Tuesday, August 3, 1999

Flipping the Penny Crisis


The other day I was reading yet another article on the penny crisis that keeps popping up in various corners of the country. The article claimed that the average person has something like $30.00 in change sitting in junk drawers, jars, bowls and other forgotten parts of the house. The obvious implication was that, without realizing it, Americans everywhere are hoarding pennies. If that is indeed true, it still seems to me that it is not the ultimate source of the problem.

Why are we hoarding pennies? Have we become that lazy? Do we regard pennies as worthless? Or are there more sinister forces at work? I think it is the latter.

I have noticed in fountains these days there is a much higher proportion of silver coins than when I was a child. (It must be that you get better luck from the higher denominations.) So, the pennies aren't sitting in fountains. MTV's Tom Green (you know, the annoying guy with the megaphone from the Pepsi commercials) has an episode where he tried to pay for a $30 item entirely with pennies. As you might guess, he was rudely rebuffed in every case. At least he was trying to do his part to put them back into circulation.

I used to do my part, too. Once a year, the day after Thanksgiving -- when I didn't have to work, but the bank lobbies were open -- I would empty the contents of my change jar and deposit it in my account. Two years ago, I stopped. Hmmmm. Why did I stop? Oh, yes: The bank started charging me for coin sorting, even when it was being deposited to my account. And, they would not accept self-wrapped coins without recounting them. That's the answer. The banks are causing the penny shortage. It is all their fault, with their fees for everything policies and short lobby hours. People don't want to pay $1.25 to sort $30.00 worth of coins. That's over a 4% charge. It would take two years' worth of interest to make that up. It is better to keep them at home.

How am I going to deal with the penny shortage? Simple, I bought more stock in the bank that I use. I figure I'll get my fees back as dividends, and take my pennies electronically. That should help.

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