The Dollar Dilemma

I’m not sure how you guys feel about dollar coins. I’ve spent many months in countries, particularly Australia, that have dollar coins. They are massively more convenient than bills, in my opinion. I really can’t understand why they haven’t caught on in this country. It seems mainly to be inertia. We don’t use dollar coins because … we don’t use dollar coins.

Well that … and strippers tend to get annoyed when you try to put coins in their g-strings.

I think the main problem is that we keep printing dollar bills, which only feeds the inertia. If the mint announced to the American people, “Hey, we’re no longer making dollar bills! Deal with it!” there would be a huge outcry followed, within a year, by everyone learning to live with it. The same thing goes for the tremendous amount of money we waste making useless pennies. If we abolished the penny, coin collectors would scream. Within a year, we’d be fine.

It’s not clear to me that switching to dollar coins would save any money in the long haul. Coins and bills are a means of exchanging goods, not goods themselves. But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it. Either switch to dollar coins completely or give up on it.

Still, it takes a Congress to look at this issue and … find the dumbest possible course of action when it comes to dollar coins:

Unused dollar coins have been quietly piling up in Federal Reserve vaults in breathtaking numbers, thanks to a government program that has required their production since 2007.

And even though the neglected mountain of money recently grew past the $1 billion mark, the U.S. Mint will keep making more and more of the coins under a congressional mandate.

The pile of idle coins, which so far cost $300 million to manufacture, could double by the time the program ends in 2016, the Federal Reserve told Congress last year.

A joint inquiry by NPR’s Planet Money and Investigations teams found that the coins are the wasteful byproducts of a third, failed congressional effort to get Americans to use one-dollar coins in everyday commerce.

Read the article and you’ll find some really hilarious quotes. The most recent idea was to put all of the Presidents on the coins on the idea that people would see them as “educational”. But people don’t use coins to educate, they use them to buy things. If I want my daughter to know who the 13th President was, I’ll show her wikipedia and keep my dollar for the strippers (or at my age, the vending machine).

When they revised the dollar coins, they insisted that, despite the Presidential heads educational initiative, at least 20% of the new coins had to be made with Sacagawea on them. Because we all remember the riots that rocked the country when, for a brief period, it looked the dollar coins we’re not using would not be embossed with the face of someone we never heard of.

I actually have several of the dollar coins on me and they are quite pretty. It would be great if I could use them in vending machines or on the Pennsylvania turnpike. But until Congress and the mint shit or get off the pot, that won’ happen. And those coins will continue to sit in a vault, draining money from the treasury.

Comments are closed.

  1. Seattle Outcast

    There is a bit more to the resistance to coins than inertia – vending machines for one, aren’t set up to take them, but they are set up to take bills. Second, they are either too close to looking like a quarter or they are fucking huge Eisenhower dollars. Personally I prefer the Eisenhower dollars, but I’d get over that if they just made a dollar coin that people actually like looking at.

    Congress just keeps fucking up a simple thing…

    Thumb up 2

  2. AlexInCT

    I’m not sure how you guys feel about dollar coins. I’ve spent many months in countries, particularly Australia, that have dollar coins. They are massively more convenient than bills,

    That reminds me of an IT joke, Hal.

    Two guys are out camping. One has to go to the bathroom and realizes they forgot toilet paper. The second one tells him to just use a dollar to wipe. He comes back with a real pained look on his face and his hand covered in doo-doo. The other guys says what happened? So the wiper says that was painful man and now I am covered in doo-doo! Baffled his buddy ask how can wiping be painful and end up covering your entire forearm that way? To which the wipee replies: try wiping with 3 quarters, two dimes, and a nickel you bastard!

    The moral is supposed to be that unless you are specific people can interpret things the wrong way, but to me it has always been a reason to hate coins. Try walking around with a pocket full of change…. I hate it. DOWN with coins and clowns!

    Thumb up 0

  3. CM

    We changed over from dollar bills to coins about 20 years ago – I remember it well. Was an excellent move. We also did away with 1c and 2c pieces a few years after that, and now we don’t even have 5c pieces. We have 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2 coins, and then notes after that. Makes everything very simple.

