Our overall relationship with cash has changed a lot in a few short years. In many settings, credit or debit cards and mobile apps have made payments much faster and easier to track. There's still a place for cash in our society and around the world, but COVID-19 has thrown a huge wrench in the works for it.
In June, the Federal Reserve announced a "strategic allocation of coin inventories," writing: "The COVID‐19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the supply chain and normal circulation patterns for U.S. coin. In the past few months, coin deposits from depository institutions to the Federal Reserve have declined significantly and the U.S. Mint's production of coin also decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees." In short, we're making fewer coins and we're distributing fewer of the ones we have.
If you're a stickler for exact change, or if you rely on coin laundry, you may have already encountered the issue. Even if you're not, some stores are asking customers to use exact change only or are disabling cash payment options at self-checkout machines. Lifehacker has rounded up some enterprising solutions for the coin shortage, but the truth is, many of us are already pushing pennies, nickels, and dimes toward extinction in the United States. Cash doesn't offer many of the protections of plastic or electronic money; that said, cutting out cash entirely has far-reaching social effects we don't want to entertain.
Either way, if your wallet feels a little lighter these days, it's not just you who's missing a little money.