See a penny? Pick it up!

thDuring my recent trip to Austin I continued my habit of picking up stray coins. A penny at the drugstore checkout. Two pennies and a nickel behind a bench at the bus stop. A dime on the airport floor.

No matter where I go, I’m an inveterate coin-grabber. Except maybe Phoenix, Arizona, where picking up a coin in high summer can burn like the dickens. I learned this important safety tip from my daughter, who lives in Phoenix and blogs at…

(wait for it)

….I Pick Up Pennies.

I carry an old prescription bottle in my suitcase just for found money, which amounted to 24 cents on this trip. When I got home the coins went into an old pink vase that my daughter once got from the “free” box at a yard sale. My change purse gets emptied into a pink piggy bank that was a Christmas gift from Will Chen at the Wise Bread blog; this money gets wrapped every so often and deposited into savings.

According to a November 2013 survey from Coinstar, the average respondent figured he had a little over $26 in spare change lying around the house. In fact, the average trade-in at a Coinstar kiosk is $56.

(The smart money, as it were, is on taking this in the form of a nationally branded eCertificate or gift card, which are fee-free in most locations.)

The survey also noted that while 74 percent would stop to claim a fallen nickel, only 66 percent of respondents would bother to pick up a penny.

Stretching my giving dollars

Thus far this year I’ve lucked into both a $5 and a $20 bill, and quarters, dimes and nickels glint among the specie in the vase. The overwhelming majority of the coins, however, are pennies – some as shiny as the day they were minted, others with surfaces dark and tarnished, or roughened by tires that crushed them into crosswalks.

I can understand why people wouldn’t want to pick up a penny, or even a quarter. It’s lying on the ground where who knows what was lying before the coin came to rest. (Hint: Dogs gotta pee somewhere.)

Some people have bad backs or joint issues that make bending over painful. Or they think picking up coins looks low-rent. Or they’re just in a hurry.

But all of my found money gets donated to a food bank at the end of the year.  The idea of someone getting supper – or, rather, possibly not getting supper – is what keeps me bending over to pick up those coppers or quarters.

Maybe a similar goal would make found money worth your while, too. Even a dime at a time might help you inch up that weekend-away or new-TV fund.

Fortunately, DF is fine with found funds. He doesn’t tease me at all if I stop to retrieve a penny. In fact, sometimes we do a joking  “I saw it first!” routine when a coin is spotted on the drugstore floor or gleaming on the road during one of our walks. But all the coins go into the vase because, well, hunger.

Anyone else do this? And where does your found money go: Into the general fund, into a special account or into the next donation box you see?

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  1. Terri M

    My late husband and I would compete against each other to see who would find the most money. We would park far away from the store and then zigzag our way to the entry trying to find coins in the parking lot. Found money goes into a tugboat bank. He loved tugboats!

  2. I always pick up pennies and other coins (paper money isn’t bad either!).

  3. Tina in NJ

    My late father always ended the rhyme, “…and all the day you’ll have good lup.” That way it really does rhyme!
    I pick up coins unless I’m in a large city or depressed area. I figure there are people there who need the cash more than I do. The coins usually just go in my pocket. I like the food bank idea.

  4. I pick up pennies, but oh my word! I love the idea of giving them to a food bank. I am so doing this!!!

  5. When they were found on the grounds of my worksite, I used to contribute them to the garden fund. Since we no longer do that, those coins are added to the ones I find anywhere else. They all go into a bank, shaped like a three tier wedding cake that belongs to my daughter. She is already married and no longer lives with us, so has no knowledge of the growing fund. Maybe someday when the seeds of a house fund are needed…..I need to scout out some yard sales for a house shaped bank; the one I have contains coins with her year of birth in it.

  6. The cities, where people walk, are much more bountiful than the ‘burbs. People would have to throw money out their car windows where I live. 😀

    However, I do find the occasional coin and I always put it in the car cup holder. I would like to always have *luck* with me when I’m driving. Last year I cleaned out the cup holder after eight years of putting in found coins. $1.86

    Better than a poke in the eye.

    • Donna Freedman

      My own found-money collection has gotten smaller since I left Seattle, where I walked a lot. But I do find money on my daily strolls to the post office and when DF and I take walks in the evening. Earlier this summer I found a quarter, a dime and a couple of pennies all within a few inches of one another. No doubt there’s a story there.

  7. Catseye

    I began looking down a lot in my early 40’s because it seemed that when I didn’t, I’d trip over something or step in something. That’s when I began to notice coins on the ground.
    I pick up whatever coins I find. If they are grimy, I soak them in hot water and baking soda, then wipe then clean. I’d love to find more bills, but for some reason, they are really scarce. Maybe people here are more careful with their paper money? I can’t blame them!
    Most of my found money goes to pay expenses. I haven’t worked full time for a couple of years now, so every little bit helps.

