Although I’m tired of gathering them from under my couch cushions, I admit to having a soft spot for the penny, which has been part of our culture since the beginning. Our language is ripe with references to them: Penny wise and pound foolish; A penny saved is a penny earned. And the most popular: A penny for your thoughts… But with so much blathering about government spending, I’m amazed that no one is seriously talking about eliminating the penny, which costs just under two cents each to make. The value of the materials needed to make a penny is worth more than the face value of the coin.
When I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area, the elephant died at the San Francisco Zoo. Bay Area children, including me, mailed in their pennies to buy a new one, later named Penny. When I went to the zoo I’d stand in front of that massive eating pooping pachyderm and imagine the mountain of pennies it took to buy her. If pennies could buy an elephant, they must be worth something. Back then pennies were said to come from Heaven, but inflation has altered our lifestyle since 1955. I’ve a fondness for penny loafers and I like sucking on penny candy but I must reluctantly conclude that it’s time for the penny to join the two dollar bill in Monetary Heaven.
A few days ago I was at the cashier’s line at our local grocery store and the cashier handed me my change—a penny. “No thanks,” I said. But as I started to walk away she got pushy about it.
“Take your change, sir!” she insisted.
“I don’t want it.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“It isn’t worth anything. What can I buy in this store with a penny?”
She hemmed and hawed, finally admitting, “Nothing.”
“If I tried to pay you with a few hundred of these things, would you take them?”
“The manager won’t let us.”
As I walked away I saw her toss the penny aside, like it was crawling with contagion and capable of contaminating her cash register.
Here are three reasons I pulled off Wikipedia that support the elimination of pennies:
#1 There has never been a coin circulated in the U.S. worth as little as the penny is worth today.
#2 It takes the average U.S. wage earner about two seconds to earn one cent. Thus, dealing with pennies isn’t worthwhile.
#3 Pennies are not accepted by all vending machines or many toll booths, and pennies are generally not accepted in bulk.
In 2008 a law was introduced in Congress that, if passed, would have resulted in the penny being made of steel instead of expensive copper, reducing production costs. The bill claimed that lowering the cost of minting pennies would save the U.S. more than $500,000,000. The bill was never passed, but consider how much money could be saved if pennies were eliminated altogether.
So there’s my budget trimming idea—eliminate the penny and save billions! And what do I want for my brilliant idea to help put our financial house back in order? Not
one red cent.
Guess how many pennies are under your couch cushions right now and let me know how accurate you were.