Take a penny, leave many more

A couple weeks ago I stopped keeping the pennies I receive as change. Instead of storing them in my big, plastic Miller Genuine Draft change bottle, I now leave all my pennies in take a penny, leave a penny trays or drop them in donation jars.

Why? Well, it’s not that I do not value pennies. I pick them up whenever I find them abandoned on the ground (probably because I value the luck that that supposedly brings much more). Instead, it is mostly because of guilt and altruism.

Some time ago, on some website (perhaps the Wikipedia page for the US penny), I read that the US government needs to continuously mint pennies because Americans either hoard them in change jars and bottles much like I did, lose them, or throw them away. (Throw money away? Who the hell does that? It may surprise you. A good friend of mine told me he threw his change away because he did not know what else to do with it. “You cash it in at a bank,” was my response.) Pennies are not cheap. In fact, in Fiscal Year 2013 it cost 1.83 cents to make one penny. That means the government lost $55 million minting coins that are worth less than their manufacturing cost. Due to higher material prices, it cost two cents to make one penny in FY 2012, which equates to a $58 million loss. (The government apparently takes a similar loss by minting nickels, too. When considered together over the last two fiscal years, the US government spent $213.7 million minting coins that are essentially not worth their own weight.) Needless to say, it is better to keep existing pennies in circulation than hoard them (or lose or throw them away) and force the government to mint more to make up the difference — if that is truly the case.

Plus, I suppose I have “taken” a fair number of pennies in the past. I don’t think I have ever actually taken a penny myself, but cashiers have dipped into the penny tray for one or two cents when I pumped one cent too much gas or so they can round my change to the nearest nickel, dime, or quarter. However, I never left any pennies until recently. I supposed it was high time I started pitching in and earning those pennies, perhaps left by someone else just for that purpose.

(Much as there is a debate about ditching the dollar bill for the dollar coin, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not to eliminate the penny. Canada recently stopped producing its penny and many countries across the world have stopped using hundredth denomination coins. Given the financial sense it makes, I think I would have to side with the elimination folks right now. I wanted to write more about that, but it’s late, I spent two hours on LV stuff, and want to go to bed.)

(Despite popular misconception, modern pennies are not mostly made of copper. They are 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. According to Wikipedia, the last mostly-copper pennies were minted in Denver on the day I was born — a fact that does not feature a corresponding citation. That would be cool if it were true, though.)

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