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July 26, 2007

Back When We Were All Savants

Filed under: Bill Bickel, comic strips, comics, humor, savants, Zits — Cidu Bill @ 1:47 am


Quick show of hands here… Who’s old enough to remember when “in our head” was the only way to figure out change when we were working behind the register?



  1. I’m old enough to remember when you didn’t do it “in your head”; you counted change back to the customer in their hand so they could see they weren’t being cheated: “That’s $14.85 please. (customer tenders $20.00 and clerk continues) From $20.00? $14.85,(dropping a nickel in the customer’s palm)$14.90, (dropping a dime)$15.00, (handing the customer a five-dollar bill), and five makes twenty. Thank you very much. Please come again.” Giving the coins first makes it easier for the customer to handle the change too, especially here in Canada where there are no bills under $5.00! Rocket science? Maybe. When did a human last walk on the Moon?

    Comment by Keith Jackson — July 26, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  2. Not only am I old enough to remember — I am old enough to have DONE it

    Comment by Nicole — July 26, 2007 @ 9:51 am

  3. I started out counting change by hand, and the dirty little secret is the method described in #1 wasn’t to reassure the customer; it was a mechanical way of counting change that avoiding doing 4 digit subtractions in your head.

    You add coins to make get up to the next “round” amount: pennies to the next nickel, nickel and dimes to the next quarter; quarters to the next dollar, dollars to the next $5, etc. This involves at most a two digit addition.

    If the customer had asked me exactly how much change I had just given them, I’d have had no idea.

    The inability to make change is commonly pitched as “kids are so stupid these days” but it’s really that they’ve never been taught the way to count change by hand.

    Comment by Alan Hamilton — July 26, 2007 @ 10:10 am

  4. Not only is it because “they’ve never been taught.” Having the change displayed on the screen helps the store avoid cash drawer shortages. If the clerk can’t count out $5.15 if that’s the figure on the screen, he won’t last long. So there is a pragmatic reason for the store not to want the clerk to “do it in his head.”

    Comment by Its justme — July 26, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  5. Clerks today get confused when I give $11.32 for a $6.32 purchase, or when I give $6.07 for a $5.32 purchase.

    Comment by William Lynes — July 26, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  6. William, I’ve seen the same thing. I assure them that if they tell the cash register they’re taking in $11.32, the register will tell them what change to give me.

    I’m pretty sure it was Something Positive that had a strip a couple of years ago where a clerk put up a fuss because one of the characters gave him $11.32 for a $6.32 purchase (or something like that) and after the store manager came out to see what the fuss was about, he took the clerk into the back room and beat him up.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — July 26, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  7. I used to figure sales tax in my head, drove my co-workers crazy how I managed!

    Comment by Steve — July 26, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

  8. Me too. It was 7 1/4% at the time, and my co-workers acted as if I were performing a magic trick.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — July 26, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  9. Right — you just take the logarithm of the total, add the log of 1.075, and then take the inverse log. šŸ™‚

    Okay, I’m slightly kidding. Some people are good at doing math in their heads. I’m not one of them. My point was that counting change is no indication of how well you do math in your head, as there’s a mechanical way of doing it that requires minimal math. I would have passed as one of those smart guys of yore that could count change, as opposed to Kids These Days.

    Comment by Alan Hamilton — July 26, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  10. At least once a month when my mother was shopping a clerk would get it wrong. She’d ask for correct change, the clerk would deny he had given her incorrect change, and they’d spend five minutes trying to figure it out. I also remember my mother complaining about Kids These Days not being able to give change.

    That was about 1975.

    Comment by Charlene — July 26, 2007 @ 8:39 pm

  11. Huh, I pay $11.32 for $6.32 all the time, and I don’t think I’ve every had anyone express confusion at that. Paying $6.07 for a $5.32 has elicited a curious comment maybe once a year, although it’s never caused a problem. I don’t understand why it would cause a fuss; it’s just as easy for them to enter $6.07 in the machine as $6.00.

    I remember about 15 years ago my friend was in a grocery store, bought about $2 of stuff, and paid with a $10 bill. He got $98 in change. He told the cashier “I gave you a $10 bill, not a $100 bill.” The cashier said, “Yes, I punched in $10, and this is your change.” It actually took him several attempts to convince her that she must have punched in the wrong number.

    Comment by Autumn Harvest — July 27, 2007 @ 1:57 am

  12. Keith: As a customer, I’ve never found counting the change back to me to be particularly helpful; it goes so quickly, I’d rarely know if they screwed up somehow. =)

    Bill: I have no idea how you could figure 7.25% in your head. I’m pretty good at math, but 3×3 or 4×3 multiplication is just too many numbers for me to juggle. Did you multiply by 29% and divide by 4 or something?

    Autumn: It’s not just as easy to enter $6.07 and it is $6.00. The former is three keystrokes; the latter is two, on most registers.

    Comment by Powers — July 27, 2007 @ 8:21 am

  13. When I worked retail 20 years ago, I could make change in my head, but the register told me how much to give also. It was a nice back up. A couple of years ago, I was shocked when a teen asked me if I had correct change because their register wasn’t working and they didn’t know how to make change without it. I’m even more shocked now to realize that my 9 year old can make change in her head before getting money back in the store so she can double check the person who might not get it right. There’s a reason we don’t use the public school down the street…

    Comment by Bonnie — July 27, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  14. “Bill: I have no idea how you could figure 7.25% in your head. Iā€™m pretty good at math, but 3Ɨ3 or 4Ɨ3 multiplication is just too many numbers for me to juggle. Did you multiply by 29% and divide by 4 or something?”

    I just do it the same way you make normal change in your head. Small increments.

    If I know what ten percent is, I can take half of that for five. That same ten percent can give me one percent. One fourth of that is the .25, two of that is the two percent. Add the three numbers… seven and a half!

    And what was ten percent? That’s easy. You just lose a zero.

    It takes me a second to calculate sales tax in my head. It helps if the tax is a round number. (like a tip)

    How many people have seen a table full of people go nuts on a tip? Oh, baby… It’s not that hard to figure!

    Oh, well.

    Comment by Steve — July 27, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  15. My dad made me learn to count change this way, using Monopoly money!
    He could not believe it wasn’t taught in school anymore….
    (this was in the 70’s, when I learned “new math” which is still called that!)

    Comment by trish — July 27, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  16. Trish, that’s probably more common than you think: I didn’t consciously teach my younger son to add and subtract using Monopoly money, but playing Monopoly (and Careers) is how he learned.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — July 27, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  17. Steve: That’s still three numbers to juggle. I find it tricky.

    Comment by Powers — July 28, 2007 @ 7:34 am

  18. I worked in retail for 13 years. When I had a part-time job last Christmas time, the new registers did the work for me, but I actually found it disconcerting, as I prefer to do the counting myself.

    but not everybody is as skilled at math. “no child left behind”, my @#$!!!

    Comment by laterain — July 28, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  19. […] we’ve already established the fact that I’m old, but… not only do I have a passbook account at the local bank, but so does my […]

    Pingback by Passbook « Comics I Don’t Understand — July 30, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  20. I’ve actually had many instances where my total came out to something like $7.xx and I gave the cashier $12.xx, and the cashier would give me _back_ the ones and say (usually in broken English) that I was paying too much and didn’t need the ones. This also happens with change where I round things up to get quarters back instead of dimes, nickels, and pennies. In the cafeteria at work, the cost for the daily special always turns out to be $4.80 after tax, and I was confusing the cashier no end by consistently offering $5.05 (eventually, at least, he got used to it).

    Comment by Djagir — July 30, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

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