The True Value of a Penny

12 Apr

One of my favorite M*A*S*H quotes is when Hawkeye proclaims that we’re all just “eighty-nine cents worth of chemicals walking around lonely.”

You can trust him- he used to a doctor for pretend.

That episode aired in the 1970s, and when adjusted for inflation and the current cost of chemicals and minerals, that figure becomes $4.50 in today’s money.

$4.50 for the materials that make up a human body.  I don’t know about you, but it seems like most people would argue that they are worth more than the cost of a Happy Meal.

There must be more to us than meets the eye (or microscope).

In the same line of thinking (at least for my brain), I’ve been wondering about the true value of a penny.  Yes, I know that it’s face value is 1 cent.  But just like with the human body, might there not be more than meets the eye with this little coin?

Four score and seven years ago,
I was worth a lot more than I am today.

Let’s assume you start the day with one penny in your pocket.  You set off down the street, whistling a merry tune and hoping to find a penny candy store.  You have one cent.

You remember that you work for the US Mint.  Due to budget constraints, your boss has implemented several new cost-savings measures.  One of those is that workers should be responsible for overly-expensive production values.  Since a penny is actually 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, it now costs 1.67 cents to make a penny.  You owe the US Government .67 cents.

As you trudge further down the street, no longer whistling, you meet a friend.  This is one of your most compassionate friends, and he offers you a penny for your thoughts. You have .33 cents.

Due to your new job-related woes and your friend’s genuine empathy, you pour out your heart (and simultaneously give  your two cents.You owe your friend 1.67 cents.

As you bury your despondent head in your hands, you see a shiny new penny under the bench.  It is heads up.  You pick it up and suddenly feel the gentle hand of Lady Luck on your shoulder. Your friend accepts the penny and forgives the rest of the debt. You are broke, but at least you’re no longer in debt.

You pull yourself up by your bootstraps and continue on down the street.  You glance into the windows of the shops as you pass, casually admiring this season’s new shoes.  You freeze at the yogurt store window.  Inside, your significant other sits at a table, staring happily into the eyes of Ryan Gosling. The penny has dropped.  You owe your therapist 10,000 pennies for an hour-long appointment.

What can I say? The man knows how to save a penny. (Do you see what I did there? The woman he saved from a taxi in NYC was named Laurie Penny. Ryan Gosling sees what i did there. He's not sure he approves, though.)

As you exit the therapist’s office, you find another penny on the ground.  This one is heads down, but you figure your luck couldn’t get any worse, so you pick it up.  When you get home, you deposit it into your piggy bank.  A penny saved is a penny earned.

You sit down at your computer and realize it is April 14th, and you haven’t done your taxes yet.  You scramble to gather all your W2s and receipts, and start frantically typing numbers into online forms.  You pause at the Income entry with a look of horror. You owe the IRS another .13 cents on that penny.

You realize that you are no longer in the proper mindset to be doing taxes, and instead move to your favorite past time.  A few clicks later and you’ve got five vacation/ spur of the moment escape plan websites open in your browser.  As you click through pictures of sprawling sheep farms in New Zealand, a pop-up appears.  It promises an easy calculator for figuring out the exchange rate between US dollars and New Zealand dollars.  You type in the pathetic two-digit figure that represents your net worth at this moment.  Your brain figuratively explodes at the result. There are no pennies in New Zealand as of April 1990.

This lamb has just been told he doesn't have to carry small change anymore. I sure hope no one is pulling the wool over his eyes...

You pack your bags and get on the next flight.  As you settle into your cushy coach accommodations for the 18-hour flight, you think that perhaps your luck is finally changing. The flight attendant gives you a complimentary bag of peanuts.

The true value of a penny: a new life in New Zealand.  And a bag of peanuts.

See?  I told you that there was more to the penny than meets the eye.


One Response to “The True Value of a Penny”


  1. How Much Are We Really Saving? « Losing My Cents - November 29, 2012

    […] back in April when I wrote a post called The True Value Of A Penny?  No?  Well, you should go read it.  It has Ryan Gosling in […]

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