11 July 2016

Those Darn Pennies: A Win-win Answer

You can buy absolutely ZERO with one penny.

“Cent” refers to the Latin word for “1/100,” in this case 1/100 of a dollar.  The One Cent piece originated around 1793. Then, they had just a bit of value.  Even in the Twentieth Century, a penny had a bit of value.  Remember in the movie “Sergeant York,” how Gary Cooper worked penny by penny to come up with the $25 price of some Tennessee bottom land?

But today, pennies are a bother.  In 80% of consumer cash transactions, the vendor handles between one and four cents.  Then the consumer has to figure out what to do with them.  The company is not going to round up and give the customer extra.  And we - the consumer - aren’t going to donate to Burger King.

So the pennies continue to roll.

United States pennies are made up copper-plated zinc. The price of zinc is slowly increasing.  On the distant horizon is a zinc shortage.

A penny does nobody any good standing alone. Lots of pennies can get together and do modest wonders. 300 pennies get you a loaf of bread.   Gather up 2 million pennies, and you can buy a modest new car. 20 million can get you a thoroughly decent house.

Big charities recognize how insignificant a “penny” sounds.  They also understand that the pennies add up. “For less than Fifty Cents a day, you can provide food and a school to [some poor child].”

Business also recognizes the power of massed pennies: “For $9.95 a month – less than 32 cents a day – you, too, can have life insurance.”

In cash transactions, we keep collecting pennies, sticking them in our car consoles, laying them on the night table or putting them in a dusty milk jug because “someday we may use them.”

Fat chance.

So I have a proposition: 

Let’s empower people to donate their pennies to charities that they choose. This is outside the government, outside of expensive ad campaigns, and purely voluntary.

The great majority of cash registers in the United States are linked to a computer somewhere. So, we put a sign by the register, “This week – Pennies go to the Marion County United Way.”

Or the Girl Scouts.

Or the American Red Cross.

Or any charity.

The clerk asks, “Want your pennies?” The customer replies, “yes,” in which case the change includes pennies.  If the customer says “no,” the pennies are credited to a special account in the computer. At the end of the week or month, the store deposits a check or electronically deposits the accumulated pennies in the charity’s bank account.

The vendor was holding the money for customers, so they don’t get a tax deduction. And to each individual consumer, it’s not enough money to keep track of or to worry about.

People will have decided how to amass pennies to do a little good.

If half the people who go to a McDonald’s say “no pennies,” then an average of 1-1/4 cents will go charity times however many hundreds of people they have served that day.

Me, I’d keep it local – the food bank, the mission and so forth. But that’s just me – the people get to choose.

Note on irregular publication schedule:

I’m doing twice the writing that I have ever done. But it is in different venues. I will tend to these Dispatches as time permits.