Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coins, Money and Banks

Polish Złoty and Euro CoinsImage by schoschie via Flickr

Every day Mr. Geeky comes home from work and puts his keys and wallet in a little secretary that stands by the front door. He also puts any change from his pocket into a jar. When the jar got full, I suggested taking it to the bank. Not yet, he said. He needed to check for "valuable" old coins first. He added another jar. That jar got full. I made the suggestion again. Again he protested that there might be coins worth saving in there. Months passed. He didn't move on to a third jar. By this point, there wasn't room. Finally, I insisted, suggesting that the kids go through both jars and set aside anything they thought might be worth something--old coins, foreign coins, gold doubloons. So, they sat themselves at the dining room table. When they found their first old coin, they got pretty excited. Geeky Boy has books that hold old coins that he hasn't looked at in years. He got out those and filled a couple of slots. Geeky Girl remembered she had a state quarter set. She got the folder for that and began filling out that collection. All in all, they only found 10-15 older coins, but they're going through another container we found in hopes of finding more. They've been returning to the project periodically without my having to ask. Geeky Girl, especially, having not paid much attention to money before, exclaims when they find something unusual, something she's never seen before and listens patiently when Geeky Boy explains what the D and the S mean on the coins.

They filled a medium-sized bowl with coins suitable for taking to the bank. Yesterday, I filled a bag with about half of the coins and trudge to the bank on my way to the farmer's market. The bank lets you estimate how much money you have and if you're close, you win a prize. As I poured the money into the machine, I saw mostly pennies. So, I estimated about 7.50. When it was all said in done, I had slightly over $52 in coins. Mostly dimes, it turned out. I'm really bad at estimating, especially now that I rarely handle cash, much less coins. All my cash is digital, exchanged either via electronic transfer or similarly, using my debit card. I used to keep tips in a mayonnaise jar on my dresser, saving up for the deposit on an apartment in graduate school town. I know about how much was there, in part because I knew how much I made in tips, but also because I dealt with cash all the time.

I spent a little more than half of my new found cash at the farmer's market. Even though I always take cash there (most of the vendors don't take other forms of payment), I felt a little giddy at having such a large amount, created, it seemed, out of thin air.

Money now does seem to come out of thin air, arriving in bank accounts without anyone having to touch anything. I used to work at a bank during the summers. One summer I filed loan applications, the 3 attached parts left after everything was signed off. Another summer I filed the checks people deposited into their accounts, checks that were then sent to other banks to be filed and then placed in an envelope to be sent to the customer with her statement. Even then, the real transaction happened electronically, with a machine reading routing and account numbers, a human inputting the amounts, which were then coded onto the check to be read by another machine. For a brief time each summer, it was my job to count money coming in from the vendors at the annual summer festival. Bags of coins and dollar bills showed up at the bank and I stood behind the tellers, counting it all by hand, recording amounts on deposit slips, amounts that were later entered into computers while the money itself went into the vault, to be redistributed to banks or to customers withdrawing money.

Geeky Boy asked the other day if people still traded things. I said, sure, happens all the time. But money became more convenient at some point and then banks became a place to store that money and now, they are the place where most of our financial transactions actually occur. And they make their own money off of those transactions. What a weird little system we've created, making banks the middle man for our exchange of goods.
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