Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like the feel of change in my pocket and bills in my wallet. I like to pay with cash. If I can’t pay in exact change, I like to figure how to simplify the transaction.
For example, my tab for an ice cream cone at McDonald’s was once $1.07. I gave the girl at the register a dollar bill plus a dime and two pennies because I’d rather dump the two pennies and get a nickel back than to give her the dime and end up with three more pennies.
I explained what I was doing, but the poor girl kept insisting that I’d given her too much. She had to pull up her smartphone calculator to confirm how much change I should get.
These days I rarely have opportunity to confuse young cashiers because most of the businesses I visit have signs posted along the lines of “Because of the national coin shortage, payment must be with exact change or other tender.”
I’ve run out of change, and I absolutely detest using a debit or credit card to pay a $4.11 tab at Wendy’s.
Whether it’s being old-fashioned or responsible, I itemize everything on my credit card bill every month and make sure all the charges are legitimate. Who wants to add up a bunch of chump-change charges?
The coin shortage, from what I’ve read, has resulted from the pandemic-fueled slowdown in retail sales at local stores and the use of vending machines. Fewer face-to-face transactions reduce the number of coins in circulation. I’m not accusing banks of sitting on vaults of coins, but I suspect they’re happy to be reaping a bonanza in fees for card usage.
Speaking of coins, have you noticed we actually have way too many of them?
Is there any good reason for continuing to produce billions of pennies every year – around 7 billion in 2019 – when it costs the U.S. Mint two cents to make a one-cent coin?
And do we really need nickels, which cost 7.6 cents to make?
According to figures provided by the mint, both pennies and nickels have cost more than their face value to manufacture since 2006; the government loses money to make money.
The U.S. has not had the nerve to discontinue any coin denomination since axing the half cent in 1857, and that was at a time when it had more buying power than a dime does today. In fact, some calculations have shown that today’s quarter buys less than a penny did in 1940.
Pennies have become so worthless that people don’t want to fool with them. The coins end up stashed in jars or lost under couch cushions, and the mint has to make more. The time it takes to pick up a penny from the street or count pennies in change is worth far more than the pennies themselves.
If we based decisions about currency on reason, we would have done away with pennies and nickels a long time ago and just rounded up or rounded down to the nearest dime.
But we don’t do that, do we?
Because it would involve change, and we don’t like change.
We convince ourselves the comfort of having the same coins we’ve always had is somehow worth the inefficiencies and drain on resources involved with keeping all of them around. A world without pennies? Oh, the horror!
Could that also be one of the reasons so many of us are so slow to accept change in other ways? For example, we’re so accustomed to a societal pecking order that has white men on top that many will throw all reason to the wind to perpetuate the status quo.
In our churches, could that be why many congregations will settle for a poor-to-mediocre male pastor rather than give a moment’s consideration to calling a talented and competent woman?
Could that be why we cling to outmoded ways of thinking about race or gender or economics that prevent us from moving forward as free and faithful people?
If we’re so bound to tradition we can’t even change our pocket change, do bigger issues have a chance?
A penny for your thoughts …
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.