Why ‘found’ money matters.

thFor at least 17 years I’ve been picking up change and saving it until Thanksgiving, at which point I donate it to the Food Bank of Alaska.

This year’s count-up was late, on purpose. I decided to wait until January because giving tends to slow way down right after the holidays. (Apparently people are hungry only from Thanksgiving until Christmas.)

Here’s what I accumulated between last November and yesterday:

  • 21 quarters
  • 62 dimes
  • 25 nickels
  • 157 pennies

A typical year’s take is usually no more than $20 and no less than $12, so $14.27 isn’t too bad. Notably absent this year was any denomination of paper money, which could mean that people are being more careful with their cash. Or maybe it means that another scavenger got there first.


As usual, I rounded up the amount. This year the food bank gets $30.


The spare-change safety net

Some people are entirely skeeved out by the idea of picking up money from sidewalks, parking lots, Coinstar return bins and vending machines. But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not as though I carry the specie home in my mouth.

If gleaning change isn’t for you, then don’t do it. I still get a kick out of it, and it nicely extends my giving dollars.

The exercise also keeps me humble, reminding me of the days when I’d have to open the baby’s piggy bank to buy milk in the middle of the week. (The money always went back in on payday.) Even though my safety net was composed of pennies, nickels and dimes, the fact is that some people had no cushion at all.

When I was going broke during a divorce and back in school, sometimes I went to a Seattle nonprofit called North Helpline. Its food bank offered potatoes, beans, apples, a few canned goods, and all the bread and baked goods a person could carry.

I saw a lot of thousand-yard stares in line, people who looked completely exhausted and defeated. How they would have fed themselves – and the kids some held by the hand – without North Helpline?

Sometimes when I’m tempted not to pick up a coin, I remember those faces. And I stop, and stoop, and tuck it away for another year.


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  1. Susan R.

    Thanks for reminding us that no matter what, we can all do a little more to help.

  2. Very touching post.thank you for writting it, it reminds me that even the smallest things matter and you would better start very small, than never start at all because little by little became a lot.

  3. I love that you do this and it makes me want to be able to give this way also. January is a tough month for charities so that is perfect. I’ll be looking more diligently for found money this year.

  4. I also bend over to pick up the coins (and sometimes paper money) that other people leave behind like litter! Found two shiny new pennies at the gas station this morning!
    Once, I actually put my car in park, turned on my hazards at a red light to get out an grab a dollar I saw in my rear view!(Don’t recommend anyone try that at home!)
    Mine goes into a bank on my dresser that is designated for “found” monies – and at end of year I round up and apply to my mortgage principle – this year my total was $19.67 – some would scoff at applying a mere twenty towards principle, I smile back and tell them “I’m paying off my mortgage EARLY, one penny at a time!” –

    • Donna Freedman

      That’s what I’m talking about! Every penny does matter. I think many people would pick up a $20 bill, but they can’t seem to make the jump from 2,000 pennies to a double sawbuck.

      Here’s to whittling down the principal!

  5. I also pick up change when I see it and put it in a jar on my dresser. I roll the change we save monthly and it goes into our savings account. The other day I pulled into a parking lot, opened my car door, and there were 20 pennies on the ground. I picked them all up. It’s funny how people just throw money away.

    • Donna Freedman

      Once in Seattle I found several piles of \change (mostly pennies) neatly stacked on a sidewalk. Still trying to figure that one out. Here in Anchorage I found one small stack of pennies down at the bus terminal. At some point people lost sight of the fact that 20 pennies = two dimes = 20 percent of a dollar.

      And yeah, I find it funny as well.

  6. Cathy in NJ

    I also collect pennies, nickels etc. off the ground. Most of the pennies are face down so folks think its bad luck. But I always looked at it that I had the power to flip that penny heads up. The coins normally go into the car to pay for parking meters or change needed at a drive through.
    I have been donating the points on the weather app I use to charity. I am constantly on that weather app, sometimes 5 times a day. The weather in Jersey can change hourly. As the saying goes, don’t like the weather wait a bit it will change.

    • Coin Counter

      I will sometimes (bending down is tough sometimes while carrying a kid) flip a penny over in the hopes that someone who needs it will find it and have luck.

    • Tina in NJ

      Which app is that? I just check the Accuweather app, but if I can help someone by checking the forecast, why not?

      • Cathy in NJ

        I use Mpoints on the weather channel app. I’m not even sure how I got it. But I saw a box in the top right corner of my weather channel app and clicked on. I set up an account and every time I use the weather channel app I earn points. After I collect 100 points I can donate to the Red Cross, Cancer Society, St Jude’s Childrens, ASPCA, Heart Association and others.

