The line at the counter of a Twin Cities-area doughnut shop was half a dozen customers deep. Customer No. 1 wanted an assortment of two dozen doughnuts and was paying in cash.
The total, as totals often do, failed to land on the dollar. The customer would either have to fish some coins out of his pocket or receive them in change.
Billions of coins are minted each year in the United States, but at that moment the customer did not possess any of them. And, as the young cashier explained with a slightly apprehensive look, neither did the doughnut shop.
No. 1 pondered this for a moment and decided to absorb the discrepancy, though he added: "Tell your boss to go to the bank."
The cashier courteously did not say so, but sending her boss on such a mission might not have helped much. There are not enough coins going around in America, even though there are enough to go around. It started with the pandemic, but the imbalance persists.
"Many have referred to this as a shortage," writes the U.S. Coin Task Force, which was created last year to address the problem, "however it is not. There is approximately $48.5 billion in coin already in circulation, much of which is sitting dormant inside America's 128 million households."
Got that? Start looking in piggy banks and drawers or even under the couch cushions, consumers, and get that money moving. By the way, that's literally the thrust of the task force hashtag — #getcoinmoving.
If you don't want to spend what you find, at least exchange some of it at a bank or machine, though there may be fees involved.
Alternately, you could avoid cash altogether and instead use a credit card or smartphone technology for even small transactions, though there are typically fees involved for merchants that may work their way into prices.
You see, in some subtle or non-subtle way, you're gonna pay for this.
Back at the doughnut shop, Customer No. 2 stepped up. He wanted one maple glazed and one double chocolate, for $2.55. He had in his pocket nothing that jingled and, in his hand, three dollar bills. He had observed the transaction ahead of him and simply said: "Don't worry about it."
That trouble will belong to whoever reconciles the books.