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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I'm sure that some of you will agree if I'll say, no coin is probably more controversial than the penny. It's true that it costs more than a penny to make a penny and the darn things get annoying. A sports store is so federal reserve up with them that the store owner has declared cents banned from the property. By the way, you can pay for your next sports supplies with a cash advance. Take a quick look at here: https://personalmoneynetwork.com/cash-advance/

I know this isn't the government doing away with the penny; but, the government's monetary policy is what causes in inflation. I wish we have a policy of slow deflation so we could bring our currency down to earth. I know, there is that argument that we need inflation so people will but things now rather than wait until things are more expensive; well, I may not buy a computer now because I may choose to wait for the next model which will be better, but maybe not more or less expensive. When will all this madness end? when we count our dollars in the tens of thousands like the Japanese count Yen?

Excuse my carelessness, but I forgot to mention the additionsl sacrifice that military make when away from family, even if they don't incur physical injury. Imagine the impact on those serving, their spouses and children. It is almost imponderable - and puts your dismissive "hot dogs and hamburger" comment to shame. Try to put yourself in those for a bit, if it is not too inconvenient.

Hummm, how many pennies is that hot dog costing these days?

Undoubtedly an innocent comment by the host: that wall street took the day off for hot dogs and hamburgers. Yes, that is often what happens. But many others instead or in addition to that honor in various ways those who served in the military, some of whom were seriously injured and others making the ultimate sacrifice; others still serving will inevitably have an unfortunate future event. I would bet that had she (or any APM editor or producer) experienced a personal loss, this faux pas would not have occurred. Or perhaps you wouldn't even have a chance to blunder since you could be dead if you had served or perhaps a parent or grandparent (so you wouldn't exist). Regardless, you all at APM (and all others as well) should kiss our soil and thank those who sacrificed so that you could have such jobs to produce such programs. How well do you think your career would be going if the victor(s) was/were Hitler, Emporer of Japan, a Khomeini, etc. You owe us all a big apology for your big mistake - and hope you get your personal and organizational priorities in order ! Hopefully you will count your blessings every day, but if not, at least forget your selfishness one day a year to honor those who allowed this country to continue. It is a work in progress with many faults, but we get it right more than we do wrong.

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