Do You Have Change for a Twenty? In the Age of the ATM, Too Many Small Businesses Drop the Ball


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Does your ATM give out anything but $20 bills? Mine doesn’t. Yet everywhere I go, I encounter people in the business of taking money who don’t have change for a $20.

My insurance copayment is $10, but my doctor’s office never has change. The receptionist told me, “They don’t give me change.” Sure, blame it on “They.”

The physical therapist I’m seeing to regain the use of my recently unbroken arm also doesn’t carry change.

I went to a public parking lot yesterday that had self-service parking permit machines. They spit out permits for $7. The machines accepted $1, $5 and $10 bills and would have accepted coins, except someone had put a lot of electrical tape over the coin slot. I had a $5, three $20s and a lot of quarters. I turned to the line that was forming behind me and asked if anyone had two dollars for eight quarters. Three people waved $20 bills at me. Oops.

When I was in high school and worked part time as a movie theater cashier, I had to maintain a bank. When my bank ran out of obvious change for the denominations we expected to receive, one of my jobs was to send someone to the … uh … bank to get the change. And that, to date me, was well before everyone walked around with $20 bills. (In fact, the first ATM I ever used gave out $5 and $10 bills. Oh, those were the days.)

Is this laziness? I think that, bottom-line, it’s neglecting the customer. My husband tells me to just whip out my credit card and make the businesses pay that usage fee. But I’m paying with my time and having to sign my name with that aforementioned ex-broken arm. Why should I have to put a charge on my credit card when I have cash?

This isn’t rocket science. When the bulk of people walk around with $20s, isn’t providing change for a $20 a no-brainer?

Gwynne Young
Independent Contractor
Gwynne Young is a former newspaper writer, columnist and copy editor who has managed online content for several companies, including and Gartner. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


  1. Even more bizarre are the buses and trams that charge you $1.70 for a ticket but you must pay with exact change. So typically you have no change and the trip costs you $2.00 which represents more than a 16% fare increase. Interestingly enough if you happen to be a nickel or a dime short the drivers refuse to let you on the bus and make you feel like one of the panhandlers on the corner holding up a sign “need a dime to pay for the bus”


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