Why I still pick up pennies

The most-read piece I ever wrote for MSN Money's Smart Spending blog was an essay called See a penny? Pick it up! It got more than 1,657,000 hits before MSN changed blog platforms. After that, the penny essay and most of the other things I'd written went to live on a farm, where they can run and play with all the other articles.

And me? Still gleaning dropped coins. I pick up road pennies with copper coatings ravaged by traffic. I fish nickels out of puddles. I've spied dimes glinting across parking lots. I rescue quarters from bus-stop gutters.

Occasionally I find paper money, usually one-dollar bills. This year was unusual because I found a $10 and a $20 bill along with 23 quarters, 52 dimes, 15 nickels and 288 pennies.

I can cite the particulars because I save my found money all year, in a vase that my daughter gave me when she was in third or fourth grade. She was so proud of that gift, which she found in the free box at a yard sale. I was so proud that she'd found treasure in someone else's trash.

Which brings me to the reaction a lot of people have to my picking up pennies: Eeeewwww! That money's DIRTY!

Well, no kidding. This year I traveled twice to Philly (where I used to live) and to Manhattan, where I reacquainted myself with this fact: No matter where you sit, stand or lean in a big city, somebody has probably urinated there.

But it's not as though I carry these coins home in my mouth. And sorry to burst your hygienic plastic bubble, but the money you get from the bank or in change at the comic-book store is probably just as invisibly appalling as the stuff I find on the bike path.

Filthy Lucre?

Science News reported on an Australian study about bacteria found on paper money. The U.S. dollars harbored anywhere from 20 to 25,000 bacteria apiece. (Ever held a folded bill between your lips or teeth while you fished in your wallet for change? I bet you won't do it again.)

A fungicidal agent is added to U.S. currency ink, and the metal in some of our coins has anti-microbial properties. This may be small consolation if you, like me, have ever seen people pull money from socks, shoes and bras. Or watched someone sneeze into his hand before fishing around in the take a penny, leave a penny dish.

This explains why so many cashiers have bottles of hand sanitizer at their stations. Bank employees also know that most money is unspeakably germy. They treat it all as though it came from under fresh piles of dog poo.

Helpful hint: Want to break a nail-biting habit? Go to work at a bank. When you see how dirty your hands are 8 hours of counting currency, you will never willingly touch your mouth again unless you're wearing latex gloves spritzed with Clorox.

But folks, we're surrounded by bugs. Doorknobs, vending machines, women's purses, shopping carts, bus seats, yoga mats and libraries are crawling with cooties. So are our children and our pets. (Elementary schools are Petri dishes for rhinoviruses. And those of you who kiss your kitties would do well to remember that a cat's tongue is its washcloth and also its toilet paper.)

I don't sweat the grime on my street funds because:

  1. I have soap and water at home and hand sanitizer in my backpack, and
  2. I'm not picking up the coins for myself

At the end of the year I roll up my coins and deposit them, then write a check to the food bank that helped both my daughter and me when times were grim. (This year's finds totaled $44.58 but I made the check out for $50.)

Some people don't think it's worth their time to stop and pick up change. Others don't think it's dignified to pluck coins from a vending machine coin return. I've even heard it said that you should leave the money for someone who really needs it.

Here's what I think:

  • If it isn't worth your time, don't do it.
  • If you're embarrassed, don't do it.

The food bank's constituency defines “someone who really needs it.” And according to the hunger-relief charity Feeding America, $1 provides the makings for eight meals. I keep that in mind every time I pick up a penny: Another 99 of these and eight people get to have supper.

The Bottom Line, Dime by Dime

If it's more than a penny, so much the better. But in my experience, the one-cent piece is the one that lots of folks think isn't worth noticing. I disagree, respectfully.

In part that's because I'm so old that I remember penny candy. When we walked to and from school I kept a sharp eye out for stray specie. A single cent could be traded for a Squirrel Nut Zipper (the candy, not the band), a sour grape gumball, a roll of Smarties, a peppermint stick or any number of delights from our rural township's one store. You could even get two Hershey's Kisses for a penny. Those were the days.

More to the point, I believe in that old saw, Take care of your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves. It's not that I think a lone Lincoln will generally make or break the bottom line. (You must pay the rent! But I can't pay the rent! I'm one penny short!) No, it's that seeing dropped coins everywhere makes me wonder about our sense of what money is.

After all, it's only a penny. Why pick it up? But pennies add up to dollars, and dollars that aren't properly managed dissolve into tarnished coppers. One way to lose sight of the bottom line is to forget that it's made up of small change.

Note: Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, was famous (perhaps apocryphally so) for picking up dropped coins.

Or maybe you're one of the people for whom a few cents really will make your day, or break your heart. A common example: The supermarket shopper with five store-brand items, one of which he has to put back. Or would have to, if someone behind him in line didn't pony up the extra 17 cents.

