JAY TALKING

Coins are useless (unless you are a certain Sim Lim shop owner)

Unlike peanuts, coins are useless in this credit-card era and really serve only to annoy people

There is a bowl in my flat just by the front door that I use as a handy container for my loose change. I've had it for years. I hate it so much.

You see, when I first put it by the door, I had imagined that it would serve as a stylish ceramic host to a bustling coin exchange. New coins would be deposited every day just as older coins were withdrawn - sort of like the system running smoothly for the tupperware of peanuts in the living room.

(Ok, to be honest, I imagined it would be slightly less active than the peanut tupperware. Turnover is so high in that container there are some days the cover doesn't make it on.)

But of course, those of you with any sort of experience with coin bowls are laughing at my naivety. You already know that no coin bucket has ever enjoyed much activity. It's more of a coin blackhole than an exchange.

Unlike in the fantasy world in my head, in reality there just aren't a lot of avenues for coin deployment at home.

In my mind, I would grab a handful of coins whenever I needed to get something quickly from the little provision shop downstairs. In reality, however, I hardly make it home in time to catch the provision shop still open and even when I do, it doesn't always work out that well.

An all-too-typical scenario goes like this: I would pick out $1.60 worth of stuff thinking this would be a wonderful opportunity to offload 16 10-cent coins. Yet, when it is time to pay, there would be a line of people giving me the stink eye for slowly sorting out my handful of loose change. I would then panic and just hand over two $1 coins, only to receive four 10-cent coins in return.

In case you were not paying attention to my engaging tale of coin math, the summary is that I go out with the intention of spending 16 coins but end up gaining two.

The other fantasy scenario I had in my head was that I would be able to give the McDonald's or Pizza Hut delivery guy exact change. This time, there would be no line pressure. I would have an hour to prepare for his impending arrival and could count the required small change.

Yet in reality, what would happen is that I would dutifully count my small change and realise I did not have enough cash to make up the non-coin part of the transaction.

Of course, I could count the entire $24.30 worth, but I imagined an awkward situation where I'm sitting with the delivery guy on the floor re-counting a bundle of coins. So I end up paying with a credit card, leaving Mount Shilling completely unmolested.

I realise this might be mainly a male problem. Many women I know successfully carry around large repositories of coins in their giant purses but I'm sure they aren't happy about it either.

That is why I was intrigued by the sudden spate of people in Singapore paying one another large sums in coins.

First, there was the Mobile Air owner at Sim Lim Square who gave a woman her $1,010 refund in coins. Then a man upped the ante when he dropped a load of fishy-smelling coins on a car dealership floor by way of fulfilling a $19,000 court-ordered payment.

I'll admit that my first thought was: "Huh, so some people have a larger coin mountain than me."

Then my fifth thought was: "Who took the time to count all that?" (Thoughts two to four were related to peanuts and therefore not material to today's discussion.)

But I guess the main question I want to ask today is: Why do we still need coins?

At a time when inflation has rendered small denominations like five cents and 10 cents somewhat meaningless and credit card use is rampant, the purpose coins serve now is to annoy people and contaminate wishing fountains.

Now, I'm not proposing scraping small denominations altogether. I realise that might impose significant inflationary pressure while simultaneously reducing charitable giving towards causes that rely on kids with tins and stickers standing around Orchard Road.

Maybe we can get rid of the smallest few denominations and then introduce notes for the rest.

The money would be easier to carry around, everyone would have smaller wallets and we would essentially wipe out the practice of people making court- ordered payments in coins.

Also, think about all the metal raw material we would be saving, which we can deploy towards other better uses, like making big iPhones. I could also finally retire my coin bowl.

There would be the bonus upside for families, who would now be able to reduce the minimum amount in a Chinese New Year hongbao to just 50 cents. (It used to be a sort of faux pas to hand over a red packet that jiggled with coins.) Why do children need to get so much money anyway? It's not like they earned it.

So it's agreed then. Coins are useless. There is literally no drawback to getting rid of them. All we need to figure out now is what our smallest denomination note should be.

Should it be 20 cents or 50 cents? It's not a hard choice. To decide, why don't we just flip a... oh.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg