$2 bills are NOT rare. Go out and spend them

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

I like spending $2 bills. A lot. I suppose I’m a bit of a currency eccentric (I also like $1 coins and do the whole Where’s George thing). I find $2 bills a lot more convenient than $1 bills, since they take up half the space in your wallet for the same dollar amount and the “worst” that can happen from not having $1s is that you get a single $1 bill in addition to some coins as change. I don’t particularly believe in carrying around larger denominations, as I mostly use cash for buying food and I frequently run into situations where no one can break a larger denomination bill (say, a coworker has gone and brought back lunch). So at the very least $2 bills are efficient for my purposes.

But spending $2 bills is also some good clean real life trolling fun. The average cashier will go months if not years without seeing a single $2 bill, so spending many at once gets all sorts of fun reactions. I’ve never not had one accepted, but I have gotten lots of flabbergasted cashiers wondering why I’m spending bills that are “rare”. Well, that is at least a misconception I can clear up.

In recent decades, the US Treasury has printed $2 Federal Reserve notes many times, spanning series years of 1976, 1995, 2003, and 2003A. The most recent printing of the 2003A series was in September 2006 (note that series year and year of actual printing can diverge by many years), and the total print run of the 2003A series was 221 million bills. That’s almost enough for every American to have one. So $2 bills are still in print, they’re not rare, and they’re only ever worth above face value if there’s something unusual about them (just like with all other bills). There’s absolutely no reason not to spend them. And if supplies of them ever run low for whatever reason, the Federal Reserve will be more than happy to print more!

All it takes to get $2 bills is to go to the bank and ask for some. Believe me, they’re more than happy to get rid of the ones they have, because they tend to languish untouched in bank register drawers for months on end. The last time I was at the bank I only got 100 $2 bills, but the cashier was practically begging me to take the rest of the ones they had. And if the bank is out of $2 bills, they should be able to order you some more. I had to do this once when my regular bank completely ran out of $2 bills, and as a nice bonus, the bills that I got were completely new, uncirculated, and with sequential serial numbers.

So I suppose there’s one last question to address: if the $2 bill is so infrequently seen in real life that most people mistakenly think that the bill itself is rare, why does the US Treasury still bother printing them? There’s a one-word answer to that: seignorage! Seignorage is the profit that the Mint makes on the difference between how much the currency costs to produce (in the case of bills, a few cents) and its face value ($2 in the case of the $2 bill, obviously) if the currency is taken out of circulation. The Treasury makes comparatively little in seignorage on $1 bills, because they’re so incredibly common that hardly anyone intentionally takes them out of circulation by saving them. But $2 bills go out of circulation very frequently due to to people saving them and then never spending them, so the Treasury makes a pretty penny.

So the next time you’re at the bank, ask the teller for some $2 bills and then actually go out and spend them. They’re a great way to strike up random conversations as you’re buying things (which is otherwise a very boring process). Waiters love receiving them as tips. And they truly are the most beautiful of any of the bills currently in circulation, with Thomas Jefferson on the front (what a cool dude) and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back. Eye-pyramid of the Illuminati, eat your heart out!