Saving My Pennies

I’ve been saving my pennies. Quarters, dimes and nickels too. I’ve always been the type of person to save my change. Whenever I have cash, I spend the bills only. The change goes into a vase at home.

In college, the resulting change usually went towards laundry and vending machines. I wasn’t exactly flush on cash back then, so there wasn’t a lot of change. Out of college, I used my credit cards most of the time. I’ve only really begun stockpiling change over the last five years or so. It’s more noticeable now that I use cash only for my spending money, instead of using my debit card.

I like the idea of saving my change. It’s a nice way to sock away a little bit of my spending money at a time, so I have money saved for somewhat larger purchases. Since this is my spending money, I try to keep it as that, and not use the money towards debt or savings. But the problem becomes what do you do with all of that change?

I’m not saying what do you spend it on. I can always find something to buy. But rather, how do you transform it into “spendable” money? Not that pennies aren’t spendable. But they’re heavy, and bulky, and time-consuming to count in large quantities. When I worked in a restaurant, I would “sell” them my change. It worked well: I could trade in the coins for dollars, and they didn’t have to make a trip to the bank for more change. Win win!

Technically you can take your coins to the bank. My recent experiences with this haven’t been so positive. Some banks now have rules about coins. You must have an account, and the coins must be deposited. They must be rolled. The teller must roll her eyes, and huff, and make certain that you understand how much of a hassle you are creating. I think they get a bonus if they can thoroughly embarrass you in front of other customers.

My habit of saving my pennies (and quarters, nickels and dimes) has continued. But with most people now using plastic, fewer and fewer places want your coins. I love the ease of being able to stash away some extra cash. But I hate the embarrassment that comes with trying to exchange them. What’s a girl to do?

This weekend I discovered a new trick that can help alleviate some of my issues. Technically, rediscovered, although in a much better light. My idea? Coinstar. I know, I know. They charge a ridiculous fee to accept your coins. Somewhere around 10%. 10%! But now, they offer gift certificates. And if you exchange your coins for gift certificates, instead of cash, there’s no fee.

There are some drawbacks, of course. You have to lug your coins into a store, usually a grocery store or big box retailer, and stand at the machine loading them in, hoping the machine counts them correctly. That process does take much less time then rolling them. There’s still the slight embarrassment factor. Although, a lot of the machines are located in stores that are 24 hours, so you can go during an off-peak time. There isn’t a large selection of retailers for the gift certificates. Maybe a dozen? But it does include places like Amazon, iTunes, and Lowes. And instead of a true gift card, you get a receipt to use as a gift card.

It isn’t a perfect solution. But, it is one that fits into my schedule and lifestyle, and saves me at least some of the embarrassment factor. This past weekend I lugged my coins into a nearby grocery store and exchanged them for a $200 gift certificate to Lowes, and a $100 gift certificate to JC Penney’s. I’ll be able to keep working on things around the house, and buy some much needed new clothing for work.

Now that I’ve found a slightly easier solution, I’ll probably be redeeming my coins more often. It takes a while to load $300 into one of those machines! There are probably a lot of people who would disagree with my strategy. Hey, it’s not perfect. But it will allow me to keep stashing away a little bit of my spending money here and there. When you’re only giving yourself $100-130 a week for groceries and spending, it’s hard to pull out $50 here, or $100 there, for a new outfit, or landscaping. It’s my way of making my dollars stretch a little farther!

– Ms. W

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