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Michael K. Hall: The lowly penny is still worthwhile

The proverb “a penny saved is a penny earned” is as pertinent today as it was in the early 1600s when it was first coined. Basically it means that it is as useful to save money that you already have as it is to earn more.

I was recently enjoying a cup of “designer” coffee in one of the many speciality establishments that I frequent. As most of you already know, these are enjoyable places where you can meet interesting people, enjoy a tasty hot, if not overpriced, beverage or simply relax. This has become a pleasurable part of my daily routine.

On that day, I noticed a shiny new penny on the floor where people stood in line to place their order. Right next to the penny there was a napkin that had fallen to the floor. I began to watch to see if anyone would pick up the penny. No one did. I didn’t expect anyone to pick up the napkin.

After about 30 minutes, a young worker came from behind the counter to clear anything left on tables, check the trash receptacles and pick up items on the floor. When she came to the area where the penny and the napkin were located, she bent down and picked up the napkin, but she left the penny.

It is obvious that a single penny had no value to this young person, nor does it to a large portion of society anymore. After all, it is “only” a penny.

If you are looking at something other than your smartphone when you are out walking, you will notice pennies all around on the ground and floor. No one, except maybe an old fogy like myself, picks them up.

A young friend of mine said that she would pick one up only if the head showed. This, she explained, was a sign of good luck.

I am of a certain age when I can remember the penny having value. There was a large assortment of “penny candy” to enjoy. If you took a bottle back to the store, you could get two cents, which would allow you to buy two pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. Five pennies would buy you a whole pack of gum.

I remember how cool it was when I got my first pair of penny loafers. I can remember penny parking meters, as well as many more uses for the penny.

Then there are the sayings: “a penny for your thoughts,” “in for a penny, in for a pound,” “it’s worth every penny,” “put in my own two cents worth,” “I don’t have a penny to my name” and “like a bad penny.” I am sure that many of you have heard all of these at one time or another.

The venerable U.S. penny, which has been around since the late 1700s, is not only largely forgotten today, it is under attack to be retired. On a recent news show, it was mentioned that a survey showed that 2 percent of the population throws its pennies in the trash. However, I am equally sure that many people keep pennies in a jar in their house. They do add up, and the saying “every penny counts” is true.

Alas, the poor penny. It is sad to see the state where this old friend has fallen. This once mighty companion to my generation of Americans as youngsters is now virtually overlooked by society.

It costs 1.7 cents to make each penny today. From strictly a monetary point of view, it makes little sense to continue minting this coin. I am afraid my friend might be doomed.

As for the penny on the floor, I picked it up, of course!