January 20, 2016

Spare Change


They are found in trays on the dresser, jars in the kitchen, bowls in the bedroom. They are the small bits of cash detritus, the left over fractions of a dollar, that collect in our pockets and purses on a daily basis, and often consigned to the change cups of America.

Most people have one. I have one. Mine is a white ovenproof ramekin and it slowly fills with pennies, dimes, nickels, and -- mostly -- quarters. Indeed quarters are what most change is made of in these days of prices set to end in .99 at work with various state and local sales taxes of 3 to 9 percent.

Every day I dump whatever is loose in my pockets into the ramekin. In the beginning it's just a couple of quarters and a smear of pennies. Dimes and nickels are uncommon but not yet rare. In the fullness of time the ramekin fills up with an untold amount of money much like William Devane's safe.

When a small mound of change forms at the top of the ramekin I know it is time for one of my favorite shopping trips: “FREE GROCERIES!” And to do that I bag up all my coins and head off to my favorite “FREE MONEY MACHINE!,” the big green Coinstar to get some.

After all, change is just the drippings from money already spent; the sawdust from your logs of liquidity. Few would be willing to separate the coins and pack them into tubes as was the case in the Ancient of Days. Fewer still maintain their own change counting machines. It’s just not worth it since the dollar became the new quarter sometime between 2008 and now.

Coinstar is the answer. For a mere 10.9% of your money it will convert your change into a strip of paper which can be redeemed for groceries and real currency at the cash register. Coinstar is also a very entertaining store machine, one of the few that gives you back something for your effort. It’s a kind of reverse slot machine (with similar sound effects)in which you win every time, minus 10.9%. In addition it shows its work on the screen. You tilt up the slide and let the coins shuffle in to a satisfying series of clinks, clunks, and clacks, interrupted every so often with a clunk as the Coinstar spits out an item it cannot accept. In front of you the screen shows the actual ascending numbers of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars (rare), and silver dollars (hunted to extinction). Then you get your voucher and off you go to shop with.... “FREE MONEY!”

Because I am easily entertained I love those trips. Yesterday I noted that my love for Coinstar was due to be consummated once again. I noticed that ”Lo, my change cup runneth over,” and poured all my change into a Ziplock bag. It's heft felt like around two pounds. My change cup was, obsessive-compulsively and blissfully, empty again.

I set off for the town Safeway and poured my change into the coin slide on the Coinstar. It went through its satisfying series of clunks, clinks, clanks,clacks and counting and came up.... at the end of it all... with...


Yes, a round dollar amount completely at random. This is, for those like me who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive disorders, equal to “the perfect pump.” (When, in filling the tank at the gas pump, you watch the rising total and snap-release the handle and get a round dollar amount. So satisfying!)

Armed with my free money voucher in the sum of ...


I began shopping. I picked up some milk, which I needed. I picked up some oranges, which I also needed. I passed on the cream-filled fresh-baked Bundt cake, which I really, really, really do NOT need. I picked up some meat on sale for 50% off even if I don’t really count 50% off $18.80 as a bargain. I picked up some of this and some of that and then went to the Express checkout to see how many public school educated citizens in front of me were unclear on the concept of “15 Items or Less.”

When.... at long, long last.... it was my turn I handed my Coinstar voucher to the cashier. She pulled my “15 Items or Less” across her scanner. The total?


To my right the change dispenser at the pay station spit out into its buff metal cup.... one single quarter. I picked it up, slipped it into my pocket, and took it home.

I tossed it into the white ramekin. It made a nice crisp clink as it hit the bottom of the empty change collector.

There it sits this morning, all alone with a small tuft of pocket lint, waiting for others in its mildly diverse family of money to join it.

And the great circle of life begins again.


