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It takes 2 cents to make a penny? Say what?

The humble penny costs 2.41 cents to make. That's up from 1.23 cents in 2006
The humble penny costs 2.41 cents to make. That's up from 1.23 cents in 2006Getty Images

Money is so darned expensive these days.

I'm not talking about inflation. I'm talking about what it actually costs to make those pennies and nickels that jingle in your purse and pocket.

The humble penny, which is 2.5 percent copper and the rest zinc, costs 2.41 cents to make. That's up from 1.23 cents in 2006, when the cost of making a penny first crossed the threshold of an actual penny.

The nickel? It now costs 11.18 cents to make that coin -- which is composed of 25 percent nickel and the rest copper -- up from 5.73 cents in 2006.

These price increases would be ridiculous, even if the U.S. wasn't facing massive budget deficits.  

The government wants to change all that, however. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday that the agency's budget is proposing to change the composition of nickels and pennies to make them cheaper to produce.

"Currently, the costs of making the penny and the nickel are more than twice the face value of each of those coins. In addition to this proposal, Treasury is implementing measures to improve the efficiency of coin and currency production, including improved manufacturing practices and administrative cost reductions, which will save more than $75 million in FY 2013," Geithner said in written testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations.

While Geithner didn't mention what materials would be used, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) introduced legislation in December proposing that pennies and nickels be made of steel, which is cheaper to produce than nickel or copper.

The price of copper, for example, has risen 11 percent this year alone, spurred by demand for its use in many manufacturing and electronic applications.

Incidentally, Stivers' proposal would not change the appearance of the penny that we all have come to know, love and toss in a coin jar on our dresser. It would be made of steel dipped in copper.