What Do You Do With Your Pennies?

The Great Penny Debate continues to limp along. One hundred million pennies, collected by schoolchildren, were put on display at Rockefeller Center. Meanwhile, lots of people continue to argue for elimination of the penny.

I am firmly on the abolitionists’ side, as stated previously here and here. The only reasons I can think of for keeping the penny are inertia and nostalgia. Talk about deadweight loss!

The most ridiculous pro-penny defense I’ve seen in a while appeared in a full-page ad in the Times on June 21, 2006. (Yes, I clipped and saved the ad.) It was taken out by Virgin Mobile, which was promoting its texting service as being so cheap to use that even a penny was worth something. The headline of the ad read:

New legislation will attempt to DO AWAY WITH THE PENNY. What’s next, puppies and rainbows too?

Here is the line in the ad that caught my attention:

And what does America think? 66%* of our population wants to keep the penny and 79% would stop to pick one up off the ground.

If you follow that asterisk to the bottom of the ad, here’s what you find:

*Source: The 8th Annual Coinstar National Currency Poll

For those of you who don’t know, Coinstar is the company that put change machines in supermarkets, in which you can dump your coin jar and receive a receipt that you take to the cash register for folding money. According to this article, Coinstar takes an 8.9 percent cut in the U.S. for providing this service.

While the Coinstar National Currency Poll is said to be compiled by an independent market research organization, I am not very surprised that a survey commissioned by a company that makes money from coin harvesting is able to produce a result saying that two-thirds of Americans “want to keep the penny.”

I have gone on the record as saying that I try to avoid getting pennies whenever I can, and sometimes even throw them away. What do you do with your pennies?

Adina C

We could just increase the value of the penny by reducing inflation. Stimulus packages don't help.


It should be though of in terms of utility. How much time does it take to collect, wrap, and spend your pennies vs how much do you make an hour working or how much do you value using that time doing other things? I would gladly PAY to not have to deal with the time cost associated with pennies (and I suppose I do - I always discard them).


I put my pennies into a jar and then use the jar as a paper weight. The additional weight makes it a better than the empty jar. I haven't done the math, but I'm pretty sure I would need several jars of pennies to buy a new paper weight. And even if it was enough money to buy a new paper weight, it's certainly not worth driving to a Coinstar machine, and then driving again to an office supplies store.

If we get rid of the penny, it will be strange at first, but America has adjusted to bigger changes with no problem.


call me an old fuddy-duddy at 26, but i just keep my pennies in my wallet and spend them when i need to. of course, i'm always paying with odd ammounts of change, so that i get quarters back...

i just don't understand the anti-penny mindset.

QB Eagles

I'm not only for keeping the penny, I'm for bringing back the ha'penny.
Sure, the federal government spends more to produce the pennies than they're worth, but it's a harmless waste of money. If we allowed the government to save money by doing away with pennies, the waste would be channeled to more harmful things like foreign wars, spying on its own citizens, &c.

Bloated government is the future. It is our job to make sure the utter and total waste of the property we forfeit to the government is done in a benign way (like penny and ha'penny minting) and not a malicious way (like firebombing civilians abroad).

Andrew Laurence

I make sure my car's ashtray is full of quarters for parking meters, and then I put the excess, and all smaller coins, in a piggy bank, which I take to Coinstar when full. In my area, Coinstar will give you an Amazon.com voucher for the full value of your coins, no commission. Since I am an Amazon.com VISA cardholder, I normally get 3% off at Amazon, so you could argue that the true commission at Coinstar for me is 3%, which is fairly reasonable. Last time, the connection to Amazon was down, so Coinstar gave me a cash voucher at no commission, which was the best deal ever. Also, their machines will reject silver coins and foreign coins and tokens.


I save all my change, then use the Coinstar machine at Christmas. If you get a gift card (I get it to Amazon, where I buy most of my gifts) then they DO NOT charge the 8.9% fee, you get the entire value of your coins in the form of a gift certificate. I got $70 this year, and $90 last year. Easy and free, the machine is in a grocery store on my way to work.

neil wilson

No other first world country has a paper bill worth as little as $1.

No other first world country has its largest circulating coin worth as little as a quarter.

We should get rid of the penny AND get rid of the dollar bill.

We should change the size of the 50 cent piece, remember them??, and change the metal content of the nickel so we don't lose money minting them.


Get rid of the penny and while we're at it, I'd like to see the paper dollar finally bite the dust.

Still, at least we don't have 1 and 2 cent coins like the Euro's coinage.

Andrew Laurence

Why is there never a third way? Keep the penny as legal tender, but stop making more. Ring up retail transactions to the penny, but allow merchants to round to the nearest nickel ONLY when receiving cash payment. Keep bank, credit card, debit card and other accounts to the penny, since it's just as easy to write a check or swipe a card for $101.43 as for $101.45.


I'm keeping mine in the hopes that the their value will be increased to $.05 when it is finally decided that pennies should be phased out.


I throw them in the trash.

If I get pennies and there's a "leave a penny" container on the counter, I leave them there. Otherwise, when I get home, and empty the change from my pocket, I put the "silver" aside, and throw the copper in the trash.

They're not worth cluttering up my shiny stash of coins.


I would agree with getting rid of the penny. It is a sad state of affairs that the underlying reason why the penny is so worthless is due to how much less it is worth as the years go by (I believe this is due in part to the continual increase in the money supply).

Ideally, we would not need to get rid of the penny at all as it would have retained it's value over the years. Zimbabwe is an extreme case, but I'm sure the populace eschewed the lower denominations once basic essentials (e.g. roll of toilet paper) are priced in the hundreds of thousands.


This was a question in one of my discrete math classes about how to get rid of pennies.

An easy answer is:

If you always carry 4 on you whenever you do a purchase. You will see that if you give them to a cashier you will always end up with a nickel or something of higher value.

I'd do the whole solution but I can't recall any more of it. I've tried it, you get rid of them faster than you think.

You should give me a Freakonomics Schwag if this method works for you, Stephen ;)


The toll booths in Illinois take pennies, at least the last time I put coins in, which was about 3 years ago (now I have an I-Pass). So yes, at least at one time, you could annoy the drivers behind you by tossing in 50 pennies as the machine (ching-ching-ching) counts them one by one. It's the last time I remember thinking I could actually get something for a handful of pennies.


Why would Coinstar have an interest in the *amount* of coins? They're really only interested in the *value*, given the percentage they get, so the absence of the penny wouldn't make a difference to them, right?


I hold pennies and other change in my pocket and drop them in self-service checkout machines. When the machine asks how I'd like to pay, I select Cash. I get rid of spare coins and then select Alternate payment and put the remainder of the bill on plastic.


Just curious but if we don't use pennies is everything rounded to the nearest 5 cents? We pay more in tax? how does it work?


We collect piggy banks so spare pennies are welcome. I really won't pick them up if I see one on the ground though. We always roll our own and take them to the bank. That way the kids can learn some math and save some cash too.


I never throw them away!!

I usually just throw all my change in a jar and when I need to do something around the house, I'll offer my sister a dollar to take out the trash, and then give her 100 pennies.

On occasion, while I was a even poorer high school student, I used to make ~$30 purchases at Barnes and Noble in pennies, nickels and dimes... Money is money.