I had my annual eye check yesterday. Everything was fine and no change is needed in my corrective lenses. That saves me the expense of a new pair of glasses.
As I was being put through my paces and looking at charts on the wall, getting a glaucoma test and the like, the optometrist and I were chitchatting.
She had recently been standing in line at a grocery store when all the electronic links failed. Anyone who had a debit or credit card was out of luck. Only people with cash or checks could check out.
The optometrist said that few people waiting in line could pay without the aid of plastic. She cited the example of an elderly gentleman who had both credit and debit cards with him but who could not quite understand that it was not the matter of choice of plastic card that was preventing him from getting out of the store, but that the reader mechanism itself had failed.
He had neither cash nor checkbook and was helpless.
What makes this an interesting story to me is it helps illustrate the changing times in which we live. If you had to describe someone who might be the most likely to want to pay a grocery bill in cash, or least likely to bother with credit and debit cards, wouldn’t you pick an elderly gentleman in rural Wisconsin?
I probably would. The neighbor of my parents who used to go from office to office to pay her bills and never had a checking account hasn’t been gone all that many years.
We all know it takes a while for habits to change, but what we don’t know is how long that process might be when it comes to the use of coins.
From time to time Numismatic News has pointed out that coin production at the U.S. Mint is running at levels that haven’t been so low since the late 1950s. A large part of this drop has been laid at the door of the recession. Another portion has been attributed to the use of coin counting machines that are placed in the nation’s grocery stores and other convenient locations. The unknown quantity is what part of the production drop is due to a change in American coin use habits.
I asked this question last year after my Labor Day weekend observation of kids buying cones at the Dairy Queen and instead of counting out their piggy bank change, paid for it with a card.
That the younger generation is a quick adapter is not in question. But if the older generation has also reached a tipping point as far as coins are concerned, there might be little or no coin demand recovery to go with any pending economic recovery.
I assume the delayed grocery shopper has changed his habits in recent years after a lifetime of using cash or checks. If a pollster should ask him if he shares the majority view that the cent should not be abolished, I wonder how he might answer. He has already abolished it (and other coins and paper money) by his actions in his personal life. Would what he currently thinks match what he currently does?
That would be a very interesting thing to find out.