My two cents on eliminating the penny

In a post-budget discussion last week, Western Producer Farm Living editor Karen Morrison sent me back in time on a cloud of nostalgia. All she did was note that when we were young, you could stick a penny in a gumball machine and chew on the bounty for as long as the flavour lasted.

It was a pretty good deal for a little kid.

I haven’t gone near gumballs for decades, so I don’t know what one goes for these days, but it’s certainly not a penny. If a gumball is 25 cents today, we’re talking about some serious inflation over the last 40-ish years.

If you can’t even buy penny candy anymore, what is a penny worth today? According to numbers from the federal government, it’s either worth 1.6 cents — the cost of producing the coin — or absolutely nothing, since it’s being eliminated from our stash of currency.

The unlucky penny will remain legal tender, but production of the coin will be halted this year, saving the government $11 million annually.

I have a lot of great ideas on how to spend $11 million — ag research, for instance, or topping up Old Age Security — but the money is going toward an effort to beat back the deficit.

Canada is well behind many other countries in eliminating its smallest denomination of currency. For example, Sweden eliminated its one and two cent coins in 1972, or 40 years ago. New Zealand turfed its penny in 1990, and Australia did so two years later.

What’s a little weird about the whole thing is that commerce will still be based on the cent. We will still be paying, for example, $99.99 or $31.67, assuming we use debit or credit cards — or even that other ancient mode of payment, the cheque.

If we pay cash, though, there will be rounding off to the nearest nickel. Rounding down, I think, is unlikely, but we can only hope.

That aside, I probably won’t miss the penny in today’s economy. What I do miss is going to the candy store with my cousin, spending 25 cents on all the treats I could eat, and playing in the backyard the rest of the day.

Funny how a budget directive can bring back memories and focus your attention on how (expensively) times have changed.

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