Change for the Worse

by on Sep.06, 2008, under money

For years I have been a fan of steering away from cash in favor of being able to charge anything and everything to debit cards.  And recently I’ve finally been getting my wish.  I can go through nearly any drive-through (sorry, drive-thru) or get gas at nearly any station without having to worry if I had enough cash on hand.  I just swipe my handy-dandy check card and be on my merry way!  Unfortunately I did not realize the price for such convenience.

No, I’m not referring to the actual price in the form of fees for transactions from banks or increases in costs of goods to cover the credit card transaction fees – that is a cost of convenience I would expect.  It is the tariff of ignorance this seems to no be leveeing from our society as a result (it made more sense in my head).  I think I can best explain this with a narrative:

[customer pulls up to drive-thru and orders some food – then proceeds to window to pay] 

Burger Jockey:  That will be $5.17.

[customer produces a $5 bill, a quarter, and 2 pennies] 

BJ [looking slightly confused]:  Sir?  You can have these pennies back.  Your total was only $5.17 and you already gave me the 5 and a quarter.

[BJ proceeds to finish transaction and produces a nickel and 3 pennies in change – customer is saddened by this reflection on the intellect of our youth]

I must confess that I hate pennies.  I’m not a big fan of nickels either.  So I avoid having them on my person to the best of my ability and give them away when opportunities arise to do so.  So when situations like the one illustrated above occur, it is also personally frustrating as I am left not only with the knowledge that the high school teenager fielding my order does not have a grasp of basic math but also a handful of change that I had been deliberately trying to avoid.  I can only imagine the look that would have been on her face if my bill came to $4.77 and I handed her a $5 bill and 2 pennies (which, if it did, I would have done).

So I’m making a bit of an assumptive leap here by saying that the fact that these children don’t have to deal with cash anymore for probably 75% or more of the transaction they handle is directly leading to their lack of accumen in simple currency math.  But I don’t think it is an inaccurate leap.  The fact of the matter is that part of the reason that we send our teenagers out to get jobs like these is not only to teach them to handle real world responsibilities, but also to learn about real fiscal responsibilities.  And part of that should also mean learning to apply some of the basic knowledge that they’ve been getting pounded into them since grade school.  Am I overstating things to believe that if these kids can’t figure out simple transactions like these then they are likely not prepared to budget their own money wisely or make even some more abstract yet basic calculations of judgement?  I sincerely hope so.

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