Tuesday, June 26, 2007


It was a new penny, and under the sun its glittering caught my eyes. I picked it up and carefully put it in my pocket after I showed my father the shinning penny. I don't remember whether we were walking home or towards the subway, Pelham Parkway station (#4, 5 or 6 trains in the Bronx) to go somewhere. I only remembered the location near the park, two blocks from our apartment building when I saw my first American penny. It was February or March 1980. In the beginning, the refugee agency provided the rent for the apartment and a few hundred dollars for food and essential household items. Uncle Ping's wife gave my Mom one hundred dollars in cash as a welcome gift. With six of us in the family, we understood the money would not last long but it was a lot of money for our family as newly arrival refugees with only the clothes on our back. Intellectually I recognized there was little monetary value but I was so happy to pick up the shinning penny as if it was a gold coin. I even looked around to see if anyone would rush towards me and reclaimed the penny.

I remember my Mom used to buy subway tokens with the pennies she saved. The booth clerk made known his/her displeasure of having to count all the pennies (I think it was 50 cents for each token back in 1981) by throwing the token down the opening instead of pushing it thru. Mom would express in Vietnamese her feelings at the clerk for being rude before walking away.

My husband teases me about being careful with my money. I don't know whether my experience living in the refugee camp and my early days in America had made me a frugal person to this day. However, I am proud to say that I usually plan my purchases wisely. For example, though I had great respect for president Ronald Reagan, I was not willing to pay $35 for the recently published book, "The Reagan Diaries" edited by Douglas Brinkley. So I waited until the bookstore put the item on special members only discount at 40% ($14.00) off the listed price. Combining with the balance of $12.54 from a gift card I have earned from other purchases, I paid $8.46 for the book. What a deal!

I try to save money whether for personal purchases or for work. Like the time I waited for a coupon, buy 1 get 1 free, combined with a $20 off on purchases over $75. I saved a total of almost $50 for office supplies at my workplace.

While I was in Toronto, Canada, I saw an article about the Bank of Canada recommended that the Canadian government should eliminate the production of future pennies. A survey was conducted and reported that pennies are tossed into jars instead of being put back in circulation. Economists claimed that it is more hassle and costly to continue to produce pennies. In keeping with the average day's net pay, the study also suggested that a $5 coin be introduced. I learned that Canadians already have $2 coins which I had a bit difficulty trying to distinguish among the quarter, one dollar and two dollars coins.

I don't pick up pennies from the ground as often as I used to. I do believe, "A penny saved is a penny earned". Every cent saved will add up. However, I confess that I was one of those "penny-wise and pound-foolish", a person who is stingy about spending small amounts of money but spends recklessly on expensive items. (Like the time when we paid $600 for each ticket to the Superbowl XL.) However, having a good time at the Superbowl and experience once-in-a-lifetime championship game is priceless. For everything else I will save up my pennies.

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