time, "Uuum ooouu doooiiiis?" since I guess saying the same thing over again should make it clearer . . . when all of a sudden I remembered, like I always do. She was asking if I wanted to pay the entire total right now or did I want to break up my groceries into two payments on my card: half now and the other half charged to me in a month.
I don't get asked this every time at the grocery store, so I am thinking they only give you the finance option if it is over a certain amount (maybe R$50?) But everywhere else, I am asked each and every time I make a purchase. I bought a skirt a couple months ago for R$12 (US$7.05) and they asked me if I wanted to break that up into four payments. Yeah, wow! It took a lot of getting used to, and I still don't think we are entirely used to it, because when you go clothes shopping or appliance shopping or anything, things are labeled by payments (jeans labeled 5 x R$16 or a television labeled 15 x R$78). Usually somewhere in fine print at the bottom you can find the à vista price which tells you what you'll pay if you pay it all at once. I always thought Americans were terrible about buying things they can't afford because of the readily available credit offered to anyone with a pulse, but Brasil might be running close to us in this whole "well, if I can afford the payments..." thing.
And I guess one positive thing about it is that usually when it's clothes or appliances or bananas that you are breaking up into payments, they don't charge finance fees. When buying something major (like a refrigerator) you can negotiate a lower price (usually 5-15% off) if you are willing to pay it all up front, but the price you see is the price you pay if you do finance it.
And when you look at the interest rates down here, maybe that is why so many Brasilians jump at the chance to finance something without having to pay interest or fees. Because the US dollar's value is not so marvelous right now, we considered not moving our money down here to buy our new car. We figured about the time we moved the money the value of the dollar would skyrocket and we'd risk losing a lot of money when we sell our car and move back to the US in a couple years. So anyway, we thought maybe we'd just finance the car, pay for it with Reais earned down here, and invest our US "car" dollars back in the US somewhere. Eric did some checking around on interest rates and the lowest he found on a new car was 16%! He was, obviously (if you are American), totally shocked! He showed the quote to a couple of his coworkers and they shared his shock; Although theirs was "You better check and make sure that's right...it sounds too low!" Needless to say, we decided to take the risk on the dollar's value. And, from what I understand, mortgage rates tend to run around 20% or higher here too. On the flip side, the high interest rates work both ways . . . invest your money in Brasil and you can expect returns of 15-25% on low-moderate risk investments! (I am by no means an expert on Brasil's money markets or anything, this is all just what I've gathered from conversations with people down here!)
It sounds like, from what I hear talking to people and what I witness in the stores, a lot of people invest their money and save up to buy things like houses or land. But when given the opportunity (like, every time they enter a store), they will break lots of other things up into payments. So, if you don't have the money right now, or just don't want to spend the money right now, to pay for those jeans or that buggy full of bananas, no worries, take a few months to pay for it! (Brasilians who read, please correct me if I'm wrong here . . .)