Of COURSE I want my damn penny back on this 99-cent purchase

Of COURSE I want my damn penny back on this 99-cent purchase

I’m sorry—I know it’s irrational to be annoyed by that question. I’m sure a lot of people want nothing to do with their one-cent change, and blow you off when you try to give it to them. Let me walk you through my thinking on this one, though.

First, how do you think my mother raised me? Do I look like a person who’s prepared to just throw money away? I’m already being mildly irresponsible by purchasing my Coke Zero at a convenience store rather than a grocery store—where, ideally, I’d wait for it to go on sale, and then stock up. Of course, I could also just drink water, which is better for you and free.

When I was a kid, getting a whole can of pop to yourself—let alone a tallboy!—was a rare privilege. We weren’t exactly hardscrabble tenant farmers, but we knew the value of a penny! A penny could buy an entire (albeit tiny) gumball from the Lions Club machine!

Bottom line: if I’m going to pay 99 cents for this beverage, I’m certainly not going to pay more than 99 cents just because I’m too lazy to carry that penny home and throw it in my change jar, later to be taken to Wells Fargo and converted into paper money.

There’s another issue, though. What, exactly, will you do with that penny? If I knew you were just going to straight-up keep it for yourself, I’d absolutely let you have it if you wanted it. I tip a buck on a two-dollar cup of coffee, so a penny on a 99-cent can of soda certainly seems more than fair, even if you didn’t dispense the soda into the can yourself.

I’m not convinced that’s what would actually happen, though. Would you leave it in the cash register? Wouldn’t that screw up your accounting? Wouldn’t you have an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing things aren’t going to add up correctly at the end of the day—even if you know they’re going to add up in a slightly more profitable direction?

Really, I suspect you’d toss it into that take-a-penny-leave-a-penny tray, and to be completely honest with you, I’ve never really liked that system. It just seems too loose.

Sometimes, for example, at other stores, I’ve been a nickel short for a purchase—maybe I forgot to consider tax. The clerk will dig around in that tray to pull out five pennies to even me up, but I can tell he doesn’t like it. Taking one penny is fair, taking two pennies is pushing it, taking five pennies is just completely beyond the pale—and yet, there he goes, taking those pennies on my behalf, just because he doesn’t want to deal with my shit! Frankly, I’d much rather he simply told me that I can’t afford that energy drink, and made me put it back.

On top of that, there’s the guilt induced by the fact that I know I’ll never, never freely contribute to the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny system, because…well, that’s the whole point here. I take my pennies.

There’s a whole other layer to this, though, and it’s the pricing system. The proprietors of this store deliberately didn’t make this can cost a dollar: they made it cost 99 cents. They think I’ll be more likely to buy this pop if I can get it for less than a dollar—and they were apparently right, because here I am, and I gave you a dollar, and you’re asking me if I want my penny back. It’s like, ha ha, we gotcha! You bought that Coke! Now, why don’t you just let us keep that extra penny, sucker?

Hell, no! I want to feel that goddamn penny clutched in my hot little hand, thank you very much. Have a nice day.

Jay Gabler