Best Places to Look for Coins

  • Under the couch cushions (duh)
  • In the rejected-change bin of coin-counting machines like Coinstar
  • Near parking meters in early springtime, as the snow melts
  • Under your feet at the checkout counter of just about any supermarket or drugstore
  • Around the self-service vacuum at car washes and gas stations
  • The bottom of the ball crawl at Chuck E. Cheese (or so an MSN Money reader claimed)
  • Beaches and playgrounds, especially if you have a metal detector

(The funniest place I ever found spare change? Under couch cushions — but the sofa in question was sitting on a street corner wearing a free sign.)

Small Expenses

I don't pick up every coin I see. A few days ago I was getting off the bus while carrying two incredibly heavy bags. I walked right by a dime in the aisle because I couldn't get it easily and didn't want to hold up the line by trying.

Occasionally I'm in a hurry, or for some reason just don't feel like stopping and reaching for a coin. Generally I tell myself, Come on, it's for the kids — i.e., the hungry kids — and then pick up the change.

This is not my only form of charitable giving, incidentally. I give money all year long to health, social service and educational organizations. The found-coins fund is just another string in my fiddle — but why not play it for all it's worth? That $44.58 rounded up to $50 equals 400 people not going to bed hungry.

The expression nickel-and-dime in its adjectival sense means of little importance. If you think of coins in that way, they're easy to dismiss.

As a verb, nickel and dime means to impoverish through small expenses. Minor obligations — bus fare, cough medicine, class trips — can really bust a budget, especially if you're a 99er or a minimum-wage worker.

Yes, earning more money is preferable to washing plastic bags. But not everyone can earn more money right now. (Hello, Detroit!) If that's you, I propose a simple three-part plan:

  • Pick up any coins you find
  • Save them in a jar
  • Every time you get a dollar's worth, exchange them at the corner store and put the singles back in the jar

Congratulations! You nickel-and-dimed your way to a teeny little emergency fund!

Each Coin has Value

Picking up coins is my personal choice. I'm not saying anyone else has to do it. I'm just putting it out there as a possibility. You should do whatever works for you. What works for me is picking up the money and giving it to a food bank. That's just how I roll, so to speak. (J.D.'s note: I've docked Donna's pay for that pun.)

Even if you decide not to do this, at least pay attention to the coins in your pocket or wallet. Viewed singly they may seem insignificant. But each one has value — and power.
Just ask the underemployed or the 99ers. If you're a buck short on bus fare the day before payday, that found-coin dollar from the glass-jar EF means you can get to work. If your unemployment check isn't due until Friday, a palmful of coins buys five packages of on-sale ramen for a week's worth of lunches.

Neither situation is ideal. Still, be glad that a whole lot of people couldn't be bothered to pick up those pennies before you got there.

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Paige
Paige
8 years ago

I think that you are inspirational for giving back even when times are tough or your income is low. I am in my early twenties, and I think that far too many of my peers fall into the entitlement trap of seeing the money as theirs to fritter away as they see fit. I doubt a single one makes a single charitable contribution, and I worry that I will fall into that trap.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Paige

I used to worry about falling into that trap too. I got myself into the habit of giving in little ways — like buying a jar of peanut butter for the food bank when I was grocery shopping.

I see too many people put off giving until they earn more money, they’re out of debt, they buy a house, etc. I think when people start giving or volunteering when they don’t have a lot it establishes the habit.

Amanda B.
Amanda B.
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I’m right there with you. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “well I don’t have a lot to spare, I’ll donate when I have a real job”. But then when I look at all the things I buy that I don’t need- coffee, fast food, movie tickets, cosmetics, etc- I figure there’s no excuse. Forgoing even a couple little pleasures and sending that money to someone who needs it can make a big difference in the long run. And even those who don’t have money to spare can usually find an hour or two to donate to some… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda B.

Agreed! “When I can afford to…” is a moving target.

I don’t remember a time when my parents weren’t donating time or money to causes that were important to them. As they’ve earned more, they’ve been able to do more.

I hope to live up to their example.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda B.

Yes! And a couple of hours on a Saturday sorting cans at the food bank or helping swamp out the homeless shelter has a way of giving us perspective. When I was at my lowest financially I still gave $20 a month to my church, which provides assistance to the elderly, homeless teens and people living with HIV and which also operates an emergency pantry and a rent/utility assistance program. Sure, I could have used that $20 — but I managed without it, and donating it made me realize that not only was I doing better than a lot of… Read more »

kms98kms
kms98kms
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda B.

I am more comfortable volunteering my time, than giving money, unless I know the charity very well.

Lori H
Lori H
8 years ago

Great post. I pick up found money too. My mother would jump into traffic to retrieve a penny so I guess I come by it honestly 🙂

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
8 years ago
Reply to  Lori H

I hope you giveaway your found money to charity

Jill
Jill
8 years ago

Great article! Very inspiring to think about what those pennies can do at our area food banks.

