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When is it okay to pay entirely in small change?

April 3, 2010

There are three reasons and only three to pay with change:

(1) It’s all you’ve got.  You’re broke…couldn’t get to an ATM…whatever.  Just be honest and apologize.  The cashier won’t like it, but at least you’re taking responsibility.

(2) You have other payment options, but you’d rather get rid of the change.  Understandable, but make sure you lie and claim reason #1.  Don’t offer up some line about how you’re helping someone else balance their cash supply.

(3) Revenge – the least used of the three and an underrated tactic.  My understanding of the rules on payment by pennies is that businesses can dictate what they will accept for goods and services.  However, any legal tender is considered acceptable payment if you are settling a debt.  Alko Office Supplies in Berkeley went so far as to establish a no pennies policy, rounding every transaction to the nearest nickel.  But when John Almany of Bristol, Virginia, brought in 35,000 pennies to pay his utility bill, they had to start counting.

This is where we are with the penny, the coin we throw in fountains, leave in the tray at the register, drop in the Salvation Army bucket, or throw at people.  Panhandlers give you dirty looks if you give them pennies.  The economics of it make no sense, either.  Because the metal in nickels and pennies are worth more than the coins themselves, America loses a quarter of a billion dollars each year just minting them.   The government actually had to pass a law preventing people from melting down coins for profit.

A new penny design just made its way into circulation, so the Lincoln coin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  The zinc industry is one group pushing to keep it – pennies are no longer made of copper – but the public isn’t really on board either.  If you believe the statistics cited by Americans for Common Cents, 69% of Americans favor keeping the penny around.  The main reason is sentimentality, but there’s also some fear that if we eliminate the penny, prices will inch up and we’ll be on a slippery slope to Zimbabwean hyperinflation.

I’m the type who periodically rolls my change and deposits it.  I think I’ll start setting aside the rolls of pennies, though.  Once I get up to 10,000 or so, I can drive up to Charter and pay the cable bill.

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