This Week’s Pet Peeve of the Month: Making Change

My days are filled with errands that involve monetary transactions:

Grocery store, hand over money.

Gas station, hand over money.

Box store, hand over money.

Stop for lunch, or do  drive through, hand over money.

Often, I’ll use plastic and sign that little screen so that it looks like a demon has taken possession of my hand, because there’s NO WAY that’s my signature on there.  But they accept it anyway.

Sometimes, particularly at fast-food joints, I’ll use cash.  And most times I overpay, so I require change.  And always, the change comes back to me in the following way:  receipt, currency, coins.  When did this start?  Piling coins on top of slippery currency and receipts so that if you don’t close your hands in exactly the right way, the coins are sliding all over the place.  I’ve lost more change at drive-throughs, because I have a HUGE truck, and have to park close to the window.  Then they pile the money on the bills, and all of it slides around, and the coins jump ship, landing under the truck.  And I’m parked so close to the building that I can’t get out to find it.

When did this practice start?

When I was a kid (which evokes the toothless laugh of a ninety-year-old balding man… “girlie, when I was your age, we didn’t HAVE money.  We exchanged beads and we walked uphill four miles in the snow to find the wood to make them!”)  Anyway, when I was a kid, and learning about money, my mom and dad would teach me about money, and they’d pull money out of a pocket or purse, lay it on the table, and teach me the finer points of making change.

“Always count up from the total,” they’d say.  “If the total is $2.35, and I give you a five, you’d give me $2.65 in change.  And you’d start with the nickel, and count the change up for your customer, like so:  ‘a nickel makes forty, the dime makes fifty. ‘ put the two quarters in the hand and say, ‘that makes three dollars,’ and then talk out the currency: ‘four, and one more dollar makes five.’”

It taught me that you count out the change both for your customer and for yourself – it’s an excellent way to see that the change is accurate.  And it settled the coins first in your palm, where they were nestled and couldn’t escape, because they had the blanket of paper currency on top.  Now, often, I’m handed receipt, currency and coin – with the coin on top – to one hand, and the bag with my purchase for the other hand.  And before I leave the counter, the cashier is looking over my shoulder at the customer behind me.

Maybe this is just one of those little passages that one makes into adulthood or middle age,  the transition to the ‘next generation’.  Part of what makes me look at my young college friend and say those dreaded words, “When I was your age…”

Maybe it’s me… I’m always searching for Mayberry.  It’s why I live where I do.  I like small-town America and the fact that I rarely lock my car doors, and many of my friends even leave the keys in their cars.  Walk into the grocery store and you know the folks there.  Same with the hardware store.  It’s a small place.

Or maybe it’s a valid complaint.  Are we so rushed that we’re forgetting the basics of courtesy?  Is the next customer so vital that you have to give your current customer the Bum’s Rush?  Or is it that our time is so valuable that we have to eliminate the slowness of cash for the speed of credit cards?

Or… have we just become THAT lazy that counting out change is a lost art?

This entry was posted in adulthood, bad habits, behavior, change, money, pet peeves and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to This Week’s Pet Peeve of the Month: Making Change

  1. Joy says:

    I was taught to count money the same way Laura. My first “real” job was when I was 15 and it was being a carhop. I can say though, I wasn’t on skates thank you very much! But the owner taught us all to make change like that, coins in the hand first counting up. I also had one of those little change thingys on my belt. We got “so much” money to make change and all the coins were in one of those silver things. I wish I could remember what they were called. Does anyone know what I mean?

    I do think we are all in such a hurry that a lot of customer service and human kindness is kind of lost. If there’s a line, nobody is happy and that’s NOBODY. What happened to talking to people or just waiting your turn? Now if you try to talk to people in line, all you get is a dirty look most of the time. Salespeople look behind you and never really wait on you but are always looking to “hurry up.”

    I’d really like to fix the hurry up to wait thing.

    • SKL says:

      I remember those metal coin things that you’d put on your belt. My brothers had those for their paper routes. They weren’t all that convenient, as I recall, but they were fun to play with until they jammed.

      About waiting in line – I generally find that relaxing actually, provided I’m not in a hurry. At some point in my life, I figured out that being anxious and irritable about an unavoidable delay wasn’t getting me there any faster. I might as well figure out some way to enjoy the idle time. I may have developed this skill when I was working in a loud plastic factory. The norm was to keep doing the same thing every couple of seconds for 2 continuous hours (times six in a 12-hour shift), while wearing hearing protection. I would stand there and sing every song I could think of throughout the shift. It was actually quite bearable once I got into the groove, and I was an exceptional producer. Life lessons come from the oddest experiences.

