29 cents?

January 10, 1991

The Postal Rate Commission strikes the pose of doing the public a favor by paring a penny off the Postal Service's request for a stamp-price increase. Instead of a letter costing 30 cents and a postcard 20, it recommends that, beginning Feb. 3, consumers only pay 29 cents to mail a letter and 19 cents to send a postcard.

But before you write the commission a letter of thanks, consider this: If the Postal Board of Governors approves the recommended rate hike, the post office will have to issue 4-cent stamps, to be used with all the leftover 25-cent stamps. A book of these would cost 80 cents. Would the stamp machine take eight dimes, or only three quarters and a nickel? Or would it simply take a dollar bill and spit two dimes across the foyer?

There is also a problem with purchasing 29-cent stamps -- an amount that never comes out even. Ten stamps, for example, would cost $2.90; a book would sell for . . . $5.80? The very vision of standing at a stamp machine, hands filled with letters and packages, trying to dig through your wallet to find the proper combination of coins is enough to make you pick up the telephone and call Aunt Minnie instead. Of course, the post office might avoid this conundrum by selling a book of 17 stamps for an even $5 and including seven 1-cent stamps or one 4-cent stamp and three 1-cent stamps. And . . . well, you get the idea.

The bottom line is that the rate commission's decision to slice the postal service's request by a penny will save the average family $2 a year. That's probably slightly less, however, than the same family will loose from stamp purchases when all that loose change rolls irretrievably through the parking lot.

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