I also always pick up coins. I used to get way more when I lived in a city. We moved to the sticks when we had kids. This should be added as a pro/con on the urban or rural article the other day! (Just kidding.)

Jennifer
Jennifer
8 years ago

I have never seen as much dropped money on the ground as when we visited the OSU campus in Columbus a few years ago. My kids were in heaven and in just an hour had found more than $1 in dropped coins. I guess that college kids don’t think they need to worry about money so much, so they are careless with it.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

I found quite a bit on the UW campus during my three years there.
When I’m in the U District I like to walk around the campus and I still do find money. It always surprises me, student loans being what they are. Again, though, not everyone can make the connection between that quarter he dropped and the money he’s going to owe when he graduates.

priskill
priskill
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Not to mention the furniture and big ticket items, scarcely used at all, that proliferate in the vicinity of campus dumpsters, especially in June. I was appalled at the stuff getting tossed by careless (read: parentally subsidized) students. My coed daughter was mortified that i might dive and reclaim some of it. I resisted the urge . . .but it actually hurt!

I pick up change, too — what a good idea to track and donate.

Joe G
Joe G
8 years ago
Reply to  priskill

While some of it is wasteful, some of it is actually good decision making. Renting a storage unit for $25 a month during the summer to store a $50 couch isn’t a smart move. 1/4 or more of students aren’t returning to that campus each year and shipping/moving a couch isn’t worth it (especially if you don’t have a car or you live overseas).

Fru-gal Lisa
Fru-gal Lisa
7 years ago
Reply to  priskill

Hey, Joe G., I understand why renting a $25.month storage unit doesn’t make sense for a $50 couch if you’re leaving for overseas…but why are college kids so short-sighted that they don’t call the Salvation Army or a similar charity to come pick up the item? Any charity that helps the poor usually has clients starting over again, and furniture could help furnish their low-income housing units. Or, the charity’s thrift store could sell the sofa to other folks and use the proceeds to help the poor. No need to leave still-usuable secondhand stuff out by the dumpster — that’s… Read more »

Angie
Angie
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

We used to live just off-campus in our town, and Sunday morning walks past the bars were our favorites! Always tons of change there 🙂

I still pick up change, even pennies, and save it in a *found money* savings account. So that means I’m earning interest on free found money, wootie! I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but giving it to charity is a nice idea.

Leslie
Leslie
8 years ago

I have always picked up coins. I have a coin jar that they go in (along with change I find when I do laundry and change from occasionally emptying out my wallet of coins) and when it fills up I roll them and take them to the bank. At this point though, I usually point out the coins to my kids and let them pick them up. They are much closer to the ground so it is easier for them :-).

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Leslie

That’s funny 🙂 If I drop a small coin, I leave it for someone else to pick up 🙂 I figure my lost penny or quarter is someone else’s good luck. (I draw the line at loonies and twoonies though!)

SAHMama
SAHMama
8 years ago

I pick them up and have trained my 5yo to do the same. She knows that a penny buys a ride on the pony at the grocery store! I also “pay” her for odd jobs with pennies. Her pennies go into her 3-compartment piggy bank. One year I took my found coins to the bank and got a money order in that amount and sent it to the Red Cross. Other years I’ve taken it to the coinstar machine and selected the amazon gift card option (Free counting that way) and bought toys for toys for tots.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

You’re awesome, Donna!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I am not! And don’t you go saying I am.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

:Þ

Ann alka WorkingBoomer
Ann alka WorkingBoomer
8 years ago

Now you are talking about one of my things to do. I work the night shift driving and patrolling schools. I pick up money on the groud at quick stores and wherever. One night I found a $20. I pick up pennies. Each day I add the amt. I find to my hourly income. It makes me feel like night work is worth it. I save it for hard times which one year I cashed it in at the store to buy groceries. Every penny counts! Great article!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

I agree that every penny counts. Just ask the person who has to put something back at the supermarket because she doesn’t have the extra 28 cents.
It always gratifies me to see how many people start digging in their own pockets and extending change.

Donna
Donna
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Right now, hubs is the main breadwinner in our family of 4 (dau & grand, living with us, daughter IS WORKING) i said MAIN breadwinner. So, i am working on getting our own debt cleared up, but in the mean time, i save pennies for my grand daughter, silver for the extra $$ to go on my debt, and $5 bills for EF, AND i separate my aluminum to put to the curb on trash day for the pickers to gather without having to sift through all my other recyclables. I had an elderly gentleman say he wished MORE people… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna

My apartment house has two single-waste-stream dumpsters, so it’s not possible to separate them out. When I do put out cans I have them in a bag, which is easier to pull out.
I tend to hold on to them, though, until a couple of canners with whom I’ve chatted come by. Then I’ll call out the window to wait, I’ve got some they can have. I wish there were one small bin just for cans.