  7. kandace

    I pick up change and my husband and I also empty our pockets and put the change into a jar. We have a friend in his 80s who is also on a limited fixed income. Each Christmas we visit our friend George and give him the jar of coins–it’s usually about $60 or so.

  8. My grown kids still pick up change. They even have the same little smiles on their face when they do it. I saw DJ do it the other day and it still made my heart smile. They aren’t donating it but still know humility and the look of “finding free money/a small Easter hunt” will always be cute on them.

    • Donna Freedman

      Suggest that they save it up all year and count it just before Christmas. Then when somebody makes fun of them for picking up just a penny they can say, “Last year I found almost $50 and I wasn’t even trying. That $50 went to (whatever) and this year I hope to find $75.”

      My great-nephews sometimes find money and hang on to it to give to the food bank fund. I like the looks on their faces, too.

  9. I definitely pick up pennies, and the occasional dime, quarter, etc. Once I found a five dollar bill, and when I was volunteering to clean up around a work parking lot, I found a very weathered dollar. Oddly, I’ve lately been finding shiny new dimes inside Smith’s grocery store. What gives? Why does no one else see them? I look at it as adding to the ridiculously low interest on my savings account. If I find only 8 pennies, I just tripled my interest that month. Every little bit counts. I also give to the food bank here, through auto deductions from my paycheck. That’s easier for me, more certain for them.

  10. This was my worst year for found money – only $4.42. I think too many people are using credit cards for everything. Mine, too, will go to the local food bank.

  11. I do what Jackie does, pick it up, roll it and it goes to the bank. I don’t do a 1-for-1 donation but I know in the back of my mind we’re accumulating bits and pieces so that we can afford to make donations to those who need some help.

  12. We would collect found money and spare change in a change jar until Jan. 1st when our kids would count and roll the change. The deal was that if they did this than they could split the money. It certainly encouraged them to pick up pennies!! Additional benefit was that it let them practice their math skills with a big reward at the end.

  13. I will always pick up change and/or pennies … Find a penny pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck! My daughter cannot believe I do it and say my poem but it reminds me of my childhood and puts a smile on my face!

    • Tina in NJ

      My father was an editor and it always bothered him that “up” and “luck” didn’t rhyme. So he changed it to “good lup” to fix it. Thanks for the memory.

  14. My found money this my real found money was $38, plus another $19 of my own money that I refound throughout the year (I count that too).

    Almost all the found money came from a local park. I think some of the young men who play basketball empty out their pockets and don’t pick up their change when a ball or human scatters it.

    Also, I’ve developed a very keen eye for coins on the sidewalk, so I can pick them up before my son decides to put them in his mouth.

  15. Christy

    Almost every time I park at a meter I will find coins on the ground. Usually pennies, those coins you can’t use in the machine that people throw down in disgust, but often it is silver that someone dropped and were too lazy to pick up. After a snow melt I get really lucky at the amount I find.

    Another place to look is a public restroom, coins seem to be dropped by people when they pull their pants down. If I find a coin I pick it up (after I do my business) and then I wash the coin when I wash my hands.

    This winter I found a $25 gift card for a local coffee joint dropped outside on the side walk, I almost walked by it, couldn’t find the owner for that! I had several days of special hot chocolate out of that. 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Today I was downtown and saw a woman feeding a parking meter. She dropped a coin — and quickly bent to pick it up. But you’re right that plenty of others leave them where they fall.

      a little while later I found my first coin of the year, on the floor at the checkout counter. It was a very shiny penny from 2015. On the way back to the car I found three more pennies, lying in a row on the sidewalk. Into the vase they went, and here’s hoping they will soon be buried by their brethren.

  16. “The Spare Change Safety Net” made me chuckle. Not quite the same thing, but in college I knew a guy who literally emptied his change onto his bedroom floor every night. When he was broke, he gathered coins off the floor to make it through until payday. I guess that was his “spare change safety net”.

    I prefer a jar on the dresser, myself. For many years I’ve stashed quarters in an old bank, and many times that stash has come to the rescue at the end of a particularly hard month. Even if I were a millionaire, I don’t think I could break myself of the habit now!

    I love your tradition, and your generosity! I’m sure the food bank, and those who benefit from it, appreciate it as well.

    • Donna Freedman

      Wouldn’t it hurt, walking on coins in your bare feet? Guess it didn’t bother him. I’m with you, though: A jar on the dresser is best, because it’s convenient and because as the jar fills up you feel richer and richer.

