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Thu, May 23

Friday Catchall: The lost art of counting back change

The Friday Catchall:

• CHANGE — Back in the day, cashiers had to know the prices of all their store’s products. They would run a tally – often in their heads – and tell you what the damage was when checking out. When it came time to pay, they would count back your change.

Today we have a more fast-paced, technology-dependent world. Some would say the register saves us time at checkout. The scanners tell us (and the cashier) the prices. Face it, the scanner is a computer.

When done, the cashier of the store — which can be anything from a grocery or convenience store to a retail outlet of any kind — hits a button and they are told by the computer how much change to give back. Some places have a change machine that spits out the coins you are to receive back. The cashier never has to touch them; you merely gather them up from the cup.

The cashier’s job is simply to create a total and dispense the difference. Neither cashier nor customer has to think much (of course, unless the scanner does not recognize your item or the code or scanner does not work or brings up the wrong — often “sale” — price).

Consequently, many of the cashiers don’t know how to count back change.

I state “consequently” (meaning of consequences or end result) because when the power goes out or if the machines are “down,” good luck getting what you need or deserve back.

However, I am one of those people who uses change — taking it to the limit (not to ornery; no, I just like to use what I have, instead of dropping my pennies into a jug at home).

Once recently the total was $12.27 and I had bills and two pennies in my pocket. I handed the cashier a $10 bill, three ones and the two pennies. (I felt like I had hit the lottery — “I get to finally use these two pennies!” I said to myself.) Change due: three quarters, which I would rather carry, as opposed to the original two pennies plus the expected 73 cents change (total: 75 cents in varying coins — at least two quarters, two dimes, and five pennies).

The cashier, in this case, first said I gave him/her (this is not a gender- or age-specific problem) too much money, handing me back the two pennies. I pushed them toward the cashier again, and he/she just stared at me.

To get him/her out of this (or maybe myself), I explained they should enter $13.02 as the “cash tendered.” They did, and it worked.

The logic of it was lost on the cashier, who likely has never been taught how to count back change.

Other instances have come during a power failure ("We cannot accept credit cards, only cash"; they couldn't count change either.) and when their computers were down (I received $6.50 in change on a purchase of $4.45 when I gave the clerk $10.50). I imagine you have experienced similar situations.

The point is, we can’t always rely on technology. Our brains rot when we have machines to do our thinking for us. And, the basic, simple skills of math, money, balancing a checkbook, and staying on budget must be taught by parents and schools.

Think of the smartphone that does not work when needed. What would you do? Payphones are a rarity nowadays.

Counting back change is not at that extreme; however, the zombie stare should not be the response when asked to accept two pennies.

Think about it.

• QUOTE — “Your life is a result of the choices you make. If you don’t like your life it is time to start making better choices.” — unknown

• PICK(S) OF THE WEEK — (Proving there’s always something good to do in the Prescott area that’s cheap or free): The Rocky Horror Picture Show - A Musical, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Elks Theatre, 117 E. Gurley St. 928-777-1370; … or a Rocky Horror Midnight Showing, at 11:30 p.m. Saturday at The Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St. Live or movie, it’s a lot of fun!

Follow Tim Wiederaenders on Twitter @TWieds_editor. Reach him at 928-445-3333, ext. 2032, or

Note - I received a few emails from people wanting an example of counting back change. It goes like this: if the total came to $4.56, and you were given a 10-dollar bill, you would start with the pennies and go up to $10. You would need four cents to bring it to 60, and then forty cents to bring it to a dollar, and then five dollars to bring it up to $10. It requires counting, and adding (simple math). Start with the total owed and count, adding along the way.


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