Friday, March 02, 2007

What Happens To All Your Change

According to today's article older people use more change than younger people. I could have told you this years ago. I noticed this. I would notice that a line in a store would move at a rate inversely proportional to the mean age of the population of the line. The reason for this was obvious. Young people would pay in bills. Only bills. Old people would look for bills, then start searching their change purse for the exact change. Paying in bills is faster because cashiers make change all day long so they become very fast at it. A lot faster than an octogenarian searching for exact change.

It's sometimes nice to have your observations validated by science.

But you may ask "Why is this?"

Well, guess what! I have a theory about that too!

When you're young you pay in bills all the time so you usually get change back. This means you'll accumulate change, and lots of it. You put the change in your pocket (because you're not old enough to have a change purse), then that night the change makes it's way to the desk or dresser where it sits and collects dust until you get older.

Then, you look at your desk or dresser and there's several thousand dollars there in pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. You figure you have to do something with it. When you're young ,your attitude to change is that it is only money in the technical sense, not the practical sense. (If you look close, I'm making bad puns. Or am I?) It technically is legal tender, but you'd never spend it. You don't have the time to count change. You're in too much of a hurry to download the latest hip-hop song.

So, here you are, older. Your kids have moved away, you've retired, and suddenly you have time, time to count out exact change while a line of youngun's, who are in a hurry, forms behind you. And, why not? You have that dresser or desk full of loose change.

So, basically, the change that accumulates when you're younger gets spent when you get older. Suddenly, change is money in both the practical sense and the technical sense.

I think the scariest thing about this theory is that I formed it years ago, when all I had time for was bills. But now I'm getting older, and I'm stuck in a mid-point. I do use change to buy stuff, but I still rarely count exact change. Instead, if the price comes to $7.63, I'll look for a $10 bill, which I will inevitably not have. (Apparently, the Canadian mint has printed a sum total of seven $10 bills in the entire history of Canada. So the misprint of Flanders Fields isn't as big a deal as you may think.) So I'll get a $20 bill, and look for 2 quarters, a dime, and three pennies. That way the cashier can give me two $5s, a Toonie, and a Loonie. (For all you American readers, yes, that really is what we call our two dollar coins, and one dollar coins respectively. And yes, we do have one and two dollar coins instead of bills.)

I have, on occasion, payed with exact change. But it disrupts a natural process. A purchase interaction is specifically scripted.


Cashier: "Hi. How are you?"
Me: "Not bad, and yourself?"
Cashier: "Pretty good." This is followed by a question about if there's anything else, or if I was able to find everything today.
Me: "No, this is it."
Cashier: "That will be $7.63."
Me: "Here's $20."
Cashier: "Thank you. And your change and receipt..."
Me: I take the change in complete blind faith that they gave me the right change, and I put it into my pocket, because I'm still too young to have a change purse. "Thank you."
Cashier: "Thank you. Have a nice day."
Me: As I start walking away I say "You too." Then I quickly turn way in order to break eye-contact while feeling satisfied with a completely flawless interaction.

But when you give exact change that upsets the interaction and throws the rest off balance, and you can't recover. A receipt can act as change, it allows the interaction to flow. But if it's for something for which a receipt is not forthcoming, then it messes everything up.

Cashier: "That will be $7.63."
Me: "Here you go, $7.63."
Cashier: "Thanks." Then the cashier and I stand there in awkward silence for a few minutes shifting our eyes to the left and right trying to not make eye contact, and yet not be obvious about it. I'm not really sure if I should say "thanks" and it certainly isn't, according to the script, time for them to tell me to have a nice day.

I wonder how old people get used to that part? Perhaps when you turn 50 you receive a new script that handles that exact scenario?


Heather said...

So does the fact that I have a change purse mean that I am old?
And sometimes because I have a change purse I give exact change, does that mean I'm old too?
It is more likely that I will have no cash at all, what does that mean?

Andrew said...

I would say 'no' to the first two questions. The correlation between 'maturity' and the posesion of a change purse, or paying in exact change is not a biconditional.

If it makes you feel better I have recently been paying with exact change for everything. Perhaps my non-possession of a change purse has more to do with being a guy.

As for your third question, it probably means you're not Bill Gates.

Andrew said...

Oh yeah, and like evolution and gravity, it's just a theory.

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