Pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters. No more Canadian pennies out there with the little maple leaf, though—they quit making them long ago. Same with our fifty-cent piece. The coins that remain in our financial system are a pain in the neck. At the grocery store: “That’ll be four dollars and seven cents, sir.” Dang. Forgot to stuff any change in my jeans. Now I have three more quarters, a dime, a nickel and three pennies to add to my swelling collection of bits of metal.
Paper money stopped having any intrinsic value back in 1971 when then-president Richard M. Nixon unilaterally and via executive order abruptly ended the direct convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold. Since then, it’s been pretty much just scrip. So, as long as we don’t run out of trees, Ms. Yellen at the Federal Reserve Bank can print as much of it as she needs, or so she would lead us to believe.
It once was that a silver dollar was made of silver and a “copper” (penny) was minted of copper. There have been no dollar coins struck in silver by the U.S. mint since 1935, and pennies are now made primarily of zinc in order to save on the expense of production. Nevertheless, it still costs two cents to coin a penny. And pennies haven’t been struck from 100% copper since 1857.
As we find ourselves moving deeper and deeper into the digital age, many, especially, the younger among us, are fully converted to plastic. A penny here and a penny there might not seem to pose a problem when the purchase is paid for with a debit card. Most of the young people I know don’t even bother to balance their bank accounts anyway. And now we have people creating their own digital currency called the “bitcoin,” which is unaffiliated with any government at all.
As much as all that loose change tends to build up in our penny jars at home, it can amount to big bucks to some. Bank of America alone, for example, has nearly sixty million customers. If they can collect just one penny extra from each of us every month in fees, that adds $7,200,000 to the bank’s coffers per year.
It’s not uncommon for me to buy lunch from Burger King at the drive-in window with all change. How annoying that must be. But, if they want their pennies, I will accommodate.