Stephanie Foster: We need change in our change system

Stephanie Foster

Something is wrong with our monetary system. The other day, I bought something for $9.99, and the cashier didn’t bother to give me my penny change. I stood there for a moment waiting. It’s such a habit to get a penny back, but she had gone on to the next customer. It wasn’t worth the effort to reach in for the coin.

No one stops to pick up a penny on the ground these days. Well maybe a few older people who think it might bring them luck. Or a curious child, if the penny is shiny enough. But for most people, it’s not worth stooping for. Even if you collected a bunch of pennies, there’s not much you can do with them.

Dimes are different. Right? I picked one up from the parking lot at CVS recently. “Yo, a dime!” I said to myself. Ten times better than a penny. A big-time coin. But when I went into the drug store, nickel candy bars were three for $1.

I waited until no one was around, then asked the cashier if there was anything in the store I could buy for 10 cents. She thought for a moment, then shrugged. It made me consider the options for a dime. Ten cents worth of gas? A single cherry from the grocery store? A lick of ice cream from Dairy Queen?

It made me realize that nickels and dimes have joined the penny as money not worth bending over for. Here we are going around lugging worthless money in our pockets and change wallets. Amazing, isn’t it? If it weren’t for dollar bills, we’d need a golf cart to go shopping at the mall.

One of two things should be done. We could make money more valuable again. Or eliminate a couple of rungs on the currency ladder. In the first scenario, pennies would have to be worth more than a cent. Take on the stature of nickels. Nickels would become dimes and so on. It would be like returning to the good old days when the sight of a $50 bill flustered a cashier. Adages like “A penny saved is a penny earned” wouldn’t seem so strange. Plug nickels might even make a comeback, and penny candy could live up to its quaint name.

Alas, as sensible as this may seem, it is not likely to happen. Everyone would have to agree to it and today, that is not just you and I. It is the whole world. Someone out there would resist bumping up our value system.

So we probably should just move on. Forget those worthless little guys jingling in our pockets. Now that we’re thoughtful about waste, we can set up special bins at the landfill for small change. Pennies here, dimes there. Update the meaning of disposable income.

The government is behind the times, so it will take it awhile to catch on. Meanwhile, they’re issuing another dollar coin even though the first one was a flop. Try, try, again. If they were smart, they’d mint a 99-cent coin instead. Either that or ban all prices that end in nine. Then they could at least eliminate the give-or-take penny tray on store counters.