  17. Your comment of remembering the “thousand yard stare” when picking up found money recalls my own motivation for another activity. I volunteered in an ESL class for a couple years and during one class the students talked about time and when they did certain activities. Hearing about their daily routine made mine seem much easier. It reminds to be grateful to be employed and to continue to work with an ESL class as it uses my talent with languages.

  18. I love this post! Have been picking up change forever and saving. My children used to make fun of me. Now they are adults and I do something similar. Every month I keep track of money I find in parking lots etc. I also include other “found money” Example Wednesday is Senior day at our grocery store and I get 5% back. That and money saved by using coupons goes on the list. Coupons from money saved at other stores and services as well. At the end of the month I total and divide in half and give half to each adult daughter. Some months it is $30 each! They don’t laugh anymore and love it. It shows that by saving small amounts through luck or planning can yield a nice surprise.

  19. Ruby Julian

    Found change is the best! It’s one of the few times that you get paid to touch your toes. 😀

    Many of the kids who used the soda machine at my son’s high school would just toss the 15 cents change they got back from their dollar. He scoped out the machines a couple of times a day and always came home with change, sometimes as much as a dollar’s worth.

    He and his dad once found a huge pile of pennies in the Walmart parking lot. Apparently someone was cleaning out their car and dumped several dollars worth of pennies on the pavement. We had a grand time counting those and putting them in paper rollers for DS to put in savings.

  20. Mirabella

    I pick up change from the ground whenever I spot it, much to the consternation of my fiance and my mother whenever they are with me. I even pick up face-down pennies because as far as I am concerned finding the penny was pretty lucky to begin with. The coins get separated by denomination into jars; the quarters are saved for laundry money and the other coins are rolled up and deposited into the bank account when their jars are full.

    I’ve found the most paper money on casino floors (yes, I know casinos are considered a waste of money by some, but they can be frugal entertainment if done right). On a recent trip with my mother, I found 2 hundred-dollar bills lying under an empty blackjack table. A win is a win in a casino!

  21. My dad and I used to compete on who could find the most money. It gave him something to think about and for us to talk about each day. If we found silver money it was a big deal:).

  22. Catseye

    I began looking for dropped coins regularly after I read about it on your blog years ago. It seems that lots of people forget to check coin returns, especially on Coinstar machines and self-serve checkouts. Last month, I found $1.81 at a Kroger store. I use the money to either buy food/household supplies or to treat myself to a restaurant meal or a movie with friends.
    It seems the more I look for money, the more I find. I found around $16 during the last 4 months of 2015. I hope 2016 will be even more “profitable.” ;o)

  23. I have never picked up a penny until today and I found two separate small amounts.

    • Donna Freedman

      I found four the other day in downtown Anchorage. Seeds for the 2016 crop!

      Consider stashing those coins, and any others you find all year, in a jar or cup. Maybe the total will pay for a treat.

  24. I always pick up change off the ground, the floor around the house, or anywhere I find it. I think of it as the Universes way of reassuring me that I have enough to carry me through whatever may come up. When my son was small and every penny was dear it helped me have faith in the future. Now that I’m much more fortunate financially I still add it to my stash.
    2015 was a good year for me financially and I practiced generosity on a larger scale than I have before (in many ways I saw myself as Scrooge after the ghosts, when he expressed that there are a good many back payments included).
    Your post reminded me that I want to drop off some donations in the food bank box at the local library.
    Thanks Donna.

  25. I rarely find money laying around — probably because I’m not looking!

    Thirty bucks is a great donation — $30 more than they would have had if you hadn’t been watching for change and collecting it. 🙂

    It’s strange how people will just toss money away, even dimes and quarters. I suspect it’s because our coins are now made of base metals — they really aren’t intrinsically worth anything. They’re so lightweight, they feel like plastic, so people treat them as the junk they are.

  26. Wendy Clarke

    I rarely find money, but I do take all the cans and bottles I can find to my local humane society, either from my dog walks or from my own personal use. I even started collecting cans and bottles at work (with my boss’ permission). The local humane society does a can and bottle drive once a month. I usually donate at least 5 large bags of cans and bottles every 3 months or so. When I drop off the cans and bottles, I also try to donate either money or something from their wish list (blankets, dog or cat food, etc.).

    • Wendy Clarke

      I forgot to mention that I live in New York State, where there is a 5 cent deposit on our cans or bottles that you can get back when you return them.

    • Donna Freedman

      Yet another way to extend your giving dollars! Very kind of you.

  27. David Hartman

    I have started to pick up coins from the sidewalk. I hope to create a non-profit organization called “Pennies for Peace.”
    The purpose of the organization would be to to publicize, internationally, thoughtful, peace-promoting thoughts.


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