Dollar
Image source: Pixabay

Like it or not, root of evil or ticket to paradise, money is central to our lives. We work to earn it, stockpile it for rainy days and retirement, and often wish we had more of it. But we typically don't really know too much about it. Here are some rather interesting facts you probably didn't know about money.

Food

Image source: Pixabay.

Money can take many forms

Money doesn't always take and hasn't always taken the form of coins or paper currency. In Russia in the 1600s, for example, taxes were paid with animal furs. Other items that have been used as currency for bartering include dolphin teeth, salt, peppercorns, tea, shells, knives, and arrowheads. It has been reported that back in 1657, the Dutch bought Staten Island for "10 boxes of shirts, 10 ells of red cloth, 30 pounds of powder, 30 pairs of socks, 2 pieces of duffel, some awls, 10 muskets, 30 kettles, 25 adzes, 10 bars of lead, 50 axes, and some knives." Even today, there is a wide range of currency. In U.S. prisons, for example, cigarettes have long been used as a kind of currency among inmates, and more recently, instant ramen soups are being so used.

Famous Americans have played a role in our monetary history

Let's start with Paul Revere, who's not just famous for warning colonists of a British invasion. He was also a silversmith and engraver and engraved printing plates for "Continentals," currency printed in Massachusetts to help fund the revolutionary war. After America had declared independence and the Coinage Act authorized coin currency, he provided copper that was used in it. Benjamin Franklin printed colonial currency in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, first suggested that we use the decimal system for our currency that we use today. Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the redesign of U.S. coins.

Coins

Image source: Pixabay.

The U.S. monetary system is yuuge

Our U.S. Mint produces between 14 billion and 20 billion circulating coins annually. Coins can circulate for about 25 years -- though if you dig through your pile of change you will likely find coins that were struck long before 1991. On the other hand, our paper money (which is really made of cotton and linen) lasts only about 18 months. In the U.S., there's about $1.4 trillion in bills in circulation.

The world's money is valued in the trillions

It has been estimated that all of the world's money, including currency, assets held in financial institutions, and so on, is equal to about $75 trillion.

Cryptocurrencies are now proliferating

We're now in the digital age where digital currencies are possible -- and exist. Bitcoins, introduced in 2009, are perhaps the best known. Cryptocurrencies use encryption for security to thwart counterfeiters. An advantage of digital currencies is that they can exist in a realm outside our mainstream financial system where we're subject to bank fees and other costs. A disadvantage is that digital currencies are virtual, not represented by physical assets, and might be hacked. Digital currencies can also be volatile, with Bitcoins, recently valued near $600 apiece, having topped $1,200 in late 2013.

Dollar

Inflation shrinks the value of money. Image source: Pixabay.

Money can quickly become worthless -- via hyperinflation

You probably know about inflation -- the increase in prices over time -- that's typically gradual, slowly shrinking the purchasing power of a dollar. It has averaged about 3% annually in America, occasionally spiking and plunging. But in times of economic crisis, hyperinflation can occur, which can deflate the value of currency almost as quickly as popping a balloon. In Germany between 1922 and 1923, for example, average prices doubled every 28 hours and had people burning money as kindling. In July of 1946 in Hungary, inflation averaged 207% per day. More recently, in late 2008, Zimbabwe experienced inflation of about 98% daily and ended up issuing a $100 trillion bill. Zimbabwe isn't out of the woods yet, and now Venezuela is suffering from hyperinflation.

Money can grow faster than you think

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You've heard it lots of times -- save and invest your money for your future. But you may not appreciate just how effective and life-changing doing so can be. Check out the following table to see how saving and investing various sums annually can grow into big nest eggs over time (assuming an 8% average annual gain):

Growing at 8% For:

$5,000 Invested Annually

$10,000 Invested Annually

$15,000 Invested Annually

15 years

$146,621

$293,243

$439,864

20 years

$247,115

$494,229

$741,344

25 years

$394,772

$789,544

$1.2 million

30 years

$611,729

$1.2 million

$1.8 million

If you're still many years from retirement, you can amass more than a million dollars in a 403(b) account without even making the maximum allowed contribution.

There are many more interesting things to learn about money. If you're so inclined, spend some time poking around online at the websites of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Mint, and the Federal Reserve.

Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.