A Penny for Your Thoughts: Eliminating the Penny from U.S. Currency

By Narrelle Gilchrist

One cent. There was a time when two candies could be bought for a cent. Today, the average candy bar costs a dollar. Even a gumball costs 25 cents. Virtually nothing can be bought with a penny. No one cares when they get a penny, and no one cares when they lose one. Yet, trillions of pennies are in circulation, and billions more are made every year. But they cost more to make than they are worth, and their purpose was long ago eliminated. In order to modernize currency and end useless spending, the United States should eliminate the penny from circulation. Pennies are extremely expensive to make – far more costly than they are actually worth. According to the United States Mint, in 2011, each penny cost 2.41 cents to make, over double their worth. Yet, each year, over 7 billion pennies are made – more than the number of nickels, dimes, and quarters combined. Think about it: for every nickel, we must make 5 pennies. For every dime, we must make 10. For every quarter, we make 25. Thus, the United States government spends over $105 million making pennies every year. (Ingraham, “Taxpayer.”) These taxpayer funds could be put towards funding education, healthcare, or infrastructure. Instead, they are being put towards a coin that no longer has any purpose.

The original purpose of the penny has long been obsolete. The purchasing power of a penny in 1900 was the same as that of a quarter today – 25 cents, adjusted for inflation. (Yglesias, “No Pennies”) Today, the penny cannot buy anything. Even your opinion is worth “two cents,” not one. In fact, if you are the U.S. mint, a penny cannot even buy another penny. Thus, the penny has virtually no purpose. In fact, consumers are highly likely to not spend their pennies at all. 21% of the pennies in circulation since 2000 have been lost. (McGinty, “Easy”)

Furthermore, eliminating the penny would have no negative effect on the economy. In Canada, where the penny was eliminated, prices are simply rounded up or down when change is used. (Wing, “Can”) The penny or two difference has had hardly any impact on individual consumers. Ultimately, any overall slight increase in costs will be balanced by the reduction in government spending, which could trickle down as benefits to the public welfare and tax cuts, for the government will have more revenue to spend elsewhere. Therefore, the only argument for keeping the penny is nostalgia over its cultural and national symbolism. Sayings, such as “a penny saved is a penny earned,” have become rooted in American culture, and the notion of the penny could be considered an American trademark. The image of Lincoln on this coin is meaningful to many Americans. Yet, so are the memorial, the national holiday, and the city that already honor our president. And, ultimately, practicality should trump symbolism every time.

To be blunt, the penny is simply pointless. It costs more to make than it is worth, and holds far less purchasing power than it was originally intended to hold. Countless pennies are lost every year, without a second thought. In an age of tight government budgets, eliminating the penny is a smooth and virtually harmless way to save $7 billion, and that cannot be ignored. Therefore, the penny should be eliminated from U.S. currency. A nickel for your thoughts?

Works Cited

“How Coins Are Made.” United States Mint. Department of the Treasury. April 7th, 2015. http://www.usmint.gov/circulating_coins/index.cfm?action=coins

Ingraham, Christopher. “Taxpayers Lost $105 Million on Pennies and Nickels Last Year.” The Washington Post. March 10th, 2014. April 7th, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/03/10/taxpayers-lost-105-million-on-pennies-and-nickels-last-year/

McGinty, Jo Craven. “Easy to Lose and Expensive to Produce: Is the Penny Worth It?” The Wall Street Journal. September 19th, 2014. April 7th, 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/easy-to-lose-and-expensive-to-produce-is-the-penny-worth-it-1411145870

Wing, Nick. “Can We All Just Agree that Pennies are Stupid and Need to Be Retired?” The Huffington Post. February 7th, 2014. April 7th, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/07/get-rid-of-the-penny_n_4719984.html

Yglesias, Matthew. “No Pennies for Your Thoughts.” Slate. April 3rd, 2012. April 7th, 2015. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/04/abolish_the_penny_the_united_states_should_follow_canada_s_lead_and_ditch_one_cent_coins_.html

Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics. 

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