MC
MC
8 years ago

I pick em up if found but don’t look for them…

It’s a nice find but not something I occupy my mind or time with.

Roshawn Watson
Roshawn Watson
8 years ago

The first part of this post is so gross. The nastiness of money is definitely among the things I would readily not think about. However, I love where you went with it. Charitable giving is crucial, and I can’t think of a better reason to move past the “gross factor.”

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Roshawn Watson

Kind of makes you think, though, every time you open your wallet: Where was this coin or bill before it came to me?
You don’t really want to know.

Ted Wurfel
Ted Wurfel
8 years ago

I always pick up money. To me it’s more of a mental game. If the universe wants to give me money, I’ll accept it. Part of being thankful.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Ted Wurfel

Some people consider dropped coins to be messages from dead loved ones — literally “pennies from heaven.” Others consider them messages from the universe itself. Here’s my woo-woo moment: Shortly after fleeing my marriage I was walking on a Seattle street and wondering what I’d do next (and why it had taken me so long to take the plunge). I saw two pennies and of course stopped to pick them up. I always glance at the date on coins I find. The years on these were 1981 and 2004 — the year I got married and the year I left.… Read more »

Chris
Chris
8 years ago

Why the unnecessary shot at Detroit? Not nice.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Chris

It wasn’t a shot, it was a shout-out. Donna’s acknowledging that some people in some places literally don’t have a penny to spare. One of those places is Detroit.

Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity
Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity
8 years ago

Money is money in my book. I still find myself occasionally picking up the the stray coin and tossing it into my stash.

The fact that you and your daughter save the found money so you can send it off to a worthy cause is reason enough to do so in my mind. At least your efforts (and health risk according to the germaphobes) are selfless and go to benefit others.

Trina
Trina
8 years ago

Hilarious and thought-provoking!

BTW — the last sentence is cut off. 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Trina

The cut-off portion must have been fixed by the time I got here. Thanks for flagging it, and thanks for the compliment.

Maxim
Maxim
8 years ago

It’s easy to compute whether the penny is worth gleaning over it (and moreover especially purposely looking for). Even if you earn $7.25 an hour, that means you make a penny each 5 seconds. So basically if you spend more time for picking up a penny than you blink an eye you’d better have stayed at your work for a couple of moments more. Of course, it doesn’t always work this way literally, but I think you got the idea. In my opinion, there is no sense of picking pennies for savings. But even for the scenario described – as… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Maxim

But I do both, you see: Donate regularly and pick up coins to donate. It’s just another chunk of change, as it were, that would otherwise not have ended up at the food bank.
That said, I understand why some people don’t want to do this. To each his own. And to the others, hand sanitizer.

Barb
Barb
8 years ago
Reply to  Maxim

But this scenario assumes you CAN stay at work more. Otherwise the comparison simply does not work. Just as what your time is “worth” only applies if you can work mor ehours at what you do.

Dan M53
Dan M53
8 years ago

I once read that in his Micro$oft heyday, Bill Gates was making money so fast that his wage was the equivalent of making $600 in the time it would take him to notice and pick up a penny from the floor.

More on topic…when I was a kid there was a big state fair in my hometown. We would troll around under the rides that turned upside down to find change that flew out of riders’ pockets. Then we would promptly spend it on junk food or games.

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Dan M53

The computer wage/time thing is great if you have a capacity to make money all the time. But if you’re on a salaried job, or if you can only work a set number of hours, then you’re not losing any money by bending down to pick some up.

I pick up spare change all the time. I wish I had kept track like Donna, because I’m sure mine has added up quite a bit. I add it all in to my general spare change, and every couple of years I cash the jars in. I’ve made quite a bit.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I have been collecting coins for as long as I can remember. There was a time when I was too superstitious to pick up coins that were tails side up. Now I don’t care. I put all of the pennies into a Snoopy-shaped piggy bank and save them for a rainy day.

I love the idea of saving up a year’s worth of found money and donating it. Great idea! When my son get’s older I think this will be a great way to teach him about charitable giving.

Angie
Angie
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

“Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.”

That’s what I always think when I see ’em tails-side up!

tjdebtfree
tjdebtfree
8 years ago
Reply to  Angie

I have always picked up money too and to this day every time I pick up a penny that little chant goes through my head about good luck…however, I have always just added it to my own fund….

Now I think I am going to do something different with it … I really like the idea of using this found money (wasn’t mine to begin with)and giving it to a food bank or something else in a charitable manner…

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

And don’t forget the traces of cocaine on all those bills you’re picking up… (http://www.snopes.com/business/money/cocaine.asp) Anyway, you’re right that little things add up. And coins really mean something to kids (who, as Leslie commented, are closer to the ground anyway). When I talk to first home buyers about ways to get their kids involved, I suggest they set up a coin bank labeled “my own room” or something similar where kids can collect found coins to put toward buying a house. One of our board members who is in her 70s reminisces proudly of contributing her tiny savings bond to… Read more »

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

Money is money and I’m not above picking it up off the ground. We keep and collect our change and Mr. Sam uses it for coffee in the a.m. or we use it for parking at the beach, but we use it.

