By Jim “Pappy” Moore
Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in his 1758 almanac “a penny saved is a got,” although he is often credited with saying “a penny saved is a penny earned.” As with many things in life, the original thought espoused by Franklin has little bearing on the place in our history his saying has found. The import of his statement – the lingering impression that society has given it – is this: saving a penny is as good as earning a penny.
The concept remains a valid one, but only in denominations far exceeding the value of the penny of which Mr. Franklin wrote over two hundred fifty years ago. Today, a penny will not buy anything. Most pennies saved sit somewhere in a jar or other receptacle, at someone’s home or office. Today’s penny has no buying power at all.
In my youth a penny could buy a piece of candy – penny candy it was called. Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck, or so the saying told us. One thing was sure. Find a penny, pick it up, later that day you’d have the good luck to buy a piece of penny candy.
Pennies have become a headache. They’re the albatross around the neck of consumer spending, an annoyance for customers and cash register operators, alike. The penny requires more time, more manhours, more trouble than it is worth. But we must keep it, because sales taxes vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, in percentages which come to cents on the dollar.
Each day, pennies make their way from banks to proprietors, from proprietors to customers, from customers to their pockets, from their pockets to some receptacle, and there they sit – for days, weeks, months, years, decades. Untouched. Unspent. Removed from the economy.
Our federal mint makes more pennies to replace the pennies which are out of circulation, gathering dust. It costs us more than the price of a penny to make a penny. Two and one-half times as much as a penny, to be approximate. The metal in a penny is worth much more than a penny, so we require a law which makes it illegal to sell pennies for their metal value. It is a crime worth five years in prison. That means mining more mountains for more metal, to make more pennies we do not really need or want, but must have for commerce to continue.
The nation currently spends over $120,000,000 a year producing in excess of 4.5 billion pennies. The penny has very little copper content. It is almost entirely made of zinc. Even so, zinc has value and the zinc in a penny is worth twice the value of the penny.
There’s a saying about finding oneself in a hole. The first action needed, it is said, is to stop digging. We need to stop digging a hole in the earth to make more pennies. We need to induce people to cash in their pennies, we need to stop using pennies, and we need to stop making pennies. A penny saved is a waste of money.
Our English-speaking allies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have had it with the penny, eliminating it from their economies. How? By requiring all transactions to round to the nearest nickel. That’s a notion I find pleasing. A nickel for your thoughts. Want to give your two nickels worth?
© 2014, Jim “Pappy” Moore, All Rights Reserved.