Dollars and Sense

At a convenient store on Main Street a few weeks ago, a guy was trying to buy a pack of cigarettes with some coin dollars. He had six of them. The cashier was giving him a hard time about it. The cashier told him he needed real dollars, not the “fake” co

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At a convenient store on Main Street a few weeks ago, a guy was trying to buy a pack of cigarettes with some coin dollars. He had six of them. The cashier was giving him a hard time about it.

The cashier told him he needed real dollars, not the “fake” coins he was offering. Frustrated, the customer threw down the coins, reached into his wallet and pulled out a five-dollar bill and a one. That’s the price of cigarettes downtown these days.

The guy left, leaving the coins on the counter. Also getting my own pack of cigarettes with paper money, I asked the cashier if I could have the coins. The cashier nodded his head yes. I’m thinking he considered those coins slugs. They weren’t.

They were Sacagawea gold dollars, and all six of them were issued in the year 2000. That cashier at the convenient store on Main Street, where everything is overpriced, had given away real money.

It’s odd that different U.S. currency just doesn’t work. For example, my mother used to collect two-dollar bills thinking they might be worth more than that someday. When she died, I ended up with the money.

I attempted to buy drinks with two-dollar bills. The bartender gave me a funny look. So did the clerk at the grocery store, and so did the bank teller when I finally got fed up and turned them in for more traditional money.

But at least I didn’t throw the money away like that customer at the convenient store downtown. To me, money’s money. I work too damn hard for it to simply let it easily slip away.

When I see pennies, nickels or any kind of coins on the sidewalk, yes, I will bend over to pick them up. If I have a penny coming in change at a store where I’ve purchased something, I expect the cashier to give it to me.

When I go to a store — whether it’s a department, grocery or drug store — to purchase items, I always have some idea in my head how much the bill is going to be. I always count the change that the cashier gives back. I usually look at my receipt to make sure the cashier hasn’t screwed something up.

When I go to a bar, I usually try to go during happy hour, and despite the fact that I’m drinking, I’m never too far gone to realize when a bartender is charging me regular prices rather than the happy hour price. If they try to pull something over on me, there goes their tip.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: Larry’s a cheap bastard. Hardly.

If a waiter or waitress gives me great service, he or she will get a great tip. If a bartender pays attention to me and doesn’t let my glass run dry, I’ll remember that when it comes time to pay the bill.

I’m not cheap when it comes to money, just not stupid.

Maybe it gets back to this old saying I heard once: If you watch the pennies, the dollars take care of themselves. I kind of buy into that.

Back in my business management days, a company I worked for gave me an award for so many years of service. I think it was for five years. Out of appreciation, they gave me a rather large Waterford Crystal bowl.

It’s a really nice bowl, but I had no idea what to do with it. After some thought, I decided the bowl would be where I empty my pockets at night and dump my spare change.

I’ve had this bowl for almost 20 years now. Whenever I need quarters for the bus or to do laundry, I go there. While I take money out of it often, sometimes it starts to overflow with coins. That’s when I empty the bowl of coins, put them in this leather bag I have and take them to the grocery store.

I usually go to Kroger, but in a lot of grocery stores now they have these coin machines. You empty your coins into a tray, push a few buttons and start feeding the machine the coins. The machine has a small computer screen where you can watch it tally up how much you’re putting in.

I think the last time I did this I got close to a hundred bucks back. You get a small slip of paper telling you your “winnings.” You can use this to get groceries, get cash or a combination of both.

When I tell people I do this, some come back and tell me I’m given a percentage of that money to the company that owns the machine. I come back and say, “So what?” I’m thinking my time is a little more valuable than sitting on my bed rolling pennies, dimes and nickels. Again, I’m not cheap.

As for those Sacagawea gold dollars that the cashier on Main Street let me have, they won’t make it to the Waterford Crystal bowl. In fact, I should take them back to that convenient store downtown. The cashier didn’t know what he had.

When I do, I’m going to give the guy behind the counter a little bit of an education on money. He needs to be a bit smarter.

Basically, he needs to have a little more sense when it comes to dollars and cents.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]

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