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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 into 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. Its 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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rick September 24, 2018, 3:35 AM

    I grew up in a house of coins. My Dad had a vending machine business that produced a lot of change. We would gather around the kitchen table once or twice a week to sort and count change. No fancy machines, no preformed coin tubes, This was count them out, stack them and roll up with a coin wrapper. My Dad could grab 5 coins with each hand and have a stack made while I was still fumbling for 50. I finally got where I was was worth letting me do it but never as good as he was. In later years I’ve filled a couple of 5 gallon water jugs but it always took awhile. The first one I dumped and counted then went to a gun store and bought myself a Ruger 30-06 and a Leopold scope. My wife was not pleased with me. Now, when there is so little change I throw it in a small vase on the dresser and use the money to buy her locally made jewelry when we travel. It’s money well spent.

  • ghostsniper September 24, 2018, 4:44 AM

    Accumulated pocket change – one of life’s little pleasures.

  • Mike Anderson September 24, 2018, 4:45 AM

    Coinstar?!?! THAT’S HOW THEY GET YOU, 10% AT A WHACK!

    Somewhere between her first and second retirement, my wife decided to extract a continuing passive-aggressive revenge for past slights on the lumpen-proletariat by becoming The Dreaded Change Purse Lady. All my spare change is hoovered into her change purse–suitable in size and weight as a blackjack. Said change is disbursed to cashiers in exact payments ($3.97 anyone?), preferably when there is a long queue. I call this aggravating piece of protest art The Change Purse Dance; sometimes it’s all I can do to stifle my amusement as the Mrs brings local commerce to a near halt.

  • BillH September 24, 2018, 6:18 AM

    Lately I’ve had dollar bills piling up in my billfold like change used to pile up in my pockets. I’ve been unloading them on the barber, who claims to appreciate getting them.

  • Marica September 24, 2018, 7:12 AM

    I have four mason jars. But before I continue, it irritates the living hell out of me that only Whole Foods does it correctly. It’s 15 or *fewer,* not less.

    I do something similar with greenbacks. Most every Friday I go to the bank drive through and cash a check for $175 cash. Then I go to the liquor store. Husband takes a cut for coffee $$. Pay cash for weekly incidentals. And then! It’s Friday again! So out comes the leftover $17 and into a different wallet it goes.

    It’s my egg money. I used to spend it on crappy old books but since the Friends of the Library no longer accept donations of books over 15 years old, I no longer go to the FoL Book Sales. I am flush with egg money. But don’t tell anyone.

  • Rick September 24, 2018, 7:37 AM

    I’m old-fashioned – I love the simple pleasure of rolling my change on a Sunday morn, when the house is asleep. Reminds me of the care-free days of my youth, counting out the registers at the end of the night, rolling the change, setting up tomorrow’s drawers; while the crew drifts out after completing their chores…
    Then, cashing in very couple weeks and turning it into twenties. Or a twenty, some weeks.

  • John A. Fleming September 24, 2018, 8:13 AM

    The old joke is, you put a penny in for every time in the first year, and then take a penny out for every time after that, and you’ll never empty it.

  • jwm September 24, 2018, 8:15 AM

    I have a small wicker basket by the door in the den. The basket has a handle so I have to aim a little when I drop the coins in. Most of the time I get the drop right and all the coins go in. Sometimes a nickel or two will hit the handle and roll under the futon. I gather ’em up from time to time. Last cash out got me an ounce of Train Wreck from the local bootleg pot shop. Dope & Change, baby!


  • HH September 24, 2018, 8:27 AM

    My beloved loves his change jar—a one gallon plastic pretzel container. He likes to roll the coins himself, and usually spends the savings on electronics. As I recall, his first purchase was a Casio digital watch that would store telephone numbers, and now it’s cell phones. We have gone back to cash for most purchases, instead of credit cards, and the change jar is filling up faster than ever.

  • azlibertarian September 24, 2018, 1:36 PM

    “It’s just not worth it since the dollar became the new quarter sometime between 2008 and now.”

    Boy, ain’t that the truth.

