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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Counting my pennies

The other day when I was helping my son, B, pack up his apartment in Singapore for his imminent career move to Hongkong, I noticed a huge pile of coins on his sideboard. “What are you going to do about all these coins?” I asked. On previous visits, I had already taken note of the coins and tried to spend them as much as I could, on newspapers, bus fare and the like. Now that he was moving, there were just too many coins to dispose of. Not for the first time, I wondered at how young people nowadays seemed to disdain things like small change, like they were not worthy of their attention.

I’m not the only parent who thinks that. A friend, R, once told me that his teenaged daughter had dropped some coins on the ground while out with him. Rather than reaching down to pick them up, she walked on, unperturbed. R, of course, retrieved the coins. “It’s still money,” he said.

I concur. I grew up in an age when my allowance was a dollar or two a week, and 20 cents could still buy a bowl of noodles in the school canteen. My mother would of course remind all of us of the time when her father could buy a whole meal for 2 or 3 cents, complete with a meat dish.

I don’t have war stories to tell like my parents who subsisted on little or next to nothing. But I did go through lean times when, as a single mother, I had to stretch my pay check to cover not only rent and car payment, but also school fees and groceries. Having been burnt before by credit card debt, I used my credit card very sparingly. If I didn’t have cash to spend, I just didn’t spend. If there were coins lying around, I meticulously collected, counted them out and used them.

Perhaps it’s because our money is worth so much less nowadays. Our kids don’t even get to handle pennies anymore, and coins are seen as a hassle, too heavy to carry around. I mean, how many coins do you need to accumulate to buy a frappuccino, right? I’m not even sure if children still have piggybanks filled with coins!

When I asked him about his coins, B grinned and said that he had another stash of them in the office. Fortunately he found out that the banks in Singapore offered 24-hour machines which sorted and counted out coins, which you could then deposit into your account, for a small fee. We purposely went to one such machine late at night, figuring that it would be quieter then, but there was a line for it anyway, with business owners depositing their cash at the close of the day.

B and I even took a bet on how much in coins he had. He reckoned it was about 30 plus dollars, while I figured he had about 40 something dollars. We were both wrong, as the machine counted out more than 50 dollars. Even with the commission that the bank charged, I thought it was worthwhile depositing the coins. After all, it’s still money, isn’t it?

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