What’s the Use of the Penny?

An in-depth article has just appeared on the cbc.ca website arguing the pros and cons of abolishing the Canadian penny and eventually the nickle, as Australia and New Zealand have done in the early 1990s.

I recall in Halifax in the early ’90s, several years after the replacement of the $1 bill by the “loonie” and shortly after the replacement of the $2 bill by the “toonie,” the Barrington Street branch of the Toronto Dominion Bank tried to do its bit to get rid of the penny by accepting it but not giving it out. The argument went along the lines that it costs more to handle the little dark coins than they’re worth. But then it seems that initiative petered out and pennies are as plentiful today as they were back then despite some claiming that each penny costs as much as 4 cents to produce.

I have a little container full of pennies on my kitchen counter — probably a few dollars’ worth. I also try to separate my nickles, dimes and quarters, and often I think of ways of offloading my accumulated quarters. Nickles and dimes are trickier, although I suppose I could burn through them quickly enough by buying a few cups of Tim Horton coffee with them. I try to use my pennies when I’m carrying them with me, but that’s not often because I methodically empty my pockets when I come back home and throw them in that penny container which by now is almost overflowing.

I’m just one of 32 million Canadians with a container full of pennies I don’t recirculate, and the Desjardin Group estimates in that article that each Canadian on average is holding on to about six dollars’ worth. That’s $192,000,000. Given that one can hardly make a full purchase with a dollar coin these days, I think it may well be time to get rid of the penny and start using the “Swedish rounding” method described in that article.

And I wonder when, if ever, the Americans will replace all $1 bills with $1 coins in their currency.