    I’m much happier now that I am a grandfather and concentrate on the rewards that go with that title, but for a while I was consumed by the fraud that is our Federal Reserve. I could go into a spittle-flecked rant for hours about how corrupt it all is. My family, bless their hearts, tolerated it and tried in their own ways to get me to see the sunny side of life, to little avail. And at work, every time I began a rant, I’m sure one or two of my co-workers silently rolled their eyes and wished they could be somewhere else. I’m still concerned about it, but now I love those grandkids more. Waking up on the right side of the bed is a choice you make each morning.

    Here is a chart that the Federal Reserve puts out that describes what I see as their corruption….the Adjusted Monetary Base.

    A couple of points jump out at me.
    1. That chart begins by moving along at roughly an exponential increase. This is horrible, but most of us see it as absolutely normal. We each kinda joke about the stories that Mom and Dad used to tell about buying their first car for $1200 and a house ran $25,000. Can you imagine? A house for $25k? Yuk, yuk, yuk. LOL. What you’re seeing here is currency inflation.
    2. Our host spent some time earlier this month reminiscing about the days right after 9/11. These memories may be dusty, but they were formative enough that we can each be brought back to “The Day” easily enough. But what about 2008? Do we remember that? The “Financial Crisis”? What stuns me about the right angle in that chart that occurs in September of 2008, is that “they” can put an actual minute to the time when they opened the spigots. It was 11:00am on Thursday September 11. Watch this, but begin to pay particular attention at about 2:00 minutes in.
    Kanjorski, ironically a Democrat, gives the clearest explanation I’ve heard of what happened at that Crisis.
    3. So today, when you look at your 401k balance, or your home’s value and tell yourself that things have recovered, I have to ask: Have they? That chart of the Adjusted Monetary Base (at least as far as I understand things), says that there are now 4 times as many dollars in the system as there were at the beginning of September 2008. Has your 401k balance quadrupled since then? Your home value? If so, then good on you. But if you’re like I think most of us are, while your accounts have recovered what you lost (and then some), you’re still somewhat south of quadrupling. That tells me that they’ve inflated the currency to give us the illusion that the economy has recovered. They’re papering over the structural problems that come with running a Central Bank. [BTW, the Federal Reserve is our fourth(!) central bank, the previous three having failed, and in the process, impoverishing millions of Americans.]
    4. We all remember that we were having a Crisis in 2008. Banks and large financial houses were failing. https://blogs-images.forbes.com/mikepatton/files/2014/02/US-Bank-Failures-2000-2013.png People were lined up at banks to pull their money (“Cash, please”) out of their accounts. But we’ve had crises before. 9/11 was a crisis, and if you look very closely at that chart, you can see the tiniest blip. WWII and the Great Depression were both crises, yet on the scale of the AMB chart neither are perceptible. We’re in uncharted territory here…..

    ….except that we aren’t. We see these kinds of currency inflations elsewhere. Really….how much better are we than the Venezuelans?

  • MIKE Guenther September 24, 2018, 2:21 PM

    Well, I know those new fangled plastic 3 pound coffee cans will hold about $400 bucks. I have a Golf change cup that holds around $40 bucks. When it’s full, into the plastic coffee can it goes.

  • H September 24, 2018, 7:25 PM

    10.9%? Really? I’m in the wrong business.

    Any bank worth doing business with has a change counting machine and will cash out your piggy bank or coffee can for you as long as you’re one of their customers. For zero percent…….

  • buddhaha September 24, 2018, 8:30 PM

    There’s about 145 copper pennies to a pound. Copper is going for about $2.80/lb.

    A copper washed zinc penny is worth…one cent. A real copper penny is worth (280/145) $0.0196, damn near double. The percentage of real copper pennies in circulation today is about 20% (because more and more people are recognizing that fact, otherwise known as Gresham’s Law). So when you bend over for coinstar, you’re also getting ripped off of 20% of the penny value.

    And that’snot even going into the “real”value of a nickle (over $0.07)

  • RebeccaH September 25, 2018, 7:21 AM

    My change collector is a giant piggy bank I bought in the Goebel Factory in Germany circa 1977. I’ve collected up to $200 in that baby, and it still routinely collects my change, although I take it to the bank counting machine more regularly these days. $200 in change is really heavy.

  • Gringo September 25, 2018, 10:25 AM

    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.

    My bank has a similar machine. When you deposit the small change strip of paper into your bank account, 100% of your small change gets deposited into your account.

  • J. S. Bridges September 25, 2018, 11:23 AM

    Change, it has been said, Must Come From Within…(8-D)