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Exact change

UnknownI hate to sound like an old crotchety woman but WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY??? Let me start by saying that back in the day, I could ring a pretty efficient register. I could key in items, add tax, note which items were tax free, and here’s the best part; I could figure out how much change the customer was due and count it back to them properly and politely. There were no computerized cash registers to tell us ringers how much money to return and because of that, we could actually figure it out in our heads, make sense of it and count it back to the paying party.

Let’s contrast this with today. Last week I was at a certain Christian hobby store and my bill came to $21.52. I was holding a twenty dollar bill and a five dollar bill. I hadn’t yet handed them to the cashier. She, however, took it upon herself to ring in $25.00. But as I continued to dig around in my wallet, I found a single and .52 cents. I said, “Here you go,” and handed the young lady $26.52. The look on her face was sheer panic. She began to stutter and I feared she might shortly hyper-ventilate.

“Are you okay?” I inquired with serious concern. “I…I… I…already rang it in,” she said.
“Well, that’s okay,” I spoke as if I were coaxing a would-be jumper from a very high ledge. “You just need to give me a five dollar bill and we’re good to go.” Unfortunately, this continued to baffle my young friend. All color had drained from her countenance. “I…can’t do that,” she stammered. “I need to give you the change from the $25 I rang in.”

I thought about explaining that I didn’t really want four dollars and .48 cents shuffling about in my wallet, and that I had actually simplified the equation by supplying her with the extra $1.52. But since there was a long line of religious crafters behind me, I chose to simply give her the $25 dollars and move on with my life. After all, WWJD?

But this kind of event is occurring more and more frequently. Yesterday I stopped in one of my favorite bath stores. I ended up spending $32.25. I happen to have been carrying a $100 bill that I wanted to change into something smaller, so I paid with the bill and a shiny new quarter. Once again, panic ensued. The young gal behind the counter stood there stunned, looking at me as if I had handed her Rubles or Euros or Yen. After what felt like an inordinate amount of time she called for a manager to check the validity of my hundred and asked what she should do with the extra quarter I’d supplied. Luckily the manager, a ripe 30 something, keyed in the precise amount and the register responded that the customer was due the exact sum of $68. The sales girl then grabbed some cash from the drawer in a haphazard manner and dumped a wad of cash into my palm.

Gone are the days of counting back change to a customer so that she knows she is, in fact, receiving the correct amount of cash return. But seriously, how do you know you are getting the appropriate amount of change? I mean, computers do make errors, as do impulsive youth. I carefully counted back my change in front of the young woman, hoping that perhaps I could teach her by example a more appropriate way of delivering change to a paying consumer. She merely looked at me with annoyance for delaying the other customers behind me in line.

Look, I have no problem with the fact that all salespeople appear to be under the age of 15. Likewise, I’m not one of those people who walks down a hospital corridor wondering why all the doctors barely look old enough to drive. I appreciate that we are a young, vital society and that the youth are the future of our great nation. But there really is a need for young people to be able to do basic arithmetic in their heads and if we are to be a capitalist society, people need to understand how to count money, make change and respect the purchasing process.

There, I’ve said it. Now I’m going to sit in my rocker, crank up the phonograph and enjoy turning on and off the lights with my Clapper.

About gettrich

Debra Rich Gettleman is a professional actor, playwright and journalist living in Oklahoma City with her husband Mark and two amazing boys, Levi and Eli.

4 responses to “Exact change

  1. Glen Netzel ⋅

    Love and agree with this piece, but your “Christian Hobby Store” example makes no sense. If the bill was $21.52, and you actually found the $1.52 in your wallet, why didn’t you just hand the cashier the twenty and the $1.52 and call it a day? Why did you also give her the five dollar bill to make it $26.52 – the twenty, the five and the $1.52? No wonder she was confused.

    By the way, you can always tell the true age of the cashier by how they give you the change back. Anyone under the age of 30 just piles the coins on top of the cash and just gives you everything at once without counting. Anyone over the age of 45 gives you the change first, and then counts the bills back in your hand, the way it should be done. Anyone between those two ages – it’s a crapshoot.


  2. Jeff Nowak ⋅

    May I suggest “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way” by Amanda Ripley.


  3. Nora Perlmutter ⋅

    Loved your reflection on the disturbing lack of math skills exhibited by today’s young people. My husband is forever bemoaning this deficiency. Of course, the two of you are out of my league. I can’t even remember which president is on what bill!


  4. Kathy ⋅

    As a math teacher and mother, I’m right there with you? Too many people just have no number sense anymore! I was shopping for a skirt recently and it was marked 30% off. The original price was $70 and the sales clerk’s computer was not working. So, she used a calculator and multiplied .3 times 70 and told me that I owed $21 (before tax). Now, I saw this as a teachable moment and I had to explain that she just gave me 70% off the price of the skirt. Like your story, panic and mathematical fear was on her “what are you talking about” expression. I couldn’t convince her that I was right, so I got a great bargain on my skirt!


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