    • Laura says:

      My grandpa on my mom’s side used to call those “nickel squirters”.

      • Joy says:

        LOL!! That’s funny how I remember that thing. I wish I had a picture of me in that uniform. Well, maybe it’s best that I don’t.

  2. SKL says:

    Well, nowadays in a lot of places, the staff doesn’t actually count the change. The machine does the computation and spits out the exact change without the individual having to give it a moment’s thought. So they grab the bills, grab the change, give you the bills, give you the change.

    I guess someone could instruct them to do it the other way around. But the problem with that (at least at a drive-through) is, a sudden gust of wind could take away one or more of the bills – and the customer would be more unhappy to lose bills versus coins.

    As for why we don’t exchange much courtesy in our small transactions any more? Well, I think it’s time pressure on both sides. On the side of the convenience employee because they are under pressure to close each transaction quickly so that the folks farther back in line don’t get angry or leave. On the side of the consumer, because we are always thinking ahead to our next task. How often do we actually look at the person who is handing us our change – make eye contact to see what kind of a day he/she is having? Make a point to give a sincere greeting and thank you? I do it sometimes, but sometimes I am preoccupied with something else. If I were the person behind the drive-through window, I wouldn’t be able to maintain a high state of cheeriness for each new customer, if the majority of them don’t reciprocate. It would be draining for me. Some folks are cut out for that, but they probably don’t spend much of their illustrious careers behind the McDonald’s drive-through window.

    I actually don’t like drive-through and only use it if I really can’t squeeze in a sit-down meal or snack – even if it’s just a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I feel, when it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat, not fight in traffic or talk on the phone or whatever. But, I may be unusual in that respect.

    • Joy says:

      I don’t like eating and driving at the same time either SKL and don’t really do it unless it’s really the only option. Even if I have to just pull over and sit in the parking lot, I’d rather do that and not worry about dropping stuff on me and to just eat in peace for a few minutes.

    • SKL says:

      I should add that at the McDs closest to my house, the staff is continuously blabbing to each other behind the counter. They seem to barely notice the customers. But in their defense, it’s not like the customers give them the time of day either. They don’t even bother to use complete sentences or, half the time, complete words.

      Speaking of which, how do you feel about ordering, e.g., “a double tall latte skim” versus “a small latte made with skim milk and an extra shot of espresso”? Last night I did the “double tall” thing for the first time and it felt weird – but probably only to me.

      • Joy says:

        I don’t do the whole “double latte” stuff. I don’t speaka the language!!

      • Laura says:

        I go into starbucks and deliberately trip over the order. “What is a medium? Tall? Grand? oh, sorry.. Grahn-DAY…? Look, I just want a medium Chai with skim milk. Don’t put foam on it, and don’t heat it to nuclear.”

        I get so irritated that they want you to learn a new language to order a simple cup of tea or coffee. Even if it’s a complicated cup of coffee. It’s ridiculous that you have to spend your time in line rehearsing what you want to say, like you’re about to take center stage in a play. So I just order it like I’d order it anywhere else.

        And then they look at me cross-eyed when I don’t leave a tip.

        • SKL says:

          You mean people tip at Starbucks?

          • Laura says:

            ohhhh…. don’t get me started on the tipping thing. Haven’t you ever seen the tip jar at starbucks? They’re everywhere! I’ve seen them at subway, dunkin donuts (you want a tip. for getting a donut off the shelf and putting it in a bag. really?), and plenty of little coffee shops. It amazes me.

  3. starlaschat says:

    I like living in a small town too, it’s really nice to know and recognize the people in our town. Ive never noticed the change thing before. But now that you mention it your right things have “changed” lol pardon the pun. It’s interesting to see a generational shift I was just thinking about that the other day.

  4. Nikki says:

    I lose coins all the time because of your exact complaint! Coins should come first, then dollar bills, and finally your receipt. The thing is, they don’t care. All they care about is the next customer and their next break. I am very rarely counted back my money the way we are all taught. Like SKL said, the machine tells them what to grab and they just give it you! I bet more times than not, if you asked them to count it back for you they’d look at you like you were crazy! And they wouldn’t do it properly. People are lazy these days, and it’ll get worse because technology allows them to be lazy.

  5. LVISS says:


  6. Sue says:

    I don’t know why it’s that way, but I think part of it is that youth aren’t taught how to make change. I never learned how to count change back until I worked at the grocery store at 16. Sure, we learned money starting in elementary, but not to count change like that and I think that’s sad b/c it’s an essential skill!

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