A found-coin moment.

Late one recent evening I stopped at a nearly deserted supermarket. One tired-looking cashier leaned against her counter, and a customer service agent yawned mightily as he kept an eye on the self-checkout area.

No one was anywhere near the coin-counting machine. As is my wont, I glanced into its returned-coin bin as I passed by.

Did I hit the jackpot.

I pulled two handfuls of specie out of the machine: 10 quarters, nine dimes, two nickels and 58 pennies – and that was just the American money. I also retrieved a bunch of Canadian change (three quarters, two dimes, two nickels and seven pennies) plus coins from the Philippines, Korea, South Africa and a country called “Family Entertainment.”

Some of the coins were dirty, a few slightly dented and a bunch stuck together with a cola-smelling stickiness. But some of the rejects were perfectly fine. My guess is that the person doing the coin-dumping poured in too many at once and the machine couldn’t handle them all.

Who knows what you’ll find?

I don’t use coin-counting machines because I resent being charged a fee. Also because I like counting coins. There’s a no-fee option if you’re getting gift cards to certain merchants, but I don’t do that, either. I get my gift cards through online surveys.

But I always check the returned-coin bins on these machines, because I frequently find money there. The gleanings get saved until November, when I round it up to at least $50 and write a check to the food bank.

Plenty of the coins I find are from other countries. I’ve been putting them in a small plastic bag, figuring they’d come in handy eventually.

And now I know how: When one of my great-nephews saw the bounty I’d pulled from the machine, he petitioned to be allowed to keep the Korean coin. He just liked the way it looked. I guess I’ll be putting the “coins of many nations” bag in his Christmas stocking.

What have we learned?

1. Don’t use the coin-counting machine unless you’re getting a gift card.

2. Always check the returned-coin bin of the coin-counting machine.

3. Don’t drink a soda anywhere near your coin jar.

How about it, readers: Do you check the Coinstar machine? How about vending machines? Public phones? The ground under the drive-through window at McDonald’s?

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  1. Susan R

    OK–I have NEVER checked the coinstar basket, but you’d better believe I will now!

  2. Kelly C.

    I don’t do that. But, at Aldi (where you put a quarter in to use the cart and then get a quarter back when you return it) I will gather up any/all carts that weren’t returned. My best result was about 3 or 4 years ago on a bitterly cold Friday night in February. It was terribly windy and lightly snowing (which was actually miniscule ice pellets) I gathered up 4 carts plus the one I garnered for myself. I made $ 1.25 in about 2-3 minutes.

  3. AKgirl

    People routinely leave change in the Coinstar. How do I know? I was the person that ran the nightly reports and fixed the machine when it got stuck….

  4. I must remember to start checking the machine again. I did that for a while and found very little. But, who knows when I will hit the jackpot?…lol Donna, that was a good haul and Christmas present to boot.

  5. I let my grandson check it and he gets to put the money in his “treasure chest”. Teaching savings at a young age!

  6. I used to do that when I was a kid. 🙂 Vending machines too.

  7. Darla

    US Bank offers the use of their coin machine for free if you have an account with them.

  8. Elizabeth

    Did the people who working at the store – customer service, etc – see you do take all the $ and were okay with it? Or did they not see it? I pick up coins all over the place, but I’m always leery to take anything that is physically in a store, figuring once left behind by a customer, it belongs to the store… Very commonly, there are pennies dropped on the customer side of the checkout at my Walgreens, but I’ve been too chicken/morally uncertain to pick them up. But if the employees are ok with your taking that much $ from the coinstar, I assume they don’t feel the store owns it (or don’t care, I suppose). Just curious. Thanks for your interesting blog!

  9. ImJuniperNow

    I’m sorry, but I can’t quite bring myself to raiding Coinstar machines and payphones, even if it is for sweet charity. I have no problem picking up coins and other goodies from the ground or floor – 5 second rule!

    And Kelly C, I hope you don’t go to my ALDI store because not only do I enjoy leaving my cart free for someone else, I’ve actually freed up other carts. (Call it my random act of kindness.)

    • Donna Freedman

      @ImJuniperNow: I don’t consider it a “raid.” To me it’s like finding a coin on the floor — I just don’t have to stoop all the way down.
      Incidentally, a few times I’ve been in stores when I heard coins falling into the bin as someone fed a Coinstar machine. If the person starts to walk away, I’ll call him/her back to retrieve the change. One guy looked at the coins in my palm and said, “Ah, it’s only a couple pennies” and walked off.
      Into the food-bank fund they went. According to Feeding America, $1 can buy the ingredients for six meals. To a food bank, every penny does make a difference.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. Ro in San Diego

    Hmm. I think the same thing happened to me last weekn but I can’t be sure because I didn’t check before I dumped my son’s coin jar in. I could swear that when I got ready to start the process I saw a bunch of change in the discard coin area.

