Mary Ann Sorrentino's 2 Cents Worth

Opinions, Observations and Musings

Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
RI or FL depending on season, USA
June 19
Mary Ann is a columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel, the Providence Phoenix and other newspapers and has appeared on She was an Associated Press Award-winning radio talk host for 13 years and the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of RI 1977-1987. Her most recent book, ABORTION - The A Word (Gadd Books) is available on line and in major bookstores.


APRIL 19, 2010 2:37PM

Count Your Change Because They Can't Count

Rate: 9 Flag






 I have no idea who came up with the so-called "new math" that seeped into our educational system several decades ago, but it has failed miserably if the young people struggling to give us the correct change at the local sandwich shop, drugstore  or supermarket  are any example of its usefulness.

As many of you already know, the drill goes something like this: 


* You go into a store and pick up what you need


* You walk to the check out point


* The clerk rings up your order and announces a total which is usually not a round number (Let's use $5.28 as an example.)


*  You hand the clerk a twenty dollar bill AND THREE PENNIES


* The under-the-age-of-twenty clerk's face contorts in terror as s/he stares at the paper currency and those pesky three pennies


* S/he stares blankly at the LED display on the cash register


* S/he stares imploringly at you and tries to hand back the pennies


* The ambulance sirens sound in the distance


* EMT's in white coats gently lead the clerk to the ambulance


* Someone in the store over the age of fifty comes to the register and gives you your change


* You leave the store mumbling in disbelief -- and recounting your change, just in case...

  The "deer in the headlights" phenomenon that often accompanies making change is something I wager all of you have experienced. Recently, however, I observed a new and creative (albeit stupid) spin on this which I thought ought to be shared.

  I was leaving the sandwich shop. My bill was $3.51, so I handed the cashier a ten dollar bill and a penny saying, "I'd be grateful if you could give me two quarters."

  (In my world, I couldn't have given her any more help unless I walked around the counter and made the change for her.)

  Ms  Cashier punched something into the register and then handed me $8.

  I looked at the change, then at her, and-- as soon as my voice returned-- I said, "Gee, I gave you the penny so I could get the two quarters I needed."

  "That's ok," she replied, "I'll just take the two quarters out of the "tip jar" (next to the register) and put them in the drawer."

  Suddenly I'm doubting my own math skills: so in my head I am recalculating to be sure that 10.01 minus 3.51 entitles me to $6.50 change and NOT $8. Then I am wondering who gave this kid permission to put her hands in the "tip jar" (shared by all the counter help) to cover up her math-skills-impairment?

  None of this even begins to address the shape the register drawer is going to be in at the end of the day (to say nothing of the tips) or the fact that I would still end up with the incorrect change.

  So I tried to explain calmly, "I gave you the penny because I wanted 2 quarters. I don't want anyone in here to lose tips over this. You gave me too much change anyway. So I am now going to hand you back $2, ask you for the 2 quarters I wanted in the first place and then I am going to leave the store while you figure this all out."

  The "deer in the headlights" look started to take form on her face again as she handed me two quarters and took the 2 singles I was handing her.

 I slowly put the quarters in my wallet, took my sandwich, and quietly left the store.

I thought I heard ambulance sirens in the distance as I drove out of the parking lot, but I can't be sure.



Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Don't blame new math - it has nothing to do with change making. Kids are taught all about money, estimating and number sense. (I am a retired principal - you'd be amazed at the math being taught and learned.) Here's the problem - kids don't have to estimate anymore since the register tells them what to do. Remember how we use to know lots of phone numbers before speed dial came along? If you don't use it - you lose it.
I've found it's just easier on my blood pressure to give them the exact amount, or get change from the machine at the laundromat!
I'm 42, and didn't learn the art of counting back change until I was in my 20's, and then, only because my Mom taught me. Maybe I was the victim of "new math."
I learned how to make change because I worked at McDonalds for one month (it was not my favorite gig) when I was a teenager -- before there were computers that told you how much change to give. I agree with Trish that computers are the reason most young people don't know how to "make change."
Government education.
Thanks for the reads and rates...Actually you are right - it is computers and calculators (that they take into exams) that have been more or a handicap than a help...I agree. Thanks for adding that important thought...Good to know so many of you understand this whole experience!
Oh yeah! This happens all the time. And almost all "cashiers" use cash registers that all they have to do is enter in the amount "tendered" and it calculates the change. They just can't count it back. I grew up in the new math but I'm 58. My grandparents taught me to make change working at their A&W restaurant when I was about 10 or 11. Even worse though, is the notion that the owner/manager has not trained the staff well enough and had them practice this "skill". No one has ever taught these cashiers to work "backwards". They still have to know to subtract or zero out that penny though.
I had a similar experience at the local fish store. I handed the teenaged clerk a twenty-dollar bill and he gave me the wrong change. I counted off the correct change and he argued with me. I gave up and left the store. Every time I go in there now, I sort of dread dealing with that kid again. His father owns the place and I don't have the heart to tell him that his son can't count.
What's really scary is that most of these people who can't count also have credit cards-- do you think they have any idea what a 22.9% APR is??
I just give them a piece of plastic. No change. :)
Even without those pesky pennies, kids can't make change. Our team ran a food booth at this weekend's competition. All items were in multiples of 25 cents. They STILL couldn't figure out the change!