Posted by gerardvanderleun at January 20, 2016 9:56 AM
Bookmark and Share



"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

One of my favorite "change " stories is from 1980. One of my good friends lived in the outreaches of Montana, 13 miles from the nearest town. She felt isolated and yearned for malls and restaurants and cute shoes. She said her father came home every evening and dumped his change in a large jar. As her senior year of high school approached, she asked him for some money to buy clothes for school. He told her she could have all the change in the jar. She said she was soooo mad. "How cheap he was!" She took the jar and started rolling the coins...it had $475 dollars in it! That was a lot of money in 1980. It was a good lesson in economics and in humility.

Posted by: Leslie at January 20, 2016 10:19 AM

A. For 10% I'll roll it myself.

B. Whassa "ramekin?"

Posted by: Rob De Witt at January 20, 2016 12:29 PM

I give mys spare change to charity. It is about $80/yr.

Posted by: Fat Man at January 20, 2016 12:58 PM

I have two containers for my change. One is a ceramic container my wife gave me that says golf money on the side of it. When full, it holds about 45 or 50 bucks in silver change.( I have a different container for pennies.) My other container is one of those plastic coffee containers, Maxwell House, I think. When my golf money container is full, it gets emptied into the coffee jug and when full, the jug holds about 400 bucks.

Posted by: Mike G. at January 20, 2016 1:39 PM

I have a big german ashtray from a gasthous in the 70's. But it's inadequate because a Coinstar run is about 2 hours and happens rarely. When the ashtray is full it gets dumped with a home made funnel into 1 of 4 5 gallon water bottles in my closet. 1 is full and weighs over 100lbs I'm guessing, the others are partially full. I tell my wife she can party with that stuff when I'm gone.

Posted by: ghostsniper at January 20, 2016 2:55 PM

I have a big old plastic jar from Costco that once held pretzels .. I use it for change and whatever loose bills I happened to have in my pocket. Cashed in when it was about 2/3 full. Felt like it weighed 25 pounds. Came to almost $700! About 1/3 full now :-)

Posted by: Jim T at January 20, 2016 3:01 PM

I love this story. Someone else's expressions of OCD are quite soothing. One shiny quarter of seed money is a rare bit of perfection. The zip locked messy 24 turning in to a tiny tidy 25 seems really good. A note though - private school math - identical items "count" as one with no regard to the number of passes it takes to unload it. So, three packages of coffee even if one is dark roast and the others are breakfast blend - counts as one. In fact, one may count like colored items as one. A bunch of green onions, a bag full of green beans, a cucumber, some spinach and a lime - one item. A bag of Lay's chips and a box of Triskets - yellow packaging, obviously another "one".

Posted by: DeAnn at January 20, 2016 3:34 PM

I sort my pocket change everyday and put it directly into its correct wrapper, it is painless. When I get about $100 I go to the bank and get paper money.

Absolutely no one is getting 10.9% to sort and count my change, no matter how entertaining the machine is alleged to be.

Posted by: Waterwork at January 20, 2016 3:51 PM

Taking coins to a bank in exchange for paper? Do some simple math. Check the alloy content of your nickles and quarters at the US Mint site. Check the daily spot metals price on the net. Weigh the coins with an accurate scale. The coins are worth way more (as scrap) than the paper you got handed friend. F**ked again by the bankers.

Posted by: Terry at January 20, 2016 4:08 PM

Thanks for clearing that up, DeAnn.

Posted by: vanderleun at January 20, 2016 6:02 PM

When I see you in March, you can help me pack my 200 hundred pounds of bug out money and 3 sherpas out of my attic. You owe me.

Posted by: Geoff C. the Saltine at January 20, 2016 6:45 PM

My coinstar runs get me Amazon gift cards and no 10% vig. Good as cash.

Posted by: Ray c at January 20, 2016 8:17 PM

A Mason jar - yields about $45-$50. I convert it at my credit union so I get it all, with the same sussurating whicks and clings. I reserve a standard four quarters pocket change to supplement the dollar bills for the occasional vending machine, and a short stack of quarters and dimes for parking meters if I have to go into the Town, as the Meter Maid pulls in more revenue than a high class call girl.