    A note – my credit union doesn’t charge for coin counting but the money goes in your bank account.

    I’m not that conflicted about keeping the money in the overflow area. Clearly, the owners didn’t care about it.

    I think “Finders/Keepers” still applies

  11. Shellye

    Many banks and credit unions offer a coin machine for members/customers to use at no charge. I have my kids roll my loose change once a year at Christmas, so I save any fees that coinstar would charge, but I separate my pennies from the other coins, and put them in a huge jar that takes 4 years to fill. When it’s full, I take it to coinstar and donate it to Children’s Miracle Network. There are other charities listed as well, but I like CMN.

  12. Coupon Ninja

    After working for years with the stupid Coinstar machines, I have gotten into the habit of checking them… when I am OFF the clock of course!
    I am not above picking up change where I see it. My DH and I were at Lowe’s last week and there was a crumpled dollar in the aisle, not a soul around and a dollar laying there.
    It’s now in my found-change fund. Which, as a result of you, will go to charity at the end of the year. But I only started this last month. But every penny does help!

  13. The “Ah, it’s only a couple of pennies” mindset seems prevalent; on multiple occasions I’ve seen people unload big bags or partially-filled shoeboxes of change into Coinstar machines and ignore their rejected coins. The only time I intervened was when the ‘ignorer’ was a flustered-looking mother trailed by one impatient kid and carrying another on her hip; I took the coins over to her as she stopped to get a grocery cart and she seemed appreciative. I’ve never taken any of the change for myself but I have an acquaintance who once used abandoned coins to buy a scratch-off ticket that won $20. Talk about making your own luck…

  14. I love this idea, though never have been very good at it. (My brother and daughter are better — they find EVERYTHING.) I did find a wallet once, leaning over to pull a ticket at the airport parking lot. (The lady was thrilled to get it back, and gave me a gift card as thanks — what a sweetheart.)
    I have found a quarter or two at Taco Bell and Burger King takeout areas. Also a handful of change near the 24-hour mail machine at the post office. My mom found a $5 bill in a cruise ship hallway…

    Did you know there’s a family who keeps track of their finds online? Go to: http://changepot.blogspot.com/

  15. Now A Country Mouse

    I’ve found money in parking lots/spaces more than once…I think when folks are pulling those jingly keys out on the way to the car that coins fall out sometimes. I keep a coin savings jar and once a year I cash it in at the bank to purchase a savings bond for my daughter’s college savings. I don’t check in machines for coins, but if I come across coins on the ground there’s no hesitation to pick them up. My two cents, (no pun intended), as a former cashier on picking up change in a store: if it is on the customer side of the register or in an aisle, it was more than likely dropped by a customer who has left and is there for the picking. Cashiers can be like hawks with their money till since it has to be accounted for at the end of the shift, so most cashiers do not let their change roll away.

  16. ImJuniperNow

    Oh, I know how wasteful people can be – especially if they think it’s only a few cents and their time is soooo much more valuable. I do applaude you for going for that brass (copper?) ring (coin?) tho.

    I’ve just gotten over being hesitant to stop in broad daylight for a piece of good looking, non-upholstered furniture in front of someone’s house on bulky day. Maybe I can work my way up to the coin machines by checking out the one in the entryway of Foodtown as I casually stroll by. Pretend to tie my shoe, perhaps.

    You are my roll model!

  17. I actually use one at my bank. It’s free. AND I always check to make sure all of my coins went through. :)!

    • yes! the one at my bank is free if you have an account there. I keep a container in my car for spare change, both manufactured by myself or found money, and when it’s full I take it to the bank. a couple of days ago that was over $18. I’ll take it happily. oh, and when I use the bank’s machine I usually find rejected, for whatever reason, coins in the hopper that usually go through just fine for me.

      • Donna Freedman

        Check those Coinstar machines, too. I often find coins there — and sometimes they are silver coins that the machine can’t judge as legal tender but are worth far more than their face values.

  18. Ha! Great story! My foreign coins come from the cash office at the store where I work – every once in a while when I count the till, I find some good ones. I’ve discovered coins from Korea, Russia, and various out-of-use currency from different European countries who’ve now adopted the Euro.

    I decided this month that there was no point in keeping most of them, so I put the lot in a ziploc bag, priced it at 50 cents, and sold it at a yard sale. I was amazed when it got snapped up, but the person who bought it was delighted.

  19. i’ve never checked those machines but now i will! oh i will also remember about the gift card thing. When i worked at 7-11 i would asks check the xerox machine!

  20. Great comments. I Routinely check coinstars when entering and leaving. I take no prisoners in the process. The most fun is the US silver coins rejected(Presently ,dimes are = to $2.33.) and the foriegn coins. I have coins from 30- 35 different countries, separated and abount 8-0 which I can’t identify. The most I ever saw in a Coinstar was $113.00 – the sound of drops must finall have been muffled or so routine as to be ignored.


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