If you had a dollar for every $1 coin stored away in government vaults – Sacajawea, Susan B. Anthony, the presidential series, you name it — you’d have tons upon tons of money… however much 1.4 billion $1 coins weigh.
This thought surfaces along with the renewal of the debate about whether the United States should drop the $1 bill and shift completely to the $1 coin. Americans have long overwhelmingly preferred the bills; all those coins are in storage because there’s minimal demand for them. As recently as 2006, a Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans oppose replacing $1 bills with $1 coins. Even when respondents were told that doing away with the greenback could save $500 million a year, more than two-thirds stuck by the bill.
The coins are too heavy and too much like quarters, are among common complaints. Less measurable is the simple fact that we’ve become attached to dollar bills, the tattered ones as well as the crisp ones. And as long as those are in circulation, the coins don’t have a chance.
Canadians had a similar attitude a generation ago. They, too, resisted the switch from paper dollars to their $1 coin — nicknamed the Loonie because it bears the image of a loon. When the dollar bills were removed from circulation, Canadians not only got used to the Loonie, they welcomed it. In fact. the Loonie became so popular that Canada also mints a $2 coin — the Toonie.
Canada’s experience can be instructive, except perhaps for those Americans who refuse to follow any other nation’s lead. Maybe we ought to consider the switch for another reason: money. Over 30 years, the change could save $4.4 billion. That’s because although the bills are cheaper to produce, they last only four or five years; it’s not unusual for coins to last 30 years or longer. The projected savings assume that dollar bills are completely removed from circulation.
In a country as deep in debt as ours is, one might think that the long-term savings would be enough of a reason to make the change. But then, if saving money dictated such decisions, we’d also do away with the penny, which costs a little over 2 cents to mint, and the nickel, which costs about 11 cents.
As for switching from dollar bills to dollar coins, that might make all kinds of sense, from a strictly dollars and cents perspective. But Americans are likely to regard the coins as worthless… until consumers can no longer get their hands on the bills.