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?


Ian

Coinstar has an obvious interest in keeping annoyingly small currency in circulation, because their business relies on coins having so little value that it's worth it for people to pay 9% to have them sorted and returned in easily usable form.

Mark

I just throw them on the ground in a public place and hope some kid enjoys his "treasure."

The 100 million pennies out of circulation now, just proves how we don't need them.
I hope they melt down the 100 million and freak out the copper futures market.

Let's take 100 million out of circulation every year.

Nickels should be discontinued too.

Don

So if you put 3 pennies in a Coinstar machine, what happens?

Josh r

I hide my pennies in odd places in my co-worker's offices.

Steve

In NYC it's just not worth picking a penny up off of the ground. Nasty.

Seriously, getting rid of a penny but keeping the nickel is a little painful, we should junk that too. It's big and heavy, and probably expensive to make.

Chance

While stationed in Korea, base facilities only accepted and returned nickels or higher. Trust me, those lost pennies add up over time, and almost NEVER in the favor of the consumer. Out of the hundreds of cash transactions I must have made, I only remember the ban on pennies working in my favor once or twice, and I was paying close attention.

So, put me squarely in the keep pennies camp.

Tali

Keep the penny. Almost every store here in Pennsylvania allows charities to keep boxes for change by the check out counters. When we pay in cash the change goes to charity. Much better than throwing money away.

TheFuture

I am continually surprised that paper and metal currency of all values are not seen as on par with gasoline or any other nuisance of the digital age - between debit and credit cards, RFID payment systems, micropayment systems online, and the general availability of open-value gift cards, is there a real reason to continue to rely on a tangible currency? After all, cash is much easier to lose or have stolen, and its digital equivalent is much more possible to have replaced. And that's not even to mention the environmental cost of producing all those coins and the net milage loss due to transporting their collective wieght every day.

tom

So, is dead weight loss pretty much just an educated way of saying "people getting ripped off on a product, and people not buying the product because they don't want to get ripped off"?

Honestly, I'd like to know if that's the case.

denis bider

It gets "worse" as you get richer. Then all currency tends to have less and less value relative to your income, and eventually you might as well just carry $100 bills around, and throw everything else in the trash. Even then the only reason you would use $100 bills and not, say, $500 dollar bills, is because no higher value bills are available. ;)

Sam

I toss them away, every time. "Be the change you want to want to see in the world." Ha, no pun intended actually - To me, they are a waste, and I throw them into the garbage with my receipt, to me they are equally worthless.

Kensut

Pennies are complicated items so you have to have a "system". You have to treat them like dimes. Put pennies in your pocket (or wallet) only if the total number is 10. (If you happen to have say 12 pennies at the time, leave 2 of them at home). When you pay, pull the whole pile out of your pocket, so you know immediately what is in your hand, instead of having to count at the cashier while a dozen people wait behind you.

By counting up or counting down, you would count to a maximum of 5, whereas if you did not know the exact number of pennies in your pocket, you may have to count much longer. You can also treat pennies as quarters and put exactly 25 pennies in your pocket.

It can be amusing also if you put 10 pennies in your left and 25 in your right pocket. And when the cashier asks for $x.32, look at her face after you quickly subtract 3 pennies from your pile and hand her the rest. Lightning-speed counting.

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DGillespie

I used to drive the Jersey Turnpike every at $3.10 each way. One day I had 3 dollar bills, a nickel, and 5 pennies. I handed it to the toll booth operator, who responded, "We don't take pennies". I said, "You do now." and drove off :)

When the state doesn't even want the money back, I think we can get rid of them. I supported keeping them 10 years ago, but they're worth a lot less now.

Max Kaehn

Whenever I'm in a cash transaction, I pay the amount that maximizes the number of quarters I get back. (This sometimes befuddles cashiers who don't know what to make of someone who hands over $20.18 for a $4.93 purchase. In college, it often evoked cries of "You must be a math major!") The resulting quarters were very useful for doing laundry back when I lived in apartments. Now they accumulate in the change tray in my car and get used on parking meters and bridge tolls.

carol

Pennies and nickels cost more to produce than their value. Pennies have not been solid copper since the late 60's. The US would save $500 million per year if paper $1 bills were all replaced by metal. (The Economist)

Grant

I mostly throw them on the ground.

Occasionally I'll have a bunch and I'll use them to buy a cup of coffee. The lounge of the Sociology department at my school has a coffee maker and you can pay 65 cents for a small cup of bad coffee. It's on the honor system, you just throw your money in the jar.

I use pennies there sometimes because then I'm not forced to interact with the person I'm inconveniencing with my use of pennies.

Mike

They should phase out everything under a quarter, as nothing (or at least very little) actually costs less than quarter (I believe that's the going rate for a gumball). Retailers could then just round their prices to the nearest $0.25 as desired. To those people who insist that we will lose money due to rounding ($4.99 => $5.00), keep in mind that companies reduce the price by one penny because the psychological effect of seeing a lesser primary digit increases sales, thus while the penny difference might disappear for very cheap items, slightly more expensive items would become a quarter less ($19.99 => $19.75), netting a larger return for the consumer in some cases. I have a strong suspicion it would all cancel out on average, and meanwhile we could save overhead and pocket space.

Andrea

I'm frankly stunned -- I've never heard of or seen this practice of throwing pennies in the garbage before. You penny-chuckers -- would you put them in a charity box instead if one were available? Or is your time too valuable to bother to negotiate the narrow slot on the top? And what are you doing to end up with so many pennies that they have become such a burden?

BlueCarp

Wouldn't the abolition of the penny be inflationary?
For example, something currently priced $.98 would be repriced to $1.

Kate

Some USPS stamp machines take pennies -- the ones that dispense single stamps -- and dispense REAL change. I have stood for ages pumping in 1837 pennies to receive 1 37 cent stamp and 18 dollars in large-denomination coins.