Todd Hartley: I’m with Stupid |

Todd Hartley: I’m with Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Just the other day I purchased something at a store that cost $9.01 with tax. I handed over a $10 bill, and the little snot behind the counter actually gave me 99 cents change. I seriously considered punching him in the face, but instead I took a deep breath, dropped the four pennies on the counter, and calmly walked out of the store. It was very big of me, if I do say so myself.

Man, do I hate pennies. What an absolutely pointless little chunk of metal a penny is these days. I don’t know about you, but in the situation I just described, I would much rather be given 95 cents change than 99 cents.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Abraham Lincoln, but the man’s face adorns a worthless piece of currency.

Did I say worthless? My bad. It’s actually worse than that. Exact figures are hard to come by, but according to one estimate each penny costs 1.4 cents to mint. That means that in 2007, when 7.4 billion pennies were minted, the little suckers cost the government more than $29 million.

How’s that for wasteful spending?

I know what a lot of you are thinking: You can’t get rid of the penny. We love the penny! Pennies bring you good luck! Yeah, right. Maybe if you’re some kind of dweeb whose loafers need adornment.

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I think it’s time we rewrote a couple of famous sayings about the penny. How does this work for you: Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll feel like an idiot for bothering to pick up a penny.

Or how about: A penny saved is a penny earned, and if you measure your earnings in pennies, you have some serious, serious problems facing you when it comes time to retire.

Amazingly enough, there is a pro-penny lobby in this country that manages to shoot down any attempts to do away with our smallest unit of currency. Bills to eliminate the penny were brought before Congress in 1990 and 1996 and were defeated both times.

Americans for Common Cents, the most notable defenders of the penny, claim that doing away with it would lead to increased prices that would disproportionately affect the poor and the elderly, because they tend to make smaller purchases.

Come on. Are people really so poor that rounding prices up by four cents, at the most, is going to break their backs? I’m not buying that.

The last time a unit of currency was taken out of circulation in this country was 1857, when the half-penny was eliminated. At the time the half-penny was worth more than a nickel is worth today, but apparently no one was too upset by its demise.

Instead of viewing the long-overdue decommissioning of the penny as a sad day for America, I think we should all embrace it as a chance to do something positive for our country without having to join Americorps or enlist in the military or even volunteer for the PTA.

Here’s how it would work: First, everyone would gather up their pennies and trade them in. The amount of money each person would receive would be rounded down to the nearest nickel. For example, if you had 54 pennies, you would receive two shiny quarters in exchange, and the additional four cents would go into a fund. I don’t know how much money this would generate, but it’s a safe bet it would be millions of dollars.

Next, all transactions would be rounded up to the nearest nickel, so my $9.01 purchase would cost $9.05, and the extra four cents, which I don’t want anyway, would be added to the fund. Again, I don’t know how much this would amount to, but according to Americans for Common Cents’ figures, it would be well in excess of $600 million a year.

That’s right: more than $600 million a year, and all it would cost you is a maximum of four cents on each transaction. That money could be used for anything, but I personally think it’d be nice to give every public school teacher in America a raise.

Store employees would be happy because they wouldn’t have to deal with pennies anymore. Retailers would save about $2,000 a year, and I would never get the urge to punch a clerk in the face again. Everybody would win.

Then, once we’re done with that, we can talk about the nickel, which, in case you were wondering, costs 5.73 cents to mint.

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