Counting Change


Why do cashiers no longer count change? Whether I’m grocery shopping, buying books, toys, or clothes, no matter if I pay with fives, tens, twenties, fifties or even hundreds, cashiers either do not count the change at all, or they don’t know how to count it correctly.

When I was a kid I worked in a craft booth at a summer camp. We dealt mostly with nickels, dimes and quarters, and the clientele was kids. That is where I first learned to count change. My mother taught me to count from the price upward to the amount given. So if the charge was thirty-five cents, and the customer gave me a dollar, I’d say, “Thirty-five out of one dollar." Then give the change as I counted. “Thirty-five, forty,” giving a nickel, “fifty,” handing over a dime, “seventy-five” one quarter, “and a dollar,” handing over the final quarter.

It’s a good system. First of all, it is a mistake catcher. The cashier counts a second time making sure no bills have stuck together or that she miscounted. Secondly, it reassures the customer that the cashier is paying attention, and they are receiving the correct change. Lastly, if the electricity goes out, or, like at the summer camp, their is no cash register, or if something is inputted incorrectly, the cashier can still function.

I bought a few toys for Christmas the other day. The cashier was obviously new, perhaps even just out of training. She mis-entered the money amount I gave her and had no electronic tally telling her what change to give me. She called over a seasoned cashier, maybe even a manager. Neither of them knew what to do, despite the fact that they had the sale total and my money sitting in the cashier’s hand. “I can’t do this without a calculator,” the experienced employee said.

“Good gravy, you’ve got to be kidding!” Okay, I didn’t say that. I did show them how to count change. The new girl looked bewildered, and the pro looked highly perturbed.

This shouldn’t happen. Part of every cashier’s training should be how to count change. All work shouldn’t come to a standstill, just because the wrong button was accidentally pushed.

At least the above cashier knew she should count the change. I can’t even count the times I’ve been handed a pile of bills. Sometimes I’m told how much the pile should contain, sometimes not. Neither is the way to handle a customer’s money.

When buying a thirty-dollar gift certificate the other day, I handed the cashier a hundred-dollar bill. She swiped it with her pen, called the manager to check the swipe to make sure I wasn’t trying to cheat them with a counterfeit, put it in the register, then handed me some bills, and said, “Seventy dollars is your change."

She didn’t even count the money to me, just put a stack of bills in my hand. If I had paid a one-dollar purchase with a five, she should have counted the four bills, but to hand over seventy dollars, which to me is a good deal of money, without counting it is inexcusable.

But even that is better than the woman at the grocery store who gave me change from my two hundred dollars without a word of what she handed me. “Thanks, come again."

Why do managers stand for it? Either cashier could have handed me an extra bill. Mistakes happen. Isn’t it better to take a few seconds to reassure the customer and the cashier that the exchange of money is correct?

Some cashiers do count the money they hand over, especially when I request it. However, in all the transactions I’ve done, I’ll be conservative and say, this year, I’ve only had one person count my change correctly.

Counting the money itself isn’t enough. It should be linked with the purchase. “Sixteen thirty-six out of twenty." Put the change in the person’s hand. “Seventeen,” then the bills, “eighteen, nineteen, and twenty." It isn’t hard, it isn’t even really math, just counting. It shows a respect for the customer, the money itself, and the business. No one loses when cashiers take the time to count change correctly, so why don’t businesses insist upon it, why don’t cashiers take the initiative and do it, and why do we as customers stand for it?

December 17, 2007