Is the penny still useful?

Canadians all know, and In Box readers may recall, that the penny was killed in this country over a year ago.

My two cents: in 2014, these were the only pennies I could find in our house! photo: Lucy Martin

My two cents worth: these were the only pennies I could find in our house to illustrate this post. Photo: Lucy Martin

Oh, one can still spend a penny, or turn them in for larger denominations. Donating any cached pennies to charity is a popular option. But when making purchases in stores across Canada, prices are now rounded up or down to the nearest nickel.

What’s that been like? Writing a one-year retrospective for Postmedia News, Willian Wolfe-Wylie reports

One Quebecer decided to track it and actually find out. Roger Guitar has written letters to the editor to several newspapers to let them know that he tracked every one of his cash purchases for 1 year, from April to May, and found out that he came out ahead of the game: By 89-cents!

Well done, Roger.

The article includes a chart of different price points for rounding pennies by province.

Speaking personally, I got used to the change almost instantly. I recently spent several weeks back in my home state where getting pennies back as change came as an annoyance. It felt like the only (and I mean the only) reason to bother with pennies at all would be to avoid getting more of the little pests back in other transactions.

This ABC news item (which lists no year) says “Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., has introduced a bill to get rid of the penny.” Further fact-checking suggests that bill dates to 2001, that Kolbe left that office in 2006 and the matter is not under current consideration. Most of the discussion I found on the topic (on dropping the penny in the U.S.) is at least a year old. So this doesn’t seem like a hot topic at present. But it’s a persistent one.

There is a U.S. group set up for that sole cause: Retire the Penny. Meanwhile, this commentary in Forbes speaks in favor of keeping the humble copper-ish coin.

How about it, my fellow Americans? Is the penny worth the bother? Or does it deserve continued use?

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10 Comments on “Is the penny still useful?”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The natural foods store in Glens Falls, Pure n Simple, has been rounding out pennies for years. And they give a discount for cash, too.

  2. Hank says:

    As a Canadian having recently traveled in the US, I too found that getting pennies back in change was a real annoyance. What earthly good are they anymore? What would happen if the US mint simply stopped making them?

    While I’m on the subject, why don’t the US credit card companies use chip cards like we do here in Canada? Having to actually sign a paper slip to complete a credit card transaction (as I had to do constantly in the US) also seems incredibly archaic – to say nothing of being less secure in this digital age.

  3. Jim Bullard says:

    Arguably all “cash” is becoming obsolete. The new currency is all virtual. The question is “how long before all transactions are done with credit/debit cards?”

  4. Pete Klein says:

    A penny for your thoughts?
    From a penny on up, I like all denominations in metal or cash.
    Although I like using a debit card, I would hate to see a time when all transactions must be in plastic.
    Why? Think about it. If you still value your privacy, you can totally forget about it if you give up the right to use cash – much like you have already done with your smart phones.

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Good point, Jim. In many Third World countries transactions are being done on phones. They are skipping past us in technology and finance in some ways – not having to finance copper wires all over the countryside and bank branches on every other corner.

  6. BRFVolpe says:

    A bit off the topic, but this reminds me that back in the ’70’s in Italy, and there was a shortage of the smallest coins, shopkeepers would give out pieces hard candy if they owed the customer anything under 5 lire. Of course, the kids always wanted to go to the store with us.

  7. Michael Greer says:

    The penny should remain in circulation as a reminder that inflation is a real, and ever growing threat to all but the super rich overseers.

  8. seszoo says:

    Why stop at the penny ? Is cash becoming obsolete as J B says above ? And what happens once all cash has been replaced with plastic or electronic transactions ,will we or our money be more secure , when computer chips of data hold everything of value, what decides if somethings worth squandering our money on , I still stop and pick up pennies I see on the ground ,It was always a penny saved is a penny earned , That was passed on from long before my time ,how do we pass that on to my grandkids ,,? a data bit or whatever the money bit is called in cyber space ,will the kids actually learn to take the time to pick up that bit and maybe wonder just where it has traveled and places it has been ? ,or just leave it there because it’s too much trouble anymore in our fast paced world where we need electronic data to take care of our finances…..

  9. dbw says:

    I was in Canada again last weekend, and it was the first time I noticed the change. It seems like the rounding should even out, and apparently the guy who tracked it bears that out. As for credit cards, I only have two. I didn’t get my first one until I was forty, and only then because we started buying clothing online when Penneys in Potsday moved to Massena. What I noticed was that our annual spending jumped 10-15%. Of course by that age we were well enough established that we could pay it off the balance every month, but still very telling. It is easy to see how so many people get into trouble with easy credit.

  10. The Original Larry says:

    How did I know the discussion would eventually come around to criticizing the “rich”?

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