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A Penny For
Your Thoughts

by Stephen Lautens


December 1, 2000

My ritual at the end of the day is to come home, take off my tie and dump about three pounds of coins out of my pockets.

I don't know why I always have so much change. I don't start the day with any coins, even though there's a mountain of them on my dresser. I don't spend that much, and when I do, it's usually by credit card.

For a while I tried to carry an assortment of change, but for some reason I never had the right combination of coins when I got up to the cashier. No matter what I carried, I was always short by at least ten cents. The result? Even more change to carry around.

Pretty soon I had to lean to one side just to balance all the change in my hip pocket. That's when I gave up and resolved to rid my life of change.

You might say, just get one of those wallets with a change compartment.

The fact is, I've never thought a change purse is that manly - for some reason it brings to mind grandmothers and mama's boys. And nothing makes you look cheaper than fishing around in that little flap pocket inside a man's wallet. Besides, a change purse is like advertising that your mother still does your shopping for you, even if it's a tough guy's wallet with a chain attaching it to your jeans.

Real men don't do exact change.

The country with the best solution is Italy, where instead of small coins they'll often give you a handful of candy instead. Everyone's happy - especially Italian dentists.

So when I get change I have to get rid of it right away. I'm always stuffing spare coins into the fundraising boxes at the liquor store. I'm all too happy to meet panhandlers on the street. Last Halloween we only had two kids show up with UNICEF boxes, but by the time they left our door they could barely walk under the weight of the pennies, nickels and dimes.

The introduction of toonies has made me slightly revise my no-coins policy.

With bank machines the twenty dollar bill has become the standard unit of money. Twenties have become known as Yuppie Food Stamps. It's getting harder and harder to get a five or a ten in change, but there's apparently no shortage of toonies. So when you buy something for two bucks and slap down a twenty, be prepared to get nine toonies in return.

All of a sudden, change is a major investment and I can't afford to throw around coins anymore.

I've recently had a change crisis due to the cafeteria in my building. A grilled cheese and a few french fries is $2.03. It's a great bargain, but I never have the three cents.

Then I noticed the penny jar at the cash.

I've never taken money out of one of these little courtesy dishes before. I've often dumped change into them without thinking, but it never occurred to me that I could take any pennies back out. It sort of feels like theft.

"Can I take out three cents?" I asked.

The cashier looked at me like I was nuts. She took the pennies out for me and put it into her drawer.

After all, carrying change would just make me look cheap.

© Stephen Lautens 2000

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