Liz E.
Liz E.
8 years ago

Donna,

I have to tell you that I love your practical, commendable, well-that-makes-sense style. My husband works with people who THROW loose change away because, “Pssht, it’s just change.” He loves to give them updates on how much he’s saved from their frivolousness. All money is dirty and covered with germs (including those plastic pieces called credit cards). It’s part of life. Practice practical hygiene and you’re good to go.

Thanks for another great article.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Liz E.

Thank you, Liz.
And on the subject of “it’s just change,” see the reply I left elsewhere on this page about my dad, the teacher, whose unruly teen students threw pennies at him. He shut ’em down pretty quickly when he informed them he was one-fourth of the way to a free beer — on them. Maybe your husband should let his co-workers know how much of their discarded change he picks up in a year.
On second thought, maybe not. They might stop discarding it.

Dogs or Dollars
Dogs or Dollars
8 years ago

Still picking up loose change. And rolling it myself.

My office is a bounty of people who don’t value change, and tend to leave it everywhere. I’m all to happy to swoop in and take over responsibility for neglected money.

It take a lot more to embarrass me than stooping down to grab a coin.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

All coins are wanted and needed. How nice of you to rescue the neglected ones. 🙂
I just think of it as my luck for the day. If someone catches me in the fact and looks at me funny I’ll say, “Someone has left his luck on the ground.”

stephanieg617
stephanieg617
8 years ago

My three year old likes coins because they are shiny and make a jingly sound when carried in a pocket and just figured out that if she has 25 cents then she can buy any book she wants at the library book sale.

Debbie
Debbie
8 years ago

If you serve, or are a military brat like me, one of the best places to pick up change to get into the movies is under the stairs at the Mess Hall.

sushi
sushi
8 years ago

I pick up pennies and any other change and wash them later. Personally, more than the value of the money, I find that I am more aware of what I am doing at that instant instead of being lost in thought 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  sushi

So finding money on the sidewalk grounds you, as it were…

Brit
Brit
8 years ago

I have been picking up coins my entire life! That combined with paying only in bills and saving all the coins got me a car at age 15 that lasted for 9 years, and is now significantly helping me repay my student loan debt!

Moneyman
Moneyman
8 years ago

I played a game with my kids – I offered TEN TIMES the money they found like this. The objective was to make them more aware of their surroundings – to pay attention.

I still find money – once £20 – but less than before. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Moneyman

Or maybe other people are looking, too. (See “not everyone can earn more money right now,” above.)

Angie
Angie
8 years ago
Reply to  Moneyman

I think the reason we find money less often nowadays is because of people using plastic more than cash.

Mike
Mike
8 years ago

In the state that I live in, we have a bottle deposit($.05) on recycables. I have my co-workers drop off their soda cans and what not in boxes as the foot of my desk that would otherwise end up in the trash. Every so often, I take the box full of cans to the redemption center located at my grocery store. So, The time spent on this endeavor is the time I spend putting the cans/bottles into the machine. Although it’s not the same a directly picking up a penny on the ground, it’s along the same concept of a… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Plus you keep things out of the trash. Win-win!

Ccq
Ccq
8 years ago

Usually I’m a change picker upper, but recently I found a quarter in the candy shelf at a store…. It didn’t really seem like penny on the street territory so I gave it to the cashier. Then I felt bad about all the other change I’ve scavenged from the floor at the checkout line of the grocery store- maybe they gather it up at the end of othe night? In any case, now I leave change that’s on private property (stores, but not sidewalks).

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Ccq

I expect the janitors sweep it up. Or maybe the underpaid employees do supplement their incomes this way.
Here’s my only exception: When I’m at McDonald’s* and find change on the floor, I put it in the little donation box for the Ronald McDonald House. Every little bit helps, right? It’s worth noting that the majority of the coins in there are pennies.
*Yeah, I go to McDonald’s sometimes. I like the fries. Sue me.

