Weighing time, value of picking up penny

I spot an open seat at my favorite coffee shop and claim it. As I am arranging myself and my stuff at the table, I glance down and notice a lone penny on the floor next to my foot. My first thought is to pick it up. My second thought is, “Why?”

At one time I wouldn’t have hesitated. Back in the day, I would dig between the cushions of the couch for change. Heck, with enough pennies a kid might collect enough to score at the candy counter. In his teenage years, he might scrape together a buck or so for a gallon of gas. Pennies were nothing to ignore back then. Ah, but times change small change.

A website, coinnews.net, has a calculator that uses the most current Consumer Price Index data to compare what the price of something in 1913 would be in 2017 dollars. I discovered that something costing one penny in 1913 would cost 25 cents today. Based on the math skills I acquired as an English major, I figured that is a whole bunch of inflation. I also figured that if it were a quarter on the floor at the coffee shop, I would snatch it up without a second thought.

On a different website dealing with money a chap argues that only in England do they have a coin called a “penny.” This rather pedantic fellow insists that here in America our tiny copper coin should be referred to as “one cent.” (That same guy would probably correct me that our one cent piece is no longer made of copper.)

In fact, I found entire forums devoted to the penny vs. cent argument. Well, as a former English teacher I can understand being a stickler for precision, but I also know that the word “penny” is synonymous with “one cent” in most peoples’ minds, and all the arguments in the world won’t change that. To me, trying to change American minds on the subject simply doesn’t make much sense.

As I was sitting there with the small copper-colored unit of currency lying by my foot, I was reminded of another argument, this one involving Bill Gates. It is said that Mr. Gates, the richest man in the world, would lose money if he stopped to pick up a one hundred dollar bill. This argument assumes that the few seconds it would take for him to stop, reach down and pick up the C-note (note: this is not currency’s technical name) would be a poor investment when you consider that with a net worth of $72 billion, his time is worth $114.16 per second.

However, when asked Gates told BusinessInsider.com that, yes, he would stop to pick up a stray Benjamin lying on the street. This is a good example of how economic decisions aren’t always based entirely on economics.

When I think of the word Penny as a name, I think of Penny on The Big Bang Theory and Penny, the little girl with actual pennies for eyes in the recurring animated feature on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I also think of the Beatles’ song Penny Lane which is a real street in Liverpool which is in England where they use pennies for currency.

But mostly I think of Penny the keyboard player in an old rock band I was a member of back in the 1970s. She was a great musician and bandmate who was worth her weight in gold.

Eventually I finish my coffee. I collect my stuff, push my chair back from the table and just before I stand up, I reach down and pick up the penny. It takes about three seconds. Based on my calculations, I didn’t lose that much money.