I think grocery store self-check stands are both a blessing and a curse. If the stands with human cashiers are packed to the gills with shoppers who are loaded up with enough groceries to, say, sustain a family of four through a nuclear winter, they can be the greatest thing since sliced bread. On the other hand, they’re not so hot when the self-check stand in front of you is occupied by someone with 57 varieties of fresh fruits & vegetables in their cart, and they can’t figure out how to find the produce codes for the arugula and bok choy, never mind the cucumbers and tomatoes.
I tell you this because, on a recent trip to my local Albertsons grocery store to pick up a loaf of fresh-baked bread for dinner, I decided to take advantage of a rare short line at one of the traditional check stands occupied by a real human grocery store clerk. In fact, for once in my life the grocery store gods seemed to be genuinely smiling on me because the only person ahead of me in line was a nice lady who was watching the cashier run the last three or four items of her modest order across the scanner.
With the last item accounted for, the clerk cheerfully rang up the final total: $43.32. That’s right, $43.32.
Now, although she didn’t do it, I suppose the nice lady could have whipped out her debit or credit card, swiped it through the machine, pushed “accept,” and then wrote her signature on the electronic pad. It’s easy and convenient; a simple series of tasks that usually takes about 15 seconds. Heck, I bet a lot of you out there can do it in less than ten; I know I can.
The nice lady could have also given two twenties and a fiver to the cashier, who would have then returned $1.68 in change — but she didn’t do that either.
Then again, although it’s rather archaic, the nice lady could have also written a check, but she didn’t. Nope.
Instead, here’s how the nice lady decided to pay her bill: she opened up her over-sized purse and pulled out a large Ziploc bag full of loose change. Thankfully, the bag wasn’t full of obsolete pennies. From what I could tell, the change was made up entirely of quarters but, even so, it still takes 174 of them to pay a $43.32 bill.
So I got to wait. And wait. Then I got to wait some more when the cashier called the manager over to take all the loose change away to wherever loose change goes when it isn’t sitting in a Ziploc bag inside the nice lady’s purse.
I wanted to tell the nice lady that there was a Coinstar machine in the store that would have allowed her to quickly convert all of her quarters into a receipt that she could have redeemed at the check stand when paying for her groceries, but I bit my tongue. In fact, if she had thought to convert the change to an Albertsons gift card she could have even avoided the 9.8 percent fee Coinstar normally charges for its service. That’s right; Coinstar waives the fee if you choose to donate the money to charity or change your coins into an eCertificate or gift card from more than two dozen companies including Lowe’s, Starbucks, Amazon, and even iTunes.
Even so, I think the 9.8 percent fee is more than reasonable for people looking to convert large amounts of small change into easily spendable bills. For example, last month my daughter Nina paid $1.98 to convert $20.21 worth of pennies, nickels, and dimes into paper currency. Considering the amount of time it would have taken to count that money up ourselves and then get it converted into a $20 bill at a bank, the $1.98 fee was a real bargain.
Then again, if you’re like the nice lady who was ahead of me in line, maybe you just enjoy carrying two pounds of quarters around whenever you go out. Well, either that or you have a boatload of dirty laundry that’s ready for a trip to the laundromat.
Photo Credit: jswieringa