    • Donna Freedman

      It does indeed. I remember robbing the baby’s piggy bank to buy milk and replacing the money on payday. That was way back when, before you could pay for groceries with a credit card.

  8. Insurance Gal

    I pick up coins, including pennies, too. I have no problem with doing so, even wearing a suit on the way into the office. Coins are transferred into my penguin bank. Not sure what I’ll do with the loot when I’m ready to cash it in, as this is the first year I’ve not lived off the spare change. <3

  9. I knew I was hardcore when I rescued a couple of dimes from a ladies room floor! I have found university parking lots during the first week of school to be lucrative: everyone is rushing to class with their headphones on, and they don’t hear their coins fall out of their pockets! Our found money goes, naturally, into the House Fund these days…

    • Donna Freedman

      Bar parking lots first thing in the morning are also supposed to be good.
      P.S. It was nice meeting you and your husband in Austin.

  10. Shellye

    My found pennies go into a giant Energizer battery can piggy bank, and when it’s full I take to Coinstar at Walmart and get an Amazon gift card (no convenience fee that way) and give it to my college student to buy books. It usually takes two years to fill it up. I’m on my second college student 😀

    All other found money goes into my ceramic jar and each year at Christmas, I take it to work and run the coins through the coin counter, deposit into my account, and use the money for gifts. I pick up change even when it’s face down (bad luck, so they say). The biggest haul in recent times was when I found a $20 bill on the copy machine at Kinko’s about a year ago.

    • Donna Freedman

      My mom and her second husband paid for their honeymoon by putting all quarters into a jar for a couple of years. As they went all the way to Mexico City, you can see they were pretty dedicated.
      Now I guess I should start checking copy machines…?

  11. Mirabella

    I pick coins up whenever I see them, unless somebody is standing right over them, a homeless person or panhandler is nearby who may need them more, or I’m blocking traffic in the street. I have separate coin jars for each denomination, and when the penny/dime/nickel jar gets full I roll the coins up and deposit them into my checking account. Quarters are used for laundry.

    I tend to find the most bills on the floor in Las Vegas casinos, including a number of $100 bills. Go figure.

  12. Cathy in NJ

    I pick up pennies and if they are face down I flip them because through my actions I can change my luck. I gather them into a piggy bank for my daughter. When the bank gets filled my daughter and I go and do something together like breakfast out and if there is enough additional money consignment shopping at Greenstreets in Princeton. The local WAWAs, Quikcheks and grocery stores are gold mines for coins. It is rare but sometimes I find paper money, the largest bill was a twenty in a grocery store parking lot.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’ve found both a $20 and a $5 this year — very rare for that to happen.
      And oh, how I miss Wawa stores…When I go visit my dad the first thing I ask when he picks me up at the bus station is, “Could we stop for a shorti hoagie on the way home?” My favorite welcome-home dinner.

  13. SherryHSherryH

    I used to pick up change. Bit harder nowadays, since I can no longer see them. I sometimes think, “But what if someone else comes along who needs it more?” I like the idea of doing good works with found money. (And there are times the spare change fund has saved our bacon in those lean days before payday.)

    I don’t differentiate found coins from the general fund.

    We have a Tootsie Roll bank for quarters and a smaller one for pennies. It’s funny, though – we only put in quarters when we have a full dollar’s worth. Dunno how that got started! lol That’s one of our emergency stashes.

    It’s funny with the pennies. Used to be, my husband would clean them out of his pockets, and I’d take nine or so and put them in mine, to make exact change and save up the silver. Nowadays, he does almost all the shopping and they accumulate. I imagine they’ll end up in a Coinstar machine if we ever fill the bank.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’ve had people ask me “what if someone needs it more?” There’s a case to be made for that. But since the money I pick up goes to the food bank, I figure that people in need are getting the coins no matter what.

  14. Carnette Ball

    Recently, I found ten pennies laying on the top of the break room garbage can at work. I took them out, took them to the sink, washed them & stuck them in my pocket. As the country song “hell of a life” says: “Pennies make dimes. Dimes make dollars. Dollars by gas and long neck bottles.” We put ours in a small drawer at home & every vacation we take them to the bank. They don’t charge us or make us roll them. We usually have between $80 and $100.

    • Donna Freedman

      Nice vacation fund! And I have found small stacks of pennies myself: outside the bus station, on a Seattle curb and even on a store shelf. It mystifies me: Someone took the time to stack them up, but not to add them up.

  15. Kaycee Fisher

    Money is money to me. So yes, I do/have pick up pennies/nickels/dimes, et al.

    In mid-May while entering a local grocery store (it was the vestibule if you will) I spotted what looked to be a very beat up $5 bill. I quickly scooped it up and tucked into my pants pocket. After arriving home, I pulled said $5 bill from my pocket, lo and behold it was in fact a $50 bill!