Angie
Angie
8 years ago
Reply to  Ccq

I found a dollar once at the gas station, it was just sitting there in all the candy bars right below the register. I kept it, but I asked the cashier if he’d ever found any money there, and he said yep, he found a $50 once! (he said he turned it over to the company, good man)

Esme
Esme
8 years ago

My husband is a transit driver, and on layovers and breaks he strolls up and down the bus, picking up dropped coins. He once paid for the majority of his Christmas shopping from the ‘found money’ jar he kept, filled with just that found money. It does add up! He’s got a sharp eye and once found a $50. bill! Woohoo!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Esme

I see a surprising number of coins on bus floors. It can be hard to get at them, since I’m usually carrying at least one bag, but I’ll pick them up if I can.
A couple of weeks ago a young man getting off the bus handed the driver a wallet and said, “Somebody left this back there.” Bless his heart.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago

My Dad had a funny store about change…
While he was working on a school remodel in Indianapolis, he had noticed that the kids all had the same attitude you described toward change. One day while he was eating his (packed) lunch in the gym, a boy saw some change on the floor and stopped and picked it up. Dad thought, “good for him!”
Then the boy went over and threw it in the trash! haha

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I’ve got a “dad and coins” story, too: Many years ago, my father taught elementary school all day and then went to his second job of teaching adolescents deemed too unruly for regular high school. One evening, a student flipped a penny at him. Dad picked it up and put it in his pocket. The teens laughed, and another one flipped a penny. Then another one. When my father had 12 cents in his pocket, he said, “Guys, I want to thank you. All I need is 38 more of these and I’m going over to the Fairfield and have… Read more »

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
8 years ago

I pick up coins when I see them, and I think of The NonConsumerAdvocate (aka CoinGirl) every time I do!

Katy+@+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
[email protected]+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
8 years ago

I do find coins on an almost daily basis. I find that if you glance under outdoor seating at restaurants, there’s almost always money.

Free money, what’s not to like?!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
AKA “Coin Girl”

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

I’m always semi-delighted when I see someone picking up a coin, because it lets me think “See, I’m not the only one.”
I say “semi-delighted” because part of me is thinking, “Dang, I wish I’d gotten there first.”

Megan
Megan
8 years ago

Excellent article! I seriously laughed out loud at your comment about not bringing money home in your mouth. Heh.

I also pick up money, and I’ve found that my current location (suburbs, nowhere near a bus stop) yields a LOT less dropped money than when I lived in Chicago and fairly close to buses and trains. I still keep an eye out for dropped change, because hey, you never know when you’ll find a $20.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Megan

Happy to amuse. 🙂
I find a lot less money when I’m visiting the ‘burbs or, worse, my dad out in the country. Long stretches of time without so much as a penny.

Colleen
Colleen
8 years ago

I love the idea Donna! Our son, now 11, has been in the habit of picking up money for years. He is SUPER lucky often finding $5, $10 and $20 bills along with pocketfuls of change. Most days he comes home from school with several coins that he’s found on the playground or hallway. We allow him to keep the money. I like that he understands that money has value even if everyone doesn’t think so.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

As always Donna – hilarious and on point! Yea, money is dirty – really dirty – I almost think bills are dirtier than change – think strip clubs and (as someone mentioned before) cocain use. Hubby doesn’t like to carry change – so it all goes in a basket near the front door. Before I started reading GRS – I would take it to Coinstar and pay the 8%. Last time I did that though – it REALLY bugged me to pay the 8%. I don’t really buy much on Amazon so I didn’t think that was the right decision.… Read more »

okgirl
okgirl
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

You might ask if your bank actually *wants* your coins wrapped. My credit union will not accept wrapped coins. I just bring it in a plastic bag (or vase or jar or whatever it’s collected in) and they dump it into a coin counting machine. At my previous bank, they would make you bust open all your carefully rolled change into a bank bag for the same process.
I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but it might change your calculations. 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  okgirl

Good point. My own bank does require that they be rolled, although you’d think that would encourage people to sneak foreign coins in among the local ones.
I guess it’s better to take the occasional Euro than to hold up the lines while the specie gets digested by the coin counter. Or maybe they just want US to have to touch the sticky coins. 😛

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  okgirl

Yea, I’m not sure they really ‘wanted’ the wrapped coins – but the official rule (since they don’t have a coin counter) is it must be wrapped…

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Thanks for your kind words. As noted in the piece, you should do what works for you — and it sounds as though Coinstar might be it.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I also pick up change (and very occasionally bills) from the ground, and what works for me is to tally them all up on New Years Day, then take the equivalent from my wallet and deposit that into the house repair savings account. I then take the *actual* change, bag it by coin type (quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies), and over time I spend it whenever I was going to make a cash purchase. This works best when you either know ahead of time what the change will be and can have it ready for the cashier (for example, my breakfast… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

And here I thought I might get mightily flamed for writing it. Turns out there are a lot of closet penny-picker-uppers out there.
Which begs the question: Do we pinch them as we pick them up, or later on?

Sue
Sue
8 years ago

A neighbour of mine once left a jar filled with pennies out by her trash with a sign marked “free” on it. There was over $4 in that jar…

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Sue

What’s her address? And when is trash day in your neighborhood?

Claudia
Claudia
8 years ago

My kids have heard this story so often they can recite it.

There was a guy on my college campus regularly shaking a coffee can to collect money for his church’s free breakfast for kids program. I went up to him one day with a small handful of change and said, “Sorry, it’s mostly pennies.”

