Picking up loose change makes sense

Hand holding coins


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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I always pick up change when ever I see it on the ground. I've found as little as a few pennies to a crumpled $100 bill I found at a fair. I put all this money in a plastic bag and take it to the bank to put in my savings account. I'm the same way about aluminum cans with recyling centers paying up to 84 cents a pound. Yipeee! Frugality Reigns!

I've been picking up coins for the last 20 years - and sometimes manage to find a few bills too. But I really hit the 'Mother-load' in Moscow, Russia. We had just landed after an umpteen hour set of flights and wanted to stay awake to avoid jet lag. We took a leisurely walk from our hotel over to the nearest subway/rail station. Along the way, and especially in front of the railway station, I was constantly finding coins. I could not believe the Russians were just letting all these coins sit on the ground. By the time we got back to the hotel, I had 2 handfuls of coins. Then I sat down to add them up. Most were various denominations of kopeks - the Russian equivalent of a penny. There are 100 to a ruble and, at that time, the ruble was 31 to the US$. If a ruble is 3 cents, you can see what a kopek was worth...and my 2 handfuls of coins added up to $1.12. So much for my new found wealth. I did keep some as souvenirs for our kids.

My husband and I have been picking up change for at least seven years. We average about $300 per year. When we find at least one of each coin on the same day, we say we've hit a "grand slam."

I am someone who picks up stray change, but the other day, I had to sadly bypass a real motherlode of pennies and small change- it was lying in the middle of an asphalt oil-stain on a 108-degree day. Since I was headed inside for lunch, I had to pass up this little find, but normally, I'd pick stuff like that up in a heartbeat.

The only thing I don't like about my new car is that it doesn't have an ashtray drawer for me to dump stray change into- a cupholder now serves, and when it starts to rattle when I go over bumps, it's time to empty it out.

After hearing this story, I promptly went outside and picked up two pennies I'd seen lying in my street.

Thank you for this report. I always feel that I have to pick up change when I see it. I sometimes feel cheap doing so but I am happy to see that others also share the urge. I was also surprised that so many people don't care.


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