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Change Is Coming

Ron Wayne

WHETHER FOR GOOD luck or because I’m thrifty, I still stoop down to pick up pennies. But there might not be any in the future.

Thanks to their copper content, pennies now cost twice as much to produce as they’re worth—and skyrocketing inflation is only exacerbating the problem. There are even rumors that the government will stop producing pennies, but so far the U.S. Mint has made no such announcement.

Instead of using my debit card for groceries, gas and so on, I’ll occasionally do an all-cash budget for a week. Spending seems less abstract when you’re pulling dollars from your wallet and coins from your pocket. For example, if I’m paying cash, I’ll pause before buying that extra snack from Trader Joe’s.

My millennial children can identify a penny, but I don’t think they pay for much of anything with cash. My son, who favors his American Express card, touts the credit card rewards he gets for his purchases. Debit cards are my usual method. They’re a vast improvement on checks. I write just one check a month, to my condo’s homeowners’ association.

According to a 2021 analysis, debit cards are used for 67% of card payments. Four out of five consumers prefer to use debit or credit cards for purchases. Only 10% use cash for all their spending, but 88% of consumers use cash at least sometimes. That’s not surprising: Some places won’t allow card use for very small purchases.

At some point, coins and paper currency are likely to become unneeded and irrelevant, and pennies might be the first to go. But without pennies, future generations will never understand expressions such as “penny wise and pound foolish” or “a penny for your thoughts.” Will they forget one of our greatest presidents if they don’t see his profile on a shiny coin? He’ll still be on the $5 bill, of course. But how long will paper currency be around?

Seeing Lincoln, Washington or Hamilton on our currency is a subtle reminder of how much we revere these leaders and how important they were in making our country great. The symbolism reaches much further into our society than a monument some will never see. It’s sad to think that eventually we’ll have just sterile transactions with plastic cards or with our cellphones.

I can’t say I think about Lincoln every time I pick up a penny or get change, but I am reminded of the respect we have for him and others when I use actual money. Shifting to a cashless society may be inevitable, but I won’t stop picking up those lost and neglected copper coins. Who knows, maybe they do bring good luck?

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excel lent
excel lent
3 months ago

I purchased a $1,200 snowblower years ago and asked the seller for the 4% discount to not use a credit card. He was happy to oblige and saved me a few bucks.
Of course, Covid pretty much stopped the cash as merchants were reluctant to touch it. Digital currency is in the works, so cash will be a bygone era sooner than we realize.

Philip Stein
Philip Stein
3 months ago

Let’s not forget the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum” (one from many) on our coins and currency that would be lost in a cashless society.

Most people probably don’t pay much attention to this phrase nor understand what it means  But with today’s fractious politics, it could serve to remind us that we are a nation of immigrants, united as one people. A source of our national strength and a valuable lesson to be sure.

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
3 months ago

Seeing Lincoln, Washington or Hamilton on our currency is a subtle reminder of how much we revere these leaders and how important they were in making our country great. 

With Jackson being switched for Harriet Tubman on the 20 soon, and redesigns in the pipeline for the other denominations, we might not be seeing the traditional folks on paper money for much longer.

Chazooo
Chazooo
3 months ago
Reply to  Nate Allen

Waiting for the George Floyd $100 bill…

Joey
Joey
3 months ago
Reply to  Chazooo

I know where “Chazooo” was on January 6!

Kurt S
Kurt S
3 months ago

Cash only is the way I go for years now. I only use a credit card when forced to. Then pay it off every month.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
3 months ago

Lately I’ve noticed that more gas stations give a ten cent per gallon discount for paying in cash, and that I’m no longer alone in paying that way. No worries about card skimmers at the pump for me!

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
3 months ago
Reply to  Jo Bo

I’ve always wondered about those “cash discounts” at merchants who also accept credit cards. I seem to recall there’s language in the agreement the merchant signs with the credit card company that the merchant will charge the same price whether a credit card is used or not.

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
3 months ago

Depending on one’s state/region of the country and/or the individual credit card processor being used, the answer is one of the following:

1) Most credit card processors have dropped the surcharge language in their agreements due to antitrust litigation, or
2) The agreement may allow a surcharge only up to the processing fee (~4%, give or take), or
3) Discounts are allowed but up charges are not, so it will often be a discount for paying cash vs a surcharge for paying with a credit card. (Semantics, perhaps, but keeps them on the right side of the law.)

These answers can be found in a variety of different articles and explanations from links with a google search. (may need to scroll past the ads)

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
3 months ago
Reply to  Nate Allen

Thanks for your answer(s) and the links. My memory of this is from several years ago and it looks like there have been some changes.

R Quinn
R Quinn
3 months ago
Reply to  Jo Bo

I’m thinking that’s a surcharge for not paying in cash. They aren’t giving any discount.

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
3 months ago

I’m in the Ben Franklin camp of a “penny saved is a penny earned.”

Richard Gore
Richard Gore
3 months ago

New Zealand eliminated the penny about 15 years ago when I was living there. I loved it. It saved time and money not keeping track of those coins.

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