Tuesday, March 5, 2013

No More Pennies for your Thought: A Dirge to the Penny

A piggy bank with two pennies as eyes
Penny Piggy Bank

The decision of the Canadian government to stop minting copper pennies as a matter of saving money should have left me cold. The value of money has continuously taken a nose dive, the dip being called - or blamed upon - the inevitability of inflation. All this means in a simplified and direct manner is that everything is going to get more expensive, while your wage will stay pretty much the same. This is the (economic) way of life; inflation is a plague that has no cure.

Surely, the penny has lost all its worth. It has become a nuisance as unwanted change that one constantly wants to get rid of. While in its prime it was seen as the equivalent value of an occurring thought or an idea, now all of this is just symbolic. In other words, I should be happy that that worthless piece of copper is out of circulation.

But I am not. In fact, as in most things in life, I miss it now that it is gone. I see its affective value. The penny has existed since time immemorial; it has been with us for such a long time (in its Canadian version since 1858). We have held them in our hands; we have kept them in our pockets and wallets, and we have used them in our language, with the above idiom or other expressions like being “penniless,” having no pennies at all.

Imagine a few generations down, the penny will be seen as an antique, and no one will fully understand those sayings and expressions. A (Canadian) penny already refers to a currency used in the past. Would these expressions have to be updated and “inflated” as well, such as a nickel for your thought or the state of being “nickelless”?

Think about it. The penny is the first one to have fallen victim to the cost-saving sword of government, so when will the next one be slashed? Why not go all the way and kill off all the coins while we are at it. Who needs coins anyway?

That idea frightens me. So does the fact that money is not dealt with paper anymore, but that it is mostly electronic now. Electronic digits that are the so-called equivalent of money. Not that the paper was worth what is was printed on (remember the gold standard?) but these days they are just blinking numbers on a computer screen. Click, delete, and I am penniless indeed.

But how has the elimination of the penny impacted our daily shopping life and habit? What is happening nowadays is confusion regarding amounts we have to pay. We are told that prices will be rounded down or up, so that we can get it right to the level of five (nickels now being the smallest unit of currency, congratulations!).

In other words, candy that may add up to $1.12, will be $1.10, while $1.13 will cost you $1.15. Remember, no pennies, but more math. On a lucky day, you will save two cents; on a bad day you will lose a couple. But none of this applies to electronic payments, such as debit or credit card, the latter also known as “evil plastic.”

Remarkably, most stores are not accepting pennies anymore. Cashiers give you a look as if you are from a different century when you attempt to pass or sneak in that red copper coin. What planet are you living on? The one that used to have pennies in circulation, the good old days!

No more take-a-penny, give-a-penny, that wonderful way of balancing out change. When you were a penny short, it used to help you out; when you had an extra penny you did not want to burden your wallet with, it could simply go in the tray, cup, dish or what-have-you. Goodbye to that karmic penny equilibrium.

It has been only a few weeks, and I feel waves of melancholy for a worthless piece of metal. May you have more prosperous days in penny heaven! Call me a sentimentalist, but to put my two cents in, I miss my penny.

And don't think Canada is the only one to slash this beloved coin; the United States is deliberating an equal move, and this might catch on around the world. It is just a matter of time. And it turns out, sooner or later, we will all be penniless in this money-driven inflated world of ours.

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