Sunday, August 13, 2006

Money, money, money . . .


It's possible I may have set a record for not posting in a really long time. If so, cool - I have just set a record with no effort on my part whatsoever; if not, who the hell cares about fame and fortune, anyway?

In the meantime, I am enduring that periodic unrest that comes from major Reserve Bank policy decisions. Yes, they have, once again, redesigned our currency.

This is not the first time. Long before I was born, they made the momentous decision to go from shillings and pence to a decimal currency. It was a truly tremendous decision, and I'm sure much retail carnage ensued, but I am forever grateful, as my maths is lousy. Counting change in base twelve? No thanks.

When I was a child, (no, I don't remember the exact date,) there was another major change. Our copper one and two cent pieces were removed from circulation. This was a tragedy. It signalled the disappearance of one and two cent lollies from the sweet selection at dairies the nation over. (For those of you who don't speak kiwi, a dairy is your local shop with milk, bread, potato chips, ice creams and chocolate. All those essential things for day-to-day living, and toilet paper, too.)

Suddenly, you could get lollies that were two for five cents - three if you were lucky. But young children with sugar habits across the country found it hard to adjust to the harsh reality of lost currency and rising manufacturing costs that spurred the decision, and it was brutal. Casualties are still found periodically down the back of the chair, in the bottom of drawers, and even in that jacket you haven't worn in years.

Then it was one and two dollar notes. These became coins, forever added to the weight of your change purse.

But this was before my time, so to speak - I hadn't yet ventured into the scary world of retail. That waited until I was 16. I was behind the counter when the next Big Change occurred - paper notes were replaced with plastic.

The reasons for this were listed by the Reserve Bank - cheaper to make, more durable, harder to forge. The new notes were bright and colourful - and they felt funny, too. Again, there was some resistance, as people adjusted to the idea that you could put your money through the wash and it would still survive. If you dared to iron thouse jeans, however, kiss your $20 goodbye. Fortunately for most guys not living with their mothers, they don't know how to work an iron, anyway.

And a few forlorn survivors still linger, after all this time. Somebody actually gave me a paper $20 just last week. It's not really legal tender anymore, but it's bankable, so who cares.

But this time it's more. Our humble five cent piece has just gone the way of the dodo, and the moa. Appropriate, as one side has a picture of the tuatara, NZ's very own still-living dinosaur. I just hope it's not an omen for this endangered species.

But what does this mean? No more five cent lollies, too?

The customers are suspicious. Never mind that previously, half of them would leave that five cents change sitting on the counter, or dump it straight in the charity jar (forget the local preschool, my workplace has the emergency chocolate fund, for those days when you really want to lep the counter and rip the head off that annoying customer). No, they are certain that we are making a fortune off that extra cash when we round from 95 cents to a dollar.

I could soon be rich.

Not.

Never mind that if the purchase is 94 cents, we round down. Electronic purchases are exact, as always. One customer asked me to explain the basis for our 'arbitrary' rounding policy. Apparently she never encountered simple decimal rounding in the course of her education. I'm sure I had by the time I was eight. I felt like suggesting she buy a calculator, but due to her apparent stinginess, gave it up as a waste of breath.

To add to the confusion, the other 'small change' has undergone a facelift. The copper has reappeared, as a 10 cent piece. They're bright and shiny, but that won't last long. Probably only until they get their first trip through the digestive system of a small child, that rite of passage all small copper coins must eventually undertake. It occurs to me now that a whole generation has missed out on this formative experience, and was likely forced to resort to swallowing small parts of plastic toys, instead.

The twenty cent piece is tiny, and the fifty only slightly larger. It's necessary for people to get out their reading glasses to check what they're handing over. The whole lot resembles play money, and a pocketful of change is not what it used to be. For that comfortably heavy feeling, you need a lot more cash.

And the old currency has until November to go out of circulation. Joy. Three months of trying to deal with two lots of currency, one of which can only go one way.

In the more amusing side of things, I sold an old man a permanent marker the day after the new coins arrived. He told me it was so he could mark his coins, and therefore tell what they were - his eyesight wasn't up to the task. As he was eighty if he was a day, I decided not to point out that defacing the currency was illegal.

What a rebel.