Is Physical Currency Becoming Irrelevant?

Many don’t see the value that these coins have; despite their neglected appearance, they can still be used in everyday life. Spare change can be donated, used for bus fair, exchanged for cash, and more. Photo by Jackson Hartigan.

That’ll be $7.50.” You don’t reach for your wallet, not even into your pocket. Your phone is ready and available right in your hand to pay for a multitude of items immediately. With today’s technology constantly updating, the need for cold hard cash is less and less required, being replaced by other forms of payment such as credit, debit, and gift cards, PayPal, and other forms of electronic payment like Apple Pay. Further underneath the necessity of cash lies coins. Quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies: the impractical currencies in a modern society. While businesses switch to more advanced ways of paying for their goods, spare change is losing its purpose.

Recently, the cinema and nickel arcade Electric Castle’s Wunderland, or Avalon, switched from using solely nickels to operate the games to an electronic form of currency known as a “fun card.” Despite them being a nickel arcade, most of Avalon’s games now run with the swipe of a card, displaying your balance and then activating the game. Not only does this make nickels unnecessary, but the tickets themselves are no longer physical. After the game is over, your card is automatically given the amount of tickets you would earn from the game. Maybe it’s a marketing scheme, maybe they’re just “getting with the times,” but in the end it takes away from the classic experience of an arcade. The system does mean no more coin or ticket jams in the machines, though. “I think it’s a lot better,” says Alfredo Vargas (11) after having recently gone to the arcade. “Instead of having a fist-full of coins, a plastic card that holds unlimited amounts of coins that can be used for the same things is a lot better because instead of worrying about a lot of coins, all you have to worry about is how much money the card has.”

So what are you supposed to do with all those seemingly unusable assorted coins laying around? Well, there are still many uses for them in everyday tasks. Paying for parking meters is a great use, and every coin comes in handy for those extra minutes.

Transportation fees like bus passes are another common use. Since passes are often $1.25 or $2.50 and there is no change that you receive from the bus, keeping some spare change on hand will be of great assistance in a pinch. Another good spot to put those coins you’re not using is in the tip jars of food carts and restaurants. Donating to charity or the homeless is another great use because that money could be going to help people out immediately, compared to just waiting around idly. If nothing else, store them in the bank. They’ll be a lot more useful in your checking or savings account. But make sure your bank takes coins before you march on down there yourself, because the U.S. Department of the Treasury says banks don’t have to accept change if they don’t want to. There are a few reasons for this: they take up room, they’re heavy to transport, coin counting machines are expensive and may not be available, and it’s super annoying for bank tellers.

If you’d rather not deal with a bank, you can often find coin counting machines in the front of grocery stores. The most common types are Coinstar machines, which will count up to $3,000 worth of coins and give you a voucher to get cash from the store’s register. The catch, of course, is that Coinstar will take a 10.9% cut of your money as a processing fee. But it’s instant cash for all those coins that are collecting dust on your desk, so it’s a small price to pay for convenience if you’re going to be at the store anyway. Some coin counting machines will also let you donate it to charities directly from the machine. Coinstar, for example, will wire change donations to the American Red Cross, The Humane Society, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and more. Walk up to the machine, set it to donate and choose a charity or nonprofit, dump your change, and leave. Coinstar also lets you convert your coins into gift cards for other various stores, usually without the processing fee tacked on. You can get gift cards for outlets like theaters, restaurants, Amazon, Gamestop, Starbucks and more. Just make sure you hold onto that receipt the machine prints out because that’s your “card.” If you lose it and didn’t write down the card number, it’s gone.
So what have we learned? Well, coins are getting a little outdated, but they are by no means useless. Society may be evolving onwards without them, but countless methods keep you from missing out on the money lying around your house.

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