PEPER COLUMN: Is the penny really worth saving?

In the cafeteria here at the newspaper, there’s always a tray for extra pennies alongside the cash register. Many of us just toss our extras there to help the next poor soul who doesn’t have exact change. Sometimes, I’m the very one who needs a penny or two to complete the transaction.

As I watched the pennies pile up in the tray recently, I wondered, is it time to eliminate the penny altogether? It seems we don’t want ’em and rarely have ’em in our pockets when we need ’em. In most houses, pennies gather in a jar or are just thrown away. When you vacuum your car, will you retrieve a penny or just let it get sucked into that great somewhere?

Common cents?

Canada eliminated its penny last year. New Zealand and Australia both decided a couple of decades ago to dispense with their penny and 2-cent coins.

Japan, Peru and Panama all still use small coins.

A New England businessman recently decided he would make his own statement and just round every cash transaction to the nearest nickel. Before you accuse him of being unpatriotic, keep in mind that the Department of Defense abolished pennies at overseas military bases decades ago. Their primary reason was that it was it was too costly to ship the pennies.

Just about everybody wants to add their 2 cents to this discussion. Most vending machines won’t accept a penny, and a penny’s purchase power isn’t quite what it once was. Others fear businesses might raise their prices if rounding-off was added to the equation. There are some who believe it would just be plain disrespectful to dear old Abe Lincoln. Just between us, he’s got a pretty good grip on the $5 bill ... he’ll be fine.

Ever been in the checkout line and felt guilty about counting out the exact change? Is it worse to be the customer, the cashier or one of the people rolling their eyes as the pocket is emptied and everybody counts together “22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 ... is that right?”

For fear of future embarrassment, many of us just let the copper-coated coins gather dust on the dresser or congregate in the cup holder of the car’s console. They’re there, in case they’re needed, but we’ll put them into service only if absolutely necessary.

Penny for your thoughts?

Do we ban the penny, or just discourage its use? Given the trillions of dollars that our country is presently in debt, maybe even discussing this is so much small change. The latest figures indicate that it costs the government about 2.4 cents to mint a penny.

I converted a big jar of my pennies into cash recently. The total was almost $100, but there was a $10 transaction fee. Penny-pinchers never really appreciate that.

Are they a nuisance or a necessary part of our currency? As we move more and more into a cashless, debit-card society the need to have an extra penny or two jingling in your pocket seems less and less important. When writing a check, do you record the exact amount or overstate it so you don’t have to do the math?

When pumping gas and using a credit card, don’t we all try to squeeze in a couple more cents just so the gauge doesn’t stop on $61.53 or $48.97? Or is that just me? Maybe I’ve been rounding off all along and didn’t even know it. If that’s so, why are there so many brown coins in my bedroom but never any in my pocket when I buy coffee in the cafeteria?

Reach Warren Peper at wpeper@postandcourier.com.

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