    • Donna Freedman

      I was leaving the mushers’ banquet after the World Championship Sled Dog Race when I saw a soggy, folded bill on the sidewalk. Scooped it up and kept walking. When I got home I realized it was a $20 bill. Wish mine had been a $50 bill, too — the food bank can buy a lot of rice for $50.
      These comments are very encouraging. It’s nice to know I’m not the only cash-stooper out there.

  16. For doctor-ordered exercise I walk at a very large suburban mall prior to the mall’s daily opening for shoppers. I find pennies and dimes near the soda machines. I also find coins under the tables at a local coffee shop. And yes, I pick up all that I see! I’ve also found money in items donated to my local Goodwill – found a quarter in a jacket pocket, a dime in an interior pocket of a purse, and a dollar inside a piece of luggage! I have used the money for various things over the years, including donations to various charities.

  17. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who picks up pennies and other coins! Best recent haul was 35 cents in front of the local package store (that’s a liquor store to you non-New Englanders). Generally we use it for the vacation fund. Unless you are getting a gift card, our local Coinstar machines charge 8% to use them. I’ve been taking my coins to the machine at the bank.

  18. Kandace

    I pick up spare change as well and I also empty my change purse from my wallet into an old jar. My husband does the the. I sort through the quarters and pull those that are from the 50 state series as I am making coin collections for my future posterity. The rest of the change each year goes to our neighbor George, who is on a fixed income. We take it over Christmas Eve. He loves to looks through all the coins, then makes his way to the bank or Coin Star and uses the money for what he wants/needs. My guess is that we collect about $60 a year for him.

    Makes coin finding much more fun!

    • Donna Freedman

      What a kind gesture! Good for you and your husband — and whenever you don’t want to stop and pick up a coin, you can tell yourself, “Come on, it’s for George!”

  19. I love the idea of using an old medicine container for coins picked up. I will have to start doing this.

  20. Yes – I pick up change and paper money. It all goes into my “found money” jar. I, too, donate it to the local food bank The only time I’ve had a real battle with my conscience (after all, the donation agreement is just with myself)was a few years ago when I found a $100 bill. Yes, after a silent struggle it got donated.

    Love Kandace’s comment.

  21. Carolina Cooper

    I collect small heart-shaped boxes. Found money goes into those boxes, quarters in one box, nickels in another box, etc. For some reason, visiting children are fascinated by these boxes and coins and will keep themselves occupied with counting and re-counting the coins in various combinations. I check with the local food pantry to see what their most needed item is (usually eggs) and I use the found money a couple of times a year to buy eggs for them.

  22. I always pick up coins when I see them. We save them in a jar, roll the change at the end of the month, and deposit in our savings account.

  23. As kids me and my sister had competitions to see who could find pennies because we thought it was cool and to this day we still pick up pennies. Every so often I put my found money in my savings to help pad my emergency fund especially since I am still trying to find full time work after finishing college.

  24. Anna worked at Six Flags a few summers ago and she was a lifeguard. She would find all kinds of change in the grates. She was not as giving as you and saved it all for beer. She had quite a pile.
    I love when coinstar has a bonus on ecertificates. It stretches the Christmas money that much farther. Though I can say that I haven’t had as much luck with things like that this year.

  25. Christy

    The parking meters here are $1.50 per hour. Almost everytime I walk buy them I will find pennies either on top or on the ground where people have discarded them in disgust as they look for money to feed the meter. There have been days when I have found 65 cents! I should have been keeping it in a separate jar but it goes into the center console of the car and is used when I need change.

  26. Teinegurl

    I look for coins on the ground all the time! haven’t found much paper money but i have found quarters, nickels, dimes. Ive even trained my kiddos to look for them and we save them in our piggy bank. I always end up using it for something and cashing it out at coinstar since im on a tight budget. but i do get excited when i see a little gleam on the ground. I always say like a commenter above ‘see a penny pick it up, all day you’ll have good luck’.

  27. I pick up one penny per day. Sometimes more but never less. They’re out there. You just have to look, bend and scoop them up!

  28. I have a found change jar I put all money found in. I actually got tbe idea from you when you wrote for msn. This is my second jar I started. I used the first one for bills….boring…this one is getting used for my road trip next summer. I pick up all coins and paper money when I can and when its safe…I.e. in the road

  29. I never apologize or feel guilty about picking up money, even pennies. It only takes a second to pick up a penny. That is 60 cents a minute and $36.00 an hour.

    Rarely does a critic earn more than that. And people with money are unlikely to be critics. More often than not they pick up money, too!

    • Donna Freedman

      I picked up three yesterday and one today. Another 96 of them and six people get to have dinner — my money goes to the food bank.

  30. The round lancet containers for the lancets that fit the Bayer Contour glucose meters hold quarters quite nicely.


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