    Thumb up 0

  4. JimK

    I’m WAY less concerned about dollar bills versus coins than I am about fucking pennies.

    FUCK pennies. I hate them. Everyone hates them. They need to go long before any move toward a dollar coin. FUCK THOSE FUCKING PENNIES. Is what I’m saying.

    Thumb up 2

  5. CM

    Yep good point. I think getting rid of the smaller coins was more significant than changing to $1 an $2 coins. Although I do miss accumulating hundreds of dollars in small coins in jars. It was like a windfall when it went to the bank and got changed into ‘real’ money. It was a pain in the ass for the banks I imagine.

    Of course prices are still $1.99, $3.79, $34.99 etc. They round it up when you pay. Or if you buy 6 things that cost $1.99 then it’ll only be $11.90 (rounded down from $11.94).

    Thumb up 0

  6. Seattle Outcast

    Not that much really. Many banks have a coin counter that you merely dump your change into and let work. A couple minutes later it’s all done.

    I most likely have about $15 in pennies around the house right now.

    Thumb up 0

  7. Rann

    I oppose getting rid of pennies.

    First thing the government would do? Declare that any amount of a sale that wasn’t a multiple of five was a tax that went to them. How else would you deal with not getting that three cents from something that wound up costing $3.97? The helpful government steps in and helps itself to those three cents! Now it just costs four dollars. Pretty soon they start relying on that money, budgeting for it, and when there’s a lull in shopping suddenly everyone starts thinking “Hey… do we really need nickels…?”

    Thumb up 2

  8. CM

    Rounding here is carried out at the point of sale and the business either loses or gains a few cents here or there on most transactions. The government gets nothing out of the rounding (other than a very very small extra tax revenue as it makes sense that more gets rounded by than down).

    Thumb up 0

  9. InsipiD

    Since a 1 cent amount doesn’t cost extra to calculate, I think that credit/debit transactions should remain to the penny, and only round on cash. Virtual pennies aren’t made of costly copper and don’t get stuck in the washing machine. The vast amount of electronic transactions is probably what’s kept the penny around through today.

    Thumb up 0

  10. davidstvz

    I like dollar bills. You never need to carry more than 4 at a time, and if you happen to have more… well spend them at the first opportunity. I generally avoid carrying any coins in my pocket if at all possible (and also fucking hate pennies… I throw them out the car window whenever I get any and store all the silver change in my car’s coin holder).

    Thumb up 0

  11. Hal_10000 *

    I’m genuinely curious, thought, what people do in strip joints without dollar bills. Do the girls put coin purses on their thighs?

    Thumb up 1

  12. HARLEY

    5 dollar bills, any strip joint in which the girls dance for ya for 1$ bills, is a DIVE. STD express…………..
    the better quality ones start out at 10$ …. believe me.. youll get more action too.

    Thumb up 0

  13. santino

    We went through this in Canada twice. First in 1987 the $1 bill was replaced with a coin, and then in 1996 the $2 bill was replaced. I remember there being an uproar, and if I recall correctly there was a shortage of coins at the beginning because people were hoarding them as collector’s items. Somehow we prevailed.

    Personally I rarely carry cash. I’d say 95% of my purchases are by credit card, 4% by bank card, and1% cash.

    Thumb up 0

  14. CM

    Personally I rarely carry cash. I’d say 95% of my purchases are by credit card, 4% by bank card, and1% cash.

    For me I’d guess 70% credit card, 5% bank card and 25% cash. I still usually use cash for the small stuff (say under $20).

    Thumb up 0

  15. Rann

    By the way, I like dollar coins, but I can see how they’d be bothersome. When I worked at DirecTV for awhile, the change machines gave dollar coins and all the vending machines in there took them. That was actually very convenient, especially with short breaks and a job that kept you on a high annoyance factor. I can only imagine the damage those machines might have taken if someone who got off a really long, annoying call desperately needed a Mountain Dew to retain their sanity had to put up with a dollar bill input that had suddenly decided to be finicky.

    On the other hand, if you wanted to carry more than a couple of them, they could really start weighing down your pocket. And that was with them only being around the size of a quarter… which, as mentioned, has its own problems. I can usually feel out roughly the change I need just by digging in my pocket, but those were almost impossible to tell from quarters just with a quick touch of fingertips.

