Boomers Respected Loose Change

On a recent walk to a market, Mister Boomer saw a penny on the sidewalk. Immediately he recalled the old adage, “Find a penny, pick it up; all the day you’ll have good luck.” No, he didn’t bother to pick it up, but he mentally coupled the thought with another incident surrounding pennies he had observed a few months earlier: a group of teenaged boys were throwing pennies at one another at full arm’s speed. Laughing all the time, they chucked cents around like it made sense. There you go. The attitude toward pennies — or change in general — is another thing that can make boomers feel as old as the penny itself. These days, people don’t share the same respect boomers had for spare change. After all, boomers were taught that pennies were money, and 100 of them equaled a dollar. And “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

To be sure, many boomers didn’t like carrying spare change, and kept piggy banks or jars at home to collect the coins. Mister Boomer knew others who possessed giant glass jugs that they slowly but surely filled with pennies. In many of those instances, however, the pennies were used in playing various card games, so the jar represented a supply for that purpose, with winnings added back to the jug.

Mister Boomer’s father didn’t like to carry change. He tended to drop coins into any jars that were around. When he passed away, Mister B and his siblings found boxes of jars, filled with coins, under his bed. Bagging the coins, they took them to a local supermarket that had a coin machine. About halfway through the process, the machine decided to speak: “My, you have a lot of coins,” was the pronouncement.

The change revolution has trickled down to the panhandler as well. During the Depression, a popular song asked, “Brother, can you spare a dime.” Decades ago, street beggars routinely asked passersby for “spare change.” Mister Boomer recently saw a panhandler seated on a sidewalk in front of a line of retail stores, holding a hand-written cardboard sign. In addition to the requisite plea for assistance, the person indicated at the bottom of the sign that he also accepted contributions via Venmo, and included his digital address.

To everyone’s dismay these days, things cost more — way more — than what boomers knew in their wonder years; you can’t buy gum for a nickel; gas isn’t twenty cents a gallon; you can’t see a movie matinee for fifty cents. Time marches on, and as we know, “time is money.” For decades now, there has been an ongoing debate about whether the penny has outlived its usefulness. To make matters worse, it costs 2.7 cents to make a single penny (2022).

Online sales require a different form of payment, and digital wallets continue to make inroads into how we pay for items when we do go into physical stores. So why do some people, like Mister Boomer, prefer to pay cash and carry change? In Mister B’s case, it all comes back to the days he taught himself how to budget his spending. Paying in cash was a physical reminder to keep track of what you were spending. When the cash ran out, you didn’t have more to spend, and would not incur debt. It was a simple exercise that has served him throughout his adult life.

There have been attempts by some businesses to round off the loose change in their totals to avoid pennies, but it has been met with backlash by consumers over the extra few cents’ charge. This approach has been embraced by other countries. Sweden, New Zealand and Australia dropped their version of the penny more than 25 years ago. Canada stopped minting new pennies back in 2013. Still, will we eliminate the U.S. penny? Will a nickel become the next penny? “The only thing constant is change,” and that holds true for change, too. Certainly coins have changed through the decades. The U.S. penny has changed, too, even during our boomer years. Boomers remember when the Lincoln Memorial replaced the “wheat penny” back design in 1959. In 2010, the boomer-era Lincoln Memorial on the back side of the penny was replaced with a “union shield.” The penny was, between 1947 and 1982, still made with 95% copper. Currently it is made of copper-plated zinc, containing only 2.5% copper.

No matter what happens next, boomers experienced a fundamentally different relationship with coins than the generations that followed.

A penny for your thoughts,” boomers. What sense do you make of cents these days?

Some Boomers Got an Allowance

A recent study reported that the average children’s allowance went up slightly this year  to $68 per week. Ten percent were getting $100 or more! That flabbergasted Mister Boomer.

The practice of giving allowances — to each member of a family — started in the mid-1800s. By the Boomer Era after the War, nearly half of all children of professional families were receiving some measure of allowance. In families of non-skilled labor, the rate was under twenty percent. In 1960, Seventeen magazine reported that the average teenage girl received just under $10 per week, a substantial sum by anyone’s standards. When adjusted for inflation, that would amount to more than $100 per week in today’s dollars.

The reason for giving an allowance is most often cited as an attempt to teach the value of money and budgeting, though it serves as a reward/punishment system for many.

Did the Seventeen magazine readership in 1960 represent the wider boomer experience? Not in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood. Growing up in a suburb populated almost entirely by factory workers, most parents Mister B knew did not give their kids an allowance. Those who did tied it to either school grades, or more often, household chores like grass cutting, leaf raking and garbage take out for boys, and dish washing, vacuuming and dusting for girls. Even then, the weekly allowances that Mister B was aware of that his neighborhood friends or schoolmates received was on the order of less than a dollar a week, or twenty-five to fifty cents per completed chore.

For Mister B’s family, and many others like his, children’s expenses were on a “need-to-pay” basis. If we needed some money for a class field trip, or a Saturday matinee, it would be granted if deemed appropriate. Mister B recalls that, from an early age, the kids in the neighborhood earned a little money on their own. For Mister Boomer, that was age eight. By then he was shoveling snow, raking leaves and mowing grass in the neighborhood for twenty-five to fifty cents a job. Girls in the neighborhood, like Mister B’s sister, were babysitting by age twelve. Before and during that age, supplemental income was generated by searching for soda pop bottles. The glass ones were worth two cents apiece, but the quart bottles got you a nickel, if you could find one. Cans were not returnable at that time, and plastic bottles didn’t exist yet. At age sixteen, Mister B and his siblings got part-time jobs.

Mister Boomer never felt he was left out or punished by not receiving an allowance. Instead, the idea that you had to earn your money was instilled from an early age. That served him well through the years. With today’s kids getting cellphones by age eleven — not to mention hundred dollar sneakers and video game systems — Mister B has to wonder how these families can afford all that and still pay allowances at all?

Did you receive an allowance as a kid, boomers? How did you handle allowance with your kids?