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It Doesn't Make Cents

by Stephen Lautens


November 7, 2003

My ritual every evening is to come home and empty my pockets of all the change I’ve picked up over the course of a day. Every morning I load my pockets back up with the change - minus the pennies. At most I’ll take one or two back out with me in the futile hope that some day I may be able to make exact change. The result is I have more copper in my bedroom than an open pit mine in South America. If I tried to cash them all in at once it would cause a world-wide crash in copper prices.

If you hunt around our house you’ll see the extent of our copper stockpile. Every closet, cupboard and drawer has a bottle, bag or dish of pennies collecting dust. I’m sure some of them have been sitting around longer than Paul Martin’s been waiting to be Prime Minister.

Over the years my wife and I have tried several strategies to get rid of them. Every Halloween we try to load down the kids with collection boxes with some of them. This year the kids at the door were in it purely for the candy, and so our mountain of change didn’t decrease by a single coin. I also keep my eye open for charities on penny collection drives, although they seem to be few and far between. Sometimes I’ll drop into the corner store simply to wait for the clerk’s back to be turned and then drop a buck worth of coppers into the "have a penny - need a penny" tray.

I’ve tried rolling them with a variety of devices and wrappings. None of them work, or they require greater patience or manual dexterity than I possess. And for what? After an hour of sorting and rolling pennies on my bedspread, I might be five dollars ahead. Then I have to lug them to the bank, where I will be looked at like my rolls of pennies are part of a scam, shorting the bank by only putting 49 cents in each one.

I was excited by the coin sorting machine they have at our grocery store, which lets you dump in your pennies and it does the counting for you. Plus it gives you a little receipt you can cash in at the desk for real money. I don’t even mind the ten percent it charges for the service. What I mind is hauling in a suitcase full of pennies and watching the counter chug for half an hour, only to be rewarded with a final tally of seven dollars.

Lets face it, the only thing pennies are good for now is paying tax. If it wasn’t for odd-numbered taxes, like GST’s 7%, we would hardly ever need pennies. Without it, sharp sales people might even be persuaded to give up their $99.99 specials and charge a flat and honest $100 instead.

Lately what I’ve been doing is refusing the pennies I’m offered in change. I wish we could get everyone to do the same. Even better, we should all round up or down all our cash purchases to the nearest five cents. At the end of the year what would be the most you were out by rounding things up or down to the nearest nickel? Ten bucks? Twenty? You might even be one of the lucky ones who is ahead a couple of dollars by rounding everything. I’d give you twenty dollars right now to not have to handle another penny all year.

It must cost companies a fortune to keep track of all the pennies they hand out or receive in change. Think of what they could save in time, effort and accounting if they decided to do away with pennies. There could be a new accounting principle called "close enough".

Plus there would be the good feeling you’d get from rounding off all cash purchases. If the rounding off worked in your favour, you’d feel like you got a mini-bargain. If you rounded things up a penny or two to the nearest nickel, you could feel like a big shot and tell them to "keep the change".

And at the risk of sounding like a Boer War veteran, I can remember when gumball machines were still a penny, but there isn’t a heck of a lot you can do with them now.

A nickel for your thoughts?

© Stephen Lautens 2003

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