Smart SpendingSmart Spending

See a penny? Pick it up!

Truly "found money," those stray pennies and dimes will add up -- if you save them.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 18, 2009 7:39PM

I'm superannuated enough to remember penny candy. Finding a cent was cause for celebration, because it would buy Squirrel Nut Zippers (the candy, not the band), Smarties, Pixy Stix or a host of other treats.


I still pick up pennies. Also nickels, dimes and any other American paper or specie I see on sidewalks, in parking lots or pooled in the rejected-change bin of those Coinstar change-counting machines.


All "found" money goes into a vase my daughter gave me when she was about 8 years old. (She got the vase from the "free" box at a yard sale. That's my girl!) Each December, I donate my finds. This year, $24.14 will go to PetSmart Charities.


Ain't too proud to bend
Some of you are probably thinking, "Eeewww, pick up dirty coins off a dirty street? Who'd do a thing like that?" A whole lot of Smart Spending message board readers, that's who.


In a thread called "Do you pick up pennies?," readers wrote about how and where they find funds. Some real hot spots: near parking meters, in vending machines, under fast-food drive-through windows and in parking lots (especially tavern parking lots, the morning after). Also check college campuses, amusement parks and the area around the self-service vacuum at car washes.


       Bing: Do you save change?


A reader posting as "retireddad" scores paper money in a brambly lot near an ATM: "The most I have found at one time is three twenties." He gets free blackberries there, too. (Note, however, that some states have laws requiring those who find more than $10 or $20 to advertise the lost cash or turn it over to the police.)


"Sunset Hiker" has fond childhood memories of the ball-crawl play area at Chuck E. Cheese. "The bottom was always loaded with money ... a few dollars' worth of change and several bills every time."


"Thrifty in ATL" and her boyfriend look for coins while they walk their dog. They're trying to train the pooch to become the pecuniary equivalent of a truffle hound. "If successful," she writes, "we would have three sets of eyes and one nose searching (for coins) on our walks."


And yeah, some families and friends are completely embarrassed by such behavior. "Suzeeque" says her teens consider coin retrieval as more proof "that their mother is an embarrassing dork."


But "drkonijn" did the math -- one second to pick up a penny -- and now has a snappy comeback. "I tell them I make $36 an hour picking up pennies. Since there are a lot of people who would jump at $36 an hour, why not bend down for it?"


What they do with what they find
Many readers give it away: school "penny drives," donation jars, organized charities. Reader "Toy Maker" lets the kids pick the charity; in addition, the family matches whatever is found that year.

 

Some set up funds for their kids or other young relatives. "Waslostnowfound," saving since the birth of a now 13-year-old son, has accumulated nearly $1,600 "for his first car." Reader "decayschampion" calls spare change a "college fund" for a couple of nephews.


Others save it for themselves. "Sangria" opened an investment account just for found money; after five years, the account is worth nearly $650. "Johnny Walker" and his wife call dropped coins their "retirement fund," even though they’re already retired.


And some people spend the money outright. "ItsEasyOnceYouStart" will put nearly $50 toward this year's Christmas presents. "Ponophob" uses it for movies or other entertainment, "things that I wouldn't have done had it not been for the extra money." And "PensionPete" dines out on free cash.


As a struggling single mother, "Emilysmom128" once dined in on found funds. At a financial low point, that's how she paid for a jar of cheap spaghetti sauce and some noodles, which stretched for several days. "Thank God for dropped (coins)," she writes. "Every penny matters!"


Take the dropped-coin challenge
Maybe these stories will encourage you not to walk by that nickel in the parking lot.


Or maybe you're more like "flygrl7112003," who claims to have passed at least a dozen $1 bills in the past year. "My motto is, 'If it's less than $5, I won't waste my time on it'," she writes, adding that "maybe when I get older, I might consider picking up a dollar."


I'm already older, and I won't pass up even a penny. That’s just how I roll, so to speak. And I'd like to propose a challenge to those of you who aren’t germphobic or proud: Start picking up any money you find.


Save it in a coffee can or a mayonnaise jar, and count it every few months. Put it against credit card debt, if you have any, and in your emergency fund if you don't.


So what if it's only $5 or $10? Baby steps, people, baby steps.


Hint: Don’t forget to look under the couch cushions.

Related reading:


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