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Eric Bergeson

Change in New Zealand

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New Zealand has nearly eradicated change. By change, I mean the stuff that jingles in your pocket when you come home from town, rattles in the drier, piles up on the dresser, ends up in a tupperware which one lugs to the bank every two years.

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The ever-practical Kiwis are always tweaking their system, right down to their pocket change.

They got rid of the 1-cent and 2-cent coins during my last trip there in 1987. All prices were rounded up or down to the nearest nickel.

Then in 2006, the Kiwi Reserve Bank got rid of the nickel as well. Stores rounded the total to the nearest dime, and it is up to each retailer to decide whether to round a price ending in .05 up or down.

New Zealand has a sales tax (GST) of 15 percent. However, the tax is folded into the price posted on the item.

Consequently, all prices end in round numbers and when you get to the till, that's what you pay. You can add things up in your head and get your bills ready.

Except you may not need the bills.

Why? Also in 2006, the New Zealand government decided to get rid of the $1 and $2 bills. The smallest bill is now a $5.

To make up for the bills, they minted $1 and $2 coins of a new size, color and thickness. Except, you probably won't need those, either. About the same time the New Zealand government simplified its coinage, free enterprise simplified things even more.

Credit and debit cards are used everywhere in New Zealand, and you never have to sign the receipt. They just hand you the type pad. You type in your PIN number, press enter and away you go.

With no tipping expected in New Zealand restaurants, the total of $40 for a meal is the total. No tax (that you can see), no tip to add, no complications.

The results of this system didn't hit home until I arrived home and made a purchase of $8.29. After Minnesota sales tax of .06875 was added, the bill came to $8.86. I paid with a ten dollar bill.

What did I get in return? A crumpled one dollar bill, four pennies and a dime. As I took the handful from the clerk, it felt as clumsy as collecting candy from neighbor Helen at Halloween.

The whole pile now sits next to the washer, waiting for the day next year when I haul it all to the bank to get fresh crispy bills with zeroes at the end.

In New Zealand, the only time you deal with change is when you pay for parking or do laundry at the hotel.

In both cases, we dug through our luggage, we dug through the car seats, we pulled our pockets inside out--and we couldn't find a single coin, much less the $1 and $2 coins that were required. If you subtract parking and laundry, change is simply unnecessary in New Zealand.

No jingles in the pocket at the end of the day. No heavy bag of useless coins collected from the bottom of your backpack at the end of the trip.

If you've ever counted a till at the end of a day of retail sales, you know how much time the New Zealand system would save us.

Yet, every attempt made in the United States to simplify our coinage system has met with stiff resistance.

Call me a coin radical, but I want to change our system to reduce change.

Americans, including myself, love their quarter. It is a beautiful coin with a palpable sense of value and a good feel in the pocket. Finding one is a joy.

However the penny, nickel and dime have reached the point where if you see one on the ground you debate the value of bending down to pick it up, especially as you age and deteriorate.

Get rid of all three. Round everything to the nearest quarter.

Also, get rid of the one-dollar bill and create a good, popular one dollar coin.

As a model for the $1 coin, I would suggest the British pound, a coin with the relative thickness of an Oreo cookie. When you have a pound in your pocket, it feels like something with true worth.

Adoption of a sensible coinage system would save billions of dollars and tons of hassle.

However, Americans are too traditional to do something so sensible. Just as they rejected the easy-to-use metric system, they will reject anything which inhibits their right to haul around bushels of their beloved penny.

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