February 4, 2013 was a day that changed the lives of Canadians forever. No, Tim Horton’s didn’t stop serving coffee (thank God). We didn’t change our national sport to curling. Ryan Gosling didn’t (officially) become President Of The Universe.
No. It was much more drastic than that. On February 4, 2013, the Royal Canadian Mint stopped producing pennies.
Although I knew this day was coming (the announcement that the penny would be phased out came in mid- 2012), I couldn’t help but feel a bit sentimental. It seemed like the end of an era. Pennies had been a fixture in my life since childhood: I dove for them in swimming pools, landed them on the ledge of the PEI ferry, rolled them in 50’s to buy the latest toys.
What was going to happen now? Would a new denomination be arbitrarily deemed “lucky”? Or would luck just be much harder to come by? And what about thoughts? Would they be incrementally more expensive?
I should have been more prepared for this, given that it was not, as it happened, my first rodeo. Back in 1996, the Canadian Government pulled another fast one on me by replacing my beloved, rose-coloured $2 bills with a two-toned, Polar bear embossed coin embarrassingly dubbed the “toonie”
As a semi-OCD 9-year-old, this change made me uneasy. I refused to accept this new imitation currency; and instead chose to hoard $2 bills in my piggy bank like some sort of depression-era housewife.
This obsession continued for about 2 years, until one day in grade 5, I caved and spent my last bill on a bottle of a questionable-looking carbonated beverage called Orbitz:
I still ask myself whether it was worth it.
Anyway, this whole penny situation reeked of Tooniegate 2.0. Plus there were all these extra complicating factors. Like what would happen if things didn’t add up to 5 or 10? Would the cash register just explode?
The Royal Canadian Mint released this helpful diagram to clarify:
but whenever I looked at it, I still felt as though I were being cheated.
It’s been about 6 weeks since the penny disappeared, and shockingly, not much has changed.
I expected my life to be significantly different: to be perpetually in a state of pricing vexation; or to feel the absence of copper in my hand like some sort of phantom limb. But to be honest with you, I kind of… well… forgot about it.
I think part of this is because I rarely pay for anything in cash. (Yes, I’m that annoying girl who whips out her debit card to pay for a $2 coffee.)
Luckily for me, my chronic inability to visit an ATM doesn’t impact my life all that much given that the world is becoming increasingly electronic.
This was reaffirmed for me by this week’s episode of 60 Minutes, which featured an interview with twitter founder Jack Dorsey. (I know. Reading books and watching 60 minutes. Who is this kid??) Dorsey recently developed a new product called Square, which is a small device that attaches to smart phones and allows vendors to accept debit and credit card payments.
Dorsey claims his product is the way of the future because people don’t really like handling money: there’s an inherent guilt and dirtiness about it, and it’s nice when it just disappears. It makes you feel like you’re being taken care of.
I get what he’s saying- I feel this way about buying books on Amazon. The website has all of my personal and credit card information saved; so all I have to do is click “order”. It eliminates (most of) the guilt associated with online shopping and makes for a much more pleasurable experience.
At the same time, I think removing all physical indicators of spending can also be dangerous. Not having that mental reminder can make keeping track of your spending much more difficult, and there are definited security concerns involved. Plus, just to say it: maybe we don’t really need more “guilt free” methods of spending given that consumer debt levels are at an all-time high.
I also don’t know if I totally agree that people don’t like holding money…or at least that’s the impression I get from music videos.
Maybe it’s the smell. Maybe it makes us feel more secure. Maybe it’s just the inherent Scrooge McDuck in all of us.
I really can’t say. Just like I can’t say what will happen to the fate of cash-money. It’s federal budget day here in Canada, and for all we know, the nickel could be next on Jim Flaherty’s chopping block. Maybe the penny will become a catalyst for change- or maybe it will just be some other weird Canadian convention, like the CFL, or half hour timezones. In any event, I don’t plan on hoarding my bills just yet.