This story in today's New York Times says that because of the rising cost of the metals used to create a penny, the United States mint will now lose nearly half a cent on each new penny it makes.
Under this new valuation, a penny will actually be worth 1.4 cents, meaning we should now get about a penny and a half for our thoughts.
The penny's production price is rising because the coin is now mainly zinc (just a layer of copper gives it the traditional color) and zinc prices have tripled since the end of 2003.
The real problem, according to the story, could come if the price of metals rises so much that it would be more economical to melt down pennies for the raw materials they contain.
Would anyone, other than coin collectors, really miss the penny? I admit I still have the lucky penny I stuck in my shoe the day the hubby and I were married. And I have a few wheat pennies stowed in my jewelry box.
The hubby and I hate to carry coins, so we have a dish on the dresser where we toss stray change. When it gets full, or I'm bored, I roll the coins and deposit them in our checking account. It usually comes to around $20 or so, a nice little bump to the bank account.
In sorting through the dish over the years, I ran across the old pennies, as well as a couple of buffalo nickels that I'm also holding onto.
Actually, numismatists might benefit from the demise of the penny, as eventually even the common coins would be more valuable as they disappeared from use.
But would those of us who are less attuned to the aesthetic and non-commercial value of coins really miss the penny? Probably not. Those extra cents always seem to be a pain. You never have one penny when you need it. Or if you have one, you need three cents to pay your bill exactly.
Without excess pennies, we'd all be carrying around less change. That sure would help cut down on the jangling and clanging when people pull their hands out of pockets at movies and some coins always escape.
We wouldn't inadvertently try to use a Canadian penny that we got in a previous transaction without realizing it. And cashiers would have a whole new compartment in the register drawer to use.
A lot places already round stray cent amounts. Bank of America's "Keep the Change" debit card program pushes purchases up to the next dollar amount, with the excess going into your savings account at the bank. We've added a whopping $2.73 to our stash!
And the IRS says you can round amounts of 50 to 99 cents on forms and schedules up to the next dollar. For 49 cents and less, round down. Tax software programs do this automatically.
Of course, advertisers would have to come up with something to replace the "only $9.99!" pitches. But "Dollar Daze!" folks would be delighted that they'd no longer be undercut.
And I guess when we finally are officially penniless, we'll have to revise Franklin's oft-quoted chestnut to something along the lines of a penny saved is not recognized by the U.S. government.
We're still calling them
greenbacks, although now the $10, $20 and $50 dollar bills have hues of red and
blue and gold, along with lots of new design enhancements, all in an effort to
The new $10s were just released on March 2. The
redesigned $20 bills were issued in October 2003 and then retouched a bit the
following year. The flashier $50 came out in September 2004.
I've yet to see one of the $50s, but that's probably because we get most of our cash from ATMs, which tend to dispense $20 bills. I did, however, run across an ATM the other day that let me choose my withdrawal in other denominations. That's a great help, as I hate handing over a $20 for a (soon-to-be-gone?) 99 cent purchase. The cashier usually hates it even more.
Details on the new-look denominations now circulating and coming money changes can be found at this Treasury Department site.
And if you want to spend some of your own money to buy more money in funky packaging, check out the Bureau of Engraving store.
Addendum: This post was selected April 23 for inclusion in the 20th Festival of Frugality.