As a kid, I used to save my pennies in a glass Teddy Bear bank. Later I moved onto a miniature wooden barrel that my parents had picked up at a local bank. You’d turn the barrel up on one end and on the bottom was a plug that you would pull out to get to your saved coins.
I loved saving my pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and seeing how much they would add up. I would grab a bunch of coins with one hand, lay them on the table and count them up. I would study the year each was released and would marvel at how time or rough handling had colored them. When I reached into the bank, I loved pulling out a slew of quarters. They were the natural favorite, since they were worth more. However, I still liked pennies, because I loved history and anything having to do with Abraham Lincoln.
As I grew older and started saving up money that I had received as a present for birthdays or by doing odd chores around the house, my mother took me to the local bank to open my very own passbook savings account. Every few months, my mom would take me back to the bank and I would walk up to the counter to one of the tellers with my crumpled-up bills and my little passbook savings account booklet.
The teller would tally up my modest deposits, add in whatever interest I might have earned, and hand back my little book. I would spend hours poring over the book and seeing how my little nest egg had grown and how with a little discipline my savings could grow even more in the future.
I wasn’t sure what I was saving for, but I was certain that with a little luck, life in the penthouse wasn’t far behind!
An uncertain future
Of course, all that has changed. Today, electronic record keeping has made passbook accounts largely obsolete. Passbook savings accounts still exist, but they are offered by few banks and are rarely promoted even where they remain an option.
In fact, I can’t remember the last time I stepped foot in an actual bank or even used an Automatic Teller Machine. I see signs for banks everywhere. For instance, it seems that every sports stadium and arena on the East Coast of the United States has been named after one bank or another, but I couldn’t tell you where to find any in my town.
Yes, I rarely walk into a bank anymore, but that’s not all. I rarely use actual cash anymore. When I have needed cash—to use at the 1950-ish barbershop that doesn’t take credit cards that I still patronize or to hand to my son for some school event—it’s usually the exception.
Cash, no, just give me the credit card!
Cash has been around for a while. China was the first to use paper money during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) — mostly in the form of privately issued bills of credit or exchange notes — and used it for more than 500 years before the practice began to catch on in Europe in the 17th century. It took another century or two for paper money to spread to the rest of the world.
And now? Well, my kids have long stopped coming to me for cash. They don’t come to me much for money, but when they have, they come asking for the credit or debit card. With the dawn of cryptocurrencies and other forms of electronic money and the dominance of credit card swiping and electronic bill pay, coins and bills have become antiquated. I suspect that trend will only increase in the future.
I understand that that is the way of the world, but when I hear about another huge conglomerate getting hacked, I want to go back to holding cold, hard cash in my pocket.
Protesting one penny at a time
To help in my fight to keep coins and paper money relevant, I’m digging that old penny barrel of mine from the deep recesses of my basement. The next time a department store or a bank gets hacked, I’m going to pull out my barrel and take it to the store. If I pay with pennies or even cold, hard cash, then the hackers will never get my sensitive information. Right?
I’m sure that the Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks cashier and the line of people behind me will roll their eyes or give me a dirty look for holding things to count out the exact change—who hasn’t done that to the little old lady who pulls out a pen and checkbook to pay for her bread and milk at the grocery store—but I’m hoping the other customers in line will rise up and cheer me on for going back to the basics.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll even throw a few pennies my way!