He gave me a huge grin and said, “Pennies are just baby dollars waiting to grow up!”

You bet I am a change-finder/saver, too.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Claudia

I heard a guy describe it this way: “Another $999,999.99 and I’ll have my first million.”
In the meantime, those kids get breakfast. Imagine going to school with your backbone touching your belly and getting scolded because you’re not paying attention. I went to school with a couple of kids who ate paste. One of them told me it was because he was hungry — no breakfast at his house.

StLouisKaren
StLouisKaren
8 years ago

Great article! I’ve picked up stray cash since I was a kid. My husband thinks I’m some kind of cash magnet because I find coins almost every time I walk through a parking lot from car to shop. We save all of our change and at the end of the year have an extra house payment to take to the bank!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  StLouisKaren

An extra house payment’s worth? I want to follow YOU around, too…

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
8 years ago

Well written and humorous. Thanks for the post.

Although I have a cap on what I keep. I found a $10 bill on the floor in the lobby of my building (I work at a banking HQ). I kept thinking, what if some kid dropped his life savings of $10 and is crying right now. So I told the tellers and the security guard that if anyone asked (specifically about a $10 bill)to call me. I got a call from an aquaintance/co-worker about 5 minutes later who had been in the branch right before me.

Amanda B.
Amanda B.
8 years ago

I’m a big change picker upper. When I was 7 I would do my Dad’s laundry for extra allowance and the other bonus was that I could keep any change that I found in his pockets or on the floor. To this day I don’t think he realizes how much money I made off of him that way. If he did he would’ve understood why I liked doing laundry so much 😉 Once I was in line at an ice cream place and the lady in front of me dropped a bunch of small coins and just looked at them… Read more »

paula
paula
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda B.

You’re story made me smile.. did you ever think you’re father may have left you coins to find in his pocket on purpose? 😉 Not so much that you’d get suspicious but enough to keep you interested .. lol. I know I did for my daughter!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda B.

I used to clean a guy’s house, and also did his laundry and took his suits to the dry cleaner. After washing a pair of pants with tissues in the pocket — and having to painstakingly pick little bits of tissues off everything in that load — I told him he needed to empty his pockets before throwing slacks into the hamper. He said he would, but of course he didn’t. So I tried a different tack: Anything I found in the pockets, including money, was MINE. He said that would be fine. I found a fair number of crumpled… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

There’s bacteria everywhere on the planet. Filthiness just strengthens your immune system. 😉

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Yep, they’re everywhere. To paraphrase Tom Robbins, “Human beings were invented by bacteria as a way of getting themselves around.” 😉 I told a relative with two small kids that some scientists think we’re TOO clean, and that our insistence on antibacterial this and sanitized that plus the fact that fewer kids play out in the dirt any longer may be contributing to the increase in allergies. She said (tongue firmly planted in cheek), “You mean that by not having a cleaner house I’m actually being a good mom?” Since that time I read about research that indicates exposure to… Read more »

Lis
Lis
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Somewhat off topic, but gardening DOES make me much happier. Now I know why! 😉

Kate
Kate
8 years ago

I’ve been doing thi for years! It drives my husband nuts to see me bend over to pick up aa muddy,scratched penny, but I still do it.
Once a year, I take all my change to a free Coinstar at my credit union and convert it to cash. The proceeds are divided between the local animal shelter and the Salvation Army.
I agree with the idea of giving no matter how broke you are (or think you are). There is ALWAYS someone worse off than you.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

I wind up washing some of my coins before I put them in the vase because of mud, cola or whatever their particular brands of disgusting might be.
Wish my bank would count them. Then again, I like rolling coins. Hey, I don’t have a TV — I have to make my own fun.

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years ago

I definitely pick up change more often than not. However, I passed up a penny this morning while walking my dog. 🙁 I put them in my piggy bank I’ve had since I was a kid (I got it for free while flea market shopping with my mom when I was a kid…much like your daughter’s vase, Donna!). I’m going to cash them in for an Amazon gift card this year to buy Christmas presents. If I’m lucky enough to find a quarter, I keep it for the self-serve car wash. I love that you donate your change to the… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Alyssa

You raise a good point: Folks for whom the budget is tight at home could use their street funds to provide little extras, such as Christmas gifts. (Or that teeny-tiny EF.)

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I read a story in a poverty forum about a lady who got a “free ipod.” She said she really wanted an ipod, and she saw all those scams on the internet. She barely had enough to make ends meet, so she knew she couldn’t get an ipod out of her own money. She started saving every cent she picked up (and went out of her way to check vending machines, phones, etc). After two years, she saved enough for her ipod!

Adam
Adam
8 years ago

Another great place to find coins is under vending machines. You can literally find dollars worth of quarters that have rolled underneath beyond reach. Helps to have something like a yardstick to sweep them out.