Posted by: Darkwater at January 21, 2016 1:26 AM

I didn't do this but its probably true. When you get married, every time you have sex the first year, put a quarter in a jar. Then, after your first anniversary, take a quarter out of the same jar every time you have sex. The jar will never be empty before the marriage ends or someone dies!

Posted by: RJL at January 21, 2016 6:48 AM

I hate coins especially pennies. I got tired of dumping them into a jar and began tossing them out the door into the dirt driveway.
When my aunt came to live with us (she was as they say simple, but happy and kind) she used to walk outside a lot. I noticed she was picking something up and when she came in she was excited, she had found money. Which we put in a jar for her. When she filled the jar she asked me to help her wrap it, which we did. Our friends and family found out about this and made a point of coming by and dropping their pocket change in the driveway.
When she filled the box under her bed with rolls of coins she asked me to take her to the bank. At the bank she happily accepted paper bills for the contents of her treasure box. At Christmas and birthdays she had money to buy gifts for her family and friends.
I don't think she ever asked or wondered where the coins had come from. She passed away last May. My thanks to Marty, Peggy, Heidi, Lindy and Ralph and several others for being her friend.

Posted by: John the River at January 21, 2016 7:23 AM

I used to know someone who had a gallon jug almost full of pennies.

Personally, I keep three plastic jars on my bedroom window ledge. One gets dimes and quarters. One gets 1982 and later pennies. The third gets nickels and pre-1982 pennies, which I separate because they're the only ones whose metal content is worth more than face value.

Posted by: wheels at January 21, 2016 7:38 AM

I have two jars. I put pennies in a replica ginger jar and coins in a piggy bank. It sometimes gets used for gasoline, but mostly goes towards property taxes. I usually get about $100 and I take mine to the bank. I try and sort out silver coins and copper pennies. And I pick up pennies on the ground. My minister read a story about how pennies say "In God We Trust" so he would always pick them up. So I do too. I need to start stashing paper money too.

There's a fun book "How to get what you want with the money you already have" that has some great stories about saving coins for particular purposes. It's inspirational

Posted by: Teri Pittman at January 21, 2016 9:58 AM

Mrs Fert bought me a small coin-counting machine. Stacks them into tubes the right size for a paper wrapper.
Used to take the penny rolls to work to buy sodas at the little store there. The lady that ran the store was glad to get them because most of cash purchases were paid for with folding money, and the transactions needed pennies as part of the change. The other change I just recycled myself after plucking out the pre-1964 stuff.

Posted by: OldFert at January 21, 2016 1:14 PM

Inquire at your bank as to whether they will take your coins. Ours does. They deposit it or give bills or make money orders, our choice. They charge *nothing* for this.

Posted by: Red at January 21, 2016 2:04 PM

Anyone who has worked retail prior to the past decade can always hear the special pitch of a solid silver coin when it hits the till. Much different than the pot metal mix that most coins have been made of for quite some time now. I have quite a few silver quarters and dimes saved from such exchanges while working through college at a grocery store. My current retail hobby is the gun range and almost NOBODY deals in cash any longer.

Posted by: Snakepit Kansas at January 21, 2016 6:33 PM

When my granddaughter, Marcela, and I would be walking somewhere, parking lot, in a store, wherever, we would pick up any change we came across. Eventually we made a poem to make it even more fun. "Money, money on the ground, where are you to be found. From the ground to my hand, that would be so grand." We bought a rose box and named it "Found Money" and put every coin in it. We started in 1999.
One day probably eight or 10 years ago, just for the heck of it, I decided to count the change. It came a little over $10. Oddly enough, a few days later, someone broke into our home and took every penny they could find, including our "Found Box." I was more angry about that than the few other things they took. Since I knew approximately how much we had, I counted that much in mostly pennies, etc., and continued on. Marcela is almost 20 now, and I still, out of habit, often recite the poem.

Posted by: Jacqueline at February 1, 2016 6:47 AM