Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Don't Keep the Change

Lately, when I go to the local 7-11 to get my daily tanker-truck-sized barrel of soda, a strange thing has been happening. They have been resisting giving me my change. For a while now, if they owe me a penny back in change, instead of giving it to me, they will simply close the cash register drawer and look at me as if the transaction is complete. Sometimes if I stand there long enough with my hand out, they will hand over the copper coin, but often they will just continue to stare at me with a blank expression. In those cases I simply retrieve my rightful change from the "give penny - get a penny" change dish on the counter. Invariably, if it is a certain male clerk working the register that day, he will laugh at me!

The other day, one of the female clerks stepped it up a notch. She owed me two cents back and did the same thing. Register closed, blank stare.

Now I know what they’re thinking. It’s just a penny and we all shouldn’t have to bother with it. And I know what you’re thinking. Take it easy, Scrooge McSmidge! It’s just a penny. Loosen up a little!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not such a miser that I am incredulous about being shorted a penny. What I am is logical, and what I am incredulous about is the lack of logic associated with beginning to ignore change in any form. If you take a minute to think it through, you have to ask, “Where does it end?”

We have already clearly delineated the end point in the dividing up of the dollar. We all decided not to go any further than 1/100 of a dollar. One cent. That’s where we stop. (With the exception of gas stations which use 9/10 of a cent in a ridiculous attempt to trick you into thinking their gas is one cent less than the other guy’s. Seriously, fellas, you’re not fooling anyone!) So if we all decided that one cent is where we’re going to draw the line, then what happens when someone starts ignoring the lowly penny? The logical progression is easy to follow.

There are two possible motivations for the anti-penny behavior. Either they are ignoring the penny because it is a physical coin that they don’t want to deal with, or they are ignoring one cent because it is an amount they do not want to deal with. Both scenarios are fraught with problems.

Problem Number One: If you are attempting to ignore pennies because you don’t want to deal with the physical coin, then you have a legal problem. As long as pennies are still in circulation, then it is legally OK for me to pay you with pennies, and therefore your convenience store penny phase-out program is doomed. You don’t feel the need to give me my penny back in change, but I am quite sure you won’t just give me a case of beer for free because I want to pay with 2000 pennies. So you are both philosophically and legally in a bind.

On the other hand, if you are attempting to ignore the idea of one cent, based on its perceived smallness or insignificance, you run into an even stranger dilemma. Problem Number Two: Besides the obvious problem of deeming the building block of the entire monetary system as invalid or worthless, there is a math problem that is ugly. If you deny me my one cent, you are saying in essence that we are only working with whole dollars, because the dollar is the only logical end to the anti-cent sentiment. They have already begun the progression by trying to ignore my two cents change, so why couldn’t I make the case that if I’m five cents short, or ten cents short, what’s the big deal? It’s just ten cents. Two cents, ten cents, what’s the difference? Give me my soda! If I can ignore ten cents, why not twenty-five, and so on, and so on. As soon as you are willing to ignore cents in any amount, you are defaulting to whole dollars.

The whole dollar system would work fine in theory, as long as everything in the store is priced in one dollar increments. The big problem is, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I’m not willing to pay a dollar more for the 44-ounce soda than I would for the 32-ounce one, and the store won’t sell them both at the same price, so here is the dilemma my local 7-11 is faced with. If they really want to start ignoring cents, then they must be willing to deal in whole dollars. If they can’t price everything in increments of a dollar, then they must be willing to round. That’s where it gets ugly.

Rounding will not work for one very obvious reason: If you are going to round up, you must be willing to round down. I am not willing to pay a dollar for something that is priced at 51 cents, and I’m quite sure that 7-11 is not prepared to accommodate the hordes of bums and teenagers that would flood their stores to “buy” all the items priced under 50 cents for free.

I might try to spend an extra three minutes or so one morning explaining to the clerk why their change ignore-ance program isn’t going to work, but there’s a problem with that, too. At my 7-11 there is enough of a language barrier across the counter that I will never be able to adequately convey my point. My only hope is that this written explanation gets circulated through my store as well as every other convenience store in America, and someone can properly translate it when necessary.

Until then, I guess I will just have to keep my hand out and demand my pennies, until the clerk gets around to reading my two cents.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. LOL - for fun try giving them 98 cents every day until they say no, which I'm betting will be day one! :) -gail

  2. I am actually thinking about buying my soda with 129 pennies just to see the look on the male cashier's face!