    Having dealt with them as common currency for at least a few months, I can say that dollar coins have their benefits and they have their drawbacks. Ultimately I think they’re about the same as one another, with the benefits and drawbacks of each type balancing out in the end. Probably the smartest thing to do would be to just gradually phase from one to the other… make a serious effort to introduce more dollar coins, and start cutting back dollar bills by the same amount, phase rather than just suddenly yanking the lever from one to the other.

    I do think it’s a bit of a problem to address how vending machines would make the transition. They’re one of those things that seem minor and like it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, until suddenly people began having problems with them. Sort of like your microwave… you don’t realize just how much you’re actually used to one until you don’t have it. Even if you use it rarely, that just means when that rare use crops up you notice it more. We’d probably wind up having to give manufacturers and maintainers some sort of assistance towards the cost of refitting the machines to take dollar coins, just to keep them from pitching a fit and trying to tank the phaseout, if nothing else.

    Thumb up 0

  16. Kimpost

    The worst thing about coins is travelling. You always feel like a moron while staring at your fucking foreign coins trying to make out what they are actually worth. That’s probably why people of all cultures end up thinking foreigners are stupid – they have seen them handling their coins.

    Sometime I end up emptying my pockets into the clerks hand, letting them sort things out. Other times I just hand them a bill.

    Thumb up 0

  17. CM

    The worst thing about coins is travelling. You always feel like a moron while staring at your fucking foreign coins trying to make out what they are actually worth.

    Oh totally. I cringe thinking at the number of cumulative hours I’ve spent holding people up trying to figure out what coin is what. Fuck.

    When I get more than a few $1 or $2 coins they get taken out of my wallet and put in the central console of the car as parking money. I usually have no more than $5 in coins in my wallet at any given time.

    Thumb up 0

  18. Mississippi Yankee

    Want to know why we won’t be losing the $ bill anytime soon?
    Do any of you commentator remember when the USA thought it might, possibly change over to the metric system? It was the same time when Canada actually DID make the change. About 78-79.
    Yanno, road signs were in miles and kilometers? And there was such a loud Piss and Moan from the general population that our wishy-washy politicians abandoned it. Canada, to it’s credit, stuck to it’s guns and made it happen. And then gave away their guns but I digress.

    So there you go… a populace has a hard time counting to eleven but fully understands the power of the bitch.

    Oh and Hal and SO, why on earth don’t your vending machines take dollar coins? Here in the backwoods of Mississippi they have for well over a year. Or was that just poetic license?

    Thumb up 0

  19. InsipiD

    Another foreign problem that makes you feel stupid is doing mental currency conversion to make sure you’re not paying too much for something. I remember when I went to Gibraltar in 1998, I was pretty cavalier about £1 coins until I realized they were worth considerably more than a dollar bill. That would be even worse in Canada where there’s approximate parity right now and they use a $2 coin. You get used to a certain level of respect for each denomination and type of currency, and when there’s suddenly a coin that is worth more than your smallest bill, you get a bit more respectful of coins.

    Thumb up 0

  20. CM

    Where exactly are you in Mississippi? I absolutely loved the week I spent driving from Memphis to New Orleans. Particularly enjoyed Vicksburg and Natchez, checking out all the Civil War historical sites and museums. Met some awesome people.

    Thumb up 0

  21. hist_ed

    It’s not clear to me that switching to dollar coins would save any money in the long haul.

    Bills wear out a lot faster than coins so the government spends a lot more replacing them.

    I’m all for the dollar coins and getting rid of the bills. Not as important as getting rid of pennies. First time I got one of the new dollar coins it had Andrew Johnson on it and I didn’t know about the rotating president thing for the coins. I spent an age trying to figure out who wanted Johnson, widely regarded by historians as the worst president, as the new face of the dollar.

    RE Strippers: they’d just have to keep up on their Kegels-they could hold onto a bunch of coins at a time.

    Thumb up 0

  22. HARLEY

    RE Strippers: they’d just have to keep up on their Kegels-they could hold onto a bunch of coins at a time.

    then they would have to hold few pingpong balls….

    Thumb up 0