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Picking up loose change makes sense

Hand holding coins

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Kai Ryssdal: "Pinching your pennies" is a common enough phrase in tough economic times. Lots of people are probably doing that -- metaphorically, anyway. But what about actually pinching those pennies as you find them lying on the ground? From the mean streets of New York City, Sally Herships reports.


Sally Herships: How much loose change do you think you've passed on the street? A few cents? A penny here, a penny there? And who stops for a penny, anyway? The Humphrey family does. Barbara and Scott Humphrey live with their two daughters on Staten Island. They've been collecting loose change from the street for a few years now.

Barbara Humphrey: This is it. This is our fiscal year 2008 change pot jar.

And even they're surprised by how much they've found.

Herships: What is your grand total so far?

Brianna Humphrey: I know!

Daughter No. 1, Brianna.

Brianna: It's a $1,013 and something cents. I can't remember the change.

Just to be clear this is money they've found -- on the ground. It's sort of a hobby. They take a lot of long walks.

Barbara: We're all looking around. You know, we have our glasses; we have our Purell bottles; we have our little change purses.

The family has a blog called ChangePot, where Barbara keeps a running tally of their findings.

Barbara: 'Cause I figured it would be a nice way at the end of the day, kind of like a Doogie Howser thing. You know, at the end of the day how he'd write down things. We basically keep track of it that way.

It all started about three years ago, when Barbara was at college and saw some money on the ground.

Barbara: In my school people -- they'd complain about not having money. But meanwhile, there's seven cents on the floor, nobody would pick it up.

So she did. But there were some odd looks. Even from Scott.

Scott Humphrey: I thought she needed help. 'Cause, I mean, why are you picking up change? I mean I make a decent salary. What is this? And three years later, it's added up kind of nice.

And now the whole family contributes.

Karen Humphrey: Even if you find a broken penny in the street.

Even 6-year-old Karen knows to look for beaten up coins. Banks will give you clean new shiny ones in exchange. But not all change seekers are in the Humphrey's league.

Scott Caulfield: Currently, as of right now, I've found $268.11. But I did find a dime and two pennies on the way over here.

Scott Caulfield lives in St. Louis. He also chronicles his finds on a blog called ChangeRace. And he seems to share a certain outlook on life with the Humphreys.

Caulfield: I'm the kind of guy I'd much rather drive around for five or 10 minutes and find a free spot or a metered spot, than pay seven or eight bucks. It's kind of just a different way of thinking. I don't look at it as cheap. I just look at it as smart.

He's a totally dedicated change hunter. Even on the most important day of his life.

Caulfield: I found one penny on the dance floor during my wedding.

Scott sees the value in small change.

Caulfield: It's interesting how people just walk away. You know, they'll drop a quarter, they'll drop a nickel, they'll drop a dime and they'll just, they'll walk away.

Barbara: I mean, People see change as just that, nothing worthwhile or significant . My daughter on the other hand, when she sees a penny, she says 99 more make a dollar. And I'm very proud of her for that. Very proud.

Neither the Humphreys nor Scott Caulfield have specific plans for their savings. But, I know what I'm going to do. Follow some advice I got from Scott: Keep my head down and look for silver.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

Kai Ryssdal: We've got links to the blog that Sally mentioned, as well as her own try at looking for spare change on our Web site. It's marketplace.org.

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