Jan
Jan
8 years ago
Reply to  Adam

I used to know a vending machine guy who found a couple of hundred dollars per week under the vending machines on his route. It was his family’s grocery money!

Jo@simplybeingmum
8 years ago

Hey Donna had to comment as yesterday I quoted in my post Can A Family Kitchen Be Minimal exactly those words ‘see a penny pick it up’. I’d photographed my kitchen, and one shot shows my windowsill which holds a piggy bank. This is where I drop all the coins and notes I find. I’ve been doing this since 2009, when I read Katy over at Non-Consumer-Advocates post about ‘Coingirl’. I don’t find a huge amount of coins, my daughter has more luck and has found a £5 note! Totally with you on donating the cash also… that is what… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

Well done, you! Rest assured that the need will be there at the end of the year.

elisabeth
elisabeth
8 years ago

I live in a small college town/city and while I feel like I’m diligent about collecting “street money” my “biggest” year so far was only $7.16. I think that there was more change around in the “boom” years (2006-2008); last year I only collected $3.51 and while I haven’t counted up lately, I suspect I may not even have that much in 2011 — I don’t see a lot of quarters in my street money bank at the moment… But there’s still more than a month of the year left! We do a lot better “collecting” our own change —… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  elisabeth

Agreed. My pennies, nickels and dimes go into a piggy bank. The quarters go into a separate bank (for laundry).
Speaking of which: I have been finding pennies and sometimes other coins in the laundry room in my apartment building. Not on the floor, but set on a small shelving unit next to the machines. Saves me having to pick them up — and they’re never sticky, having just gone through the wash.

ImJuniperNow
ImJuniperNow
8 years ago

Oh, I’m sitting at my desk at work trying not to laugh too loudly and I hurt all over!!! I’d always pick up loose change no matter where it is (my favorite place is the huge dryer I’m using at the laundromat – coins get wedged into the bars of the barrel) and for years I had adopted many “casual” ways of doing it: in a store I’d pretend to drop another coin so I could retrieve them both, in the street I’m tying my shoe or I put my foot on it like a ballet dancer and slooowly drag… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  ImJuniperNow

A friend of mine needed help taking something to the dumpster. I show up with my truck and it’s this really cool old writing desk, with a glass inkwell embedded on it. It’s in poor condition but it’s definitely a good piece. I tell her she should try to sell it. She says no, she wants it out, who would want it, please take it to the dumpster, etc. I load it on my truck. I drive straight to an antique furniture shop & show it to the owner. He takes a look at it and offers me $50 on… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Did you check the inkwell for pennies?

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  ImJuniperNow

I do that too! Here’s the one I use at the cash register: I set my backpack down next to the coin while I pay or put the items in my shopping bag. Then I pick up the coin before I pick up the backpack. Smoooooth, no?
Please refer to me by my Latin name, illegitimus frugalis.

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago

While not specifically about found money only, we pick up coins and also save quite a bit of the change we get back from buying things. We just opened our daughter’s savings account with $36 in coins we wrapped ourselves. My mom is one of those ‘money-magnet’ people who are always finding dropped money-she found 2 $20 bills one week (she can also look down seemingly at any moment and find a 4-leaf clover). I always enjoy Donna’s articles; the topics are interesting and the writing is well done.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

1. I want to follow your mom around.
2. Thanks for your kind words. If you were here I’d give you a penny. One of the clean ones, even.

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

Can I go for walk with your mother every day?

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

Although slightly disgusted I found a whole handful of sticky change at the vacuum cleaner at a car wash a month ago. I just took it home and washed it. =)

Thanks for the good reminder on pennies & charitable giving.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

My route to the library/bank/post office takes me past a car wash and I always glance over at the vacuum cleaner as I pass. Some day I hope to come up with a haul like yours. My best-ever find was in a Coinstar returned-change slot in Anchorage, Alaska: two handfuls of specie (including 10 quarters), and a bunch of it was sticky. Read more about this, if you like, at http://www.donnafreedman.com/2011/07/05/a-found-coin-moment/ One of the comments on that piece was left by a former supermarket employee who said, “People routinely leave change in the Coinstar. How do I know? I was… Read more »

Christa
Christa
8 years ago

Your point about how dirty money is is absolutely true! I used to work as a vault teller in a major metropolis, and counting all of the branch’s money was the dirtiest job. By the end, my hands were so full of grime that I never wanted to touch cash again. I think that’s one of the main reasons that I prefer my debit card.

Penny
Penny
8 years ago

Decide not to do it?! My entire blog is about finding money on the ground! 🙂

I haven’t decided what to do with my stash yet, but you’re food bank idea is a good one!

My BEST spot for money:
-Go out to the bars on a Friday or Saturday night. People are a lot more careless with their “bills” when they have some liquid courage in them! 🙂

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