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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My husband has been picking up coins for years! People would laugh and call him cheap, but I think of all the money it has earned him! $200 found is still a profit of $200! He even has me scanning parking lots now for coins.

I've been picking up coins for 25 years, saving them in a stash jar, and at year's end, sending the total, plus my own matching dollars, to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. The coins have to be in public spaces; they are street money, and really belong to those who live there. I do try to look up occasionally to appreciate the world around me, but I'm addicted to this challenge.

Money fallen on the ground, no matter how little, is not mine as I did not earn it. It belongs to someone else that has misplaced it, I would never keep it. If I do pick it up, it goes to charity. Where's our moral compass?

I started collecting loose change a few years ago. First it was change in the laundry, old purses, anywhere in the house. If I found a penny in the back of a drawer I was happy. Soon, I spotted it on the street as I walked in my surburban neighborhood. I always keep my eye out for coins now. I have a huge casserole filled with "found" coins. One time, as I got out of my car the wind was blowing dollar bills down the street as an SUV drove away. My lucky day. They could have bought a gallon of gas.

I think it's an interesting kind of game, looking for change on the ground, because each day brings a clean slate. The same stretch of road may yield nothing one day, and something another. You could say there's a sort of renewable resource for the change we find...the traffic of other people.

This story is great. I myself do this and find it is kind of a relief to know I'm not the only person out there doing it. I have always been raised to see the value in a dollar, even if that dollar has lost its value. I also began a donation for the JDRF with cans I seen people needlessly throwing away at work. In under 3 months we have over $100. If only more people could realise what the money they throw out could go to.......

I need to find the market value of money.

I also pick up coins, including pennies. As an added bonus, US pennies minted before 1982 are copper, not zinc like later ones. Currently, copper pennies are valued at about 2.2 cents each in melt value (per coinflation.com, where I found this article). It is illegal to melt US coins, but knowing they are worth more is part of the fun of finding them.

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I do pick up change though I don't keep track of it. One thing I used to pick up in college was pens - I rarely had to purchase a pen in college. I really don't remember ever buying one after my freshman year.


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