Miami hardware store swears off the penny

Miami Herald reporter Douglas Hanks on why a hardware store has decided to get rid of the penny.

Tess Vigeland: Everyone loves money, right? But not so with the humble penny. Canada has recently banned their 1-cent currency. The penny debate has been raging in this country for a while. And one stateside store have taken matters into it own hands. The Miami Herald's Doug Hanks has written about Shell Lumber, a hardware store in Florida, that decided a penny saved is a penny that's not worth the effort. Doug joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Doug Hanks: Thanks for having me.

Vigeland: So you found this one hardware store in the Miami area that has actually banned the penny. Tell us why.

Hanks: Well, they decided that it just really wasn't worth the trouble counting pennies any more. The spending power is so low that this hardware store said, 'We're counting like a thousand pennies a day by the time it's all over and what do we get out of it?' They said let's just stop it. And they put up big signs with pennies and big slash marks through and said to customers no more pennies, we're going to round in your favor. So if the change says that you should get three pennies back, they'll just give you the nickel and they eat the two-cent loss.

Vigeland: Yeah, 'cause I guess you could certainly change your prices, but you always have sales tax. Right?

Hanks: Right. And that's the thing. They tried to work it out and the accountants weren't happy about it, but they really got sick of bookkeepers saying, 'Hey, your drawer is off by three cents.' And their answer basically was why do we care? They're not the only ones in researching this story. For instance, overseas military bases, they stopped using pennies in the '80s.

Vigeland: What happens if, say, a customer comes in and wants to pay with five pennies instead of a nickel. They'll take the pennies, right? It's currency.

Hanks: There are a few things that you could actually use pennies to pay for. Like, there's a little washer that sells for three cents. But basically when someone tries to make out the exact change, they just say keep your pennies, keep your pennies, we don't need it. Now, I think you could really screw 'em up by bringing in 100 pennies, maybe they'd have to take it. So far it looks like it's fairly popular. Some people thought that they were getting ripped off, but once they were told no no, we're saving you money, they're very happy about it.

Vigeland: So Shell Lumber has been doing this for a month now. How has it been for them?

Hanks: It's been popular. This is a store that likes to have the brand of the old-fashioned neighborhood hardware store. They give away snow cones on Saturdays, they have a popcorn machine. So they saw this as just another way to make it easier to shop at Shell Lumber than say, Home Depot, which is their big cross-town rival. So they say it's been well-received and it's just one more interesting thing they do.

Vigeland: What about, say, the gumball machine? What happens there?

Hanks: Yeah, gumball machines have stopped taking pennies. It's really hard to find anything that's still taking pennies -- toll booths don't take them. The vending machine industry, they want dollar coins to catch on, but they're done with pennies. So it has very little use. Even the Federal Reserve, they used to -- when the banks would deposit pennies, they would weigh them to make sure the deposit was right. They stopped doing that about 10 years ago. Now they essentially say, we trust you. It's not worth counting all these pennies.

Vigeland: I know that there is this big movement in this country to get rid of the penny, so presumably this has caused celeb for them.

Hanks: It is. When Barack Obama was running for president, he actually sort of off-handedly endorsed getting rid of the penny as long as -- this is the senator from Illinois at the time -- they could find a coin for Abraham Lincoln.

Vigeland: For Abraham Lincoln, right?

Hanks: Yeah. That's the big stumbling block -- Abraham Lincoln.

Vigeland: All right. Well Doug Hanks, reporter for The Miami Herald, I would thank you for giving us a penny for your thoughts, but I'll round it up to a nickel.

Hanks: Thank you very much.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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