Writing With Charlie: Finding Leverage in the $2 Bill

Every other Monday, my ten-year-old son must complete a seemingly simple school assignment: pick a newspaper article, extract some basic information such as the title and name of the publication, write definitions for three new vocabulary words, and compose a brief summary describing the article’s main points and why the piece is of  interest. This modest task, I reasoned, should take ten minutes, and logically would conclude well in advance of my second cup of coffee.

“The best of us must sometimes eat our words.”
― J.K. Rowling

Though Charlie possesses a sharp mathematical mind and is a voracious reader of several thousand pages annually, getting him to write even two original paragraphs has become a source of no small amount of frustration. So steadfast is he in his disdain for writing that the completion of each half-page document represents a temporal milestone against which other life events now are measured: Aunt Maggie’s baby was born two days before the first current events essay…..we’re going to Disney one week after the next two hundred word masterpiece. The whole process is exhausting, and I quite nearly must pre-medicate in the runup to this twice-monthly torture. The process, however, has not been without its duly-earned rewards.

Three weeks ago, during the second fortnight of our struggle, Charlie and I happened upon a Wall Street Journal article (no, making your ten-year-old read the WSJ is NOT a form of child abuse!) that was of interest, and which I now safely can confirm has practical utility in everyday life. The article described the virtues of the lowly two-dollar bill, the least common paper currency in the United States. Armed with an understanding of the topic that only a ten-hour struggle with fourth-grader can provide, I resolved to experiment with the two-dollar bill on a recent Florida vacation. The day before our trip, I withdrew $100 worth of $2 bills, and used them throughout the duration of our Ft. Lauderdale stay. I am now an unabashed supporter of throwing a Jefferson down at pretty much any reasonable opportunity. Here’s why:

  • The $2 bill is overvalued. The novelty of a $2 bill far outweighs its buying power. Paying with a deuce builds rapport that has immediate social and economic value. In one instance, my wife and I rented an umbrella from a beach attendant. We decided specifically not to rent the beach chairs ($20 each per day..insane!!!). We paid the $10 umbrella rental fee, and I tipped the attendant with a pair of $2s. He specifically remarked about the novelty of the $2 bills, and we spoke for a few minutes before he left me to my trashy vacation novel. Some minutes later the attendant returned, two beach chairs dragging in the sand behind him. “For you,” said the attendant with a smile, “The cost of chairs is just $4.” A 10x return on a $4 tip…not too shabby.
Beach chairs: free for this smokin’ babe.
  • It’s a social currency. If you give an individual two $1 bills, that’s a non-event, but when you give someone a $2 bill, now that stands out. Valets become more responsive. Servers remark, “You’re the guy who tipped with $2 bills yesterday…I never see those!” By giving someone an item that has not just economic value, but also curiosity value, you are saying to that person, “You are unique.” The $2 can help lead you to conversations with interesting individuals with whom you otherwise are unlikely to interact. People like that.
  • The incremental economic cost typically is $0. The most common use for the $2 was in tipping a valet, bartender, or server. I routinely tip these folks anyway, and didn’t feel as if the denomination of the bill had any influence on the amount I actually paid them. The amount was the same, but the experience was far better.

The next time you’re at the bank, ask for some $2s, use them in your daily life, and see what happens. You’ll be more interesting to other people, you might get better service or something additional at no cost, and you might even strike up a conversation with someone who ends up being a friend…and that’s priceless.

Author: Sidney VanNess

Father of four. Husband to a woman I do not deserve. Searching for big ideas and great people. Founder of On Call Central

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