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Two years ago, I was shopping for our weekly groceries in the Asian grocer near our house. In one of the snack aisles, there were a bunch of adorable animal-shaped coin jars stuffed with delicious jelly pudding. If you are Asian, you’ve likely seen those around before…
I don’t normally make impulse buys but the fact that they were:
3) filled with mango pudding snacks
I had to pick one up. I chose a teddy bear shaped pudding + coin jar. The pre-tax total was $4.99.
I remember thinking, “Well…I just bought an overpriced jar of pudding because it was cute. With the coins I could have saved instead of buying a coin jar. That’s irony! :\”
Fast forward to 2 years later…
Earlier this week, I was looking for something in the bedroom and tried to lift off the teddy bear change jar on our filing cabin to look in the back. I immediately noticed how heavy the teddy coin jar was. The jar was only half full but it felt super dense. I’m not even sure where all the change came from. We are a credit card reward hacking family. Using cash has always been an afterthought after swiping and Android Pay.
“Hmm, I wonder how much is in here now.”
I untwisted the Teddy jar and started counting how much coinage action we’ve collected over the years it’s been sitting on the filing cabinet. The mango pudding inside is long gone.
I was expecting maybe $100-$200 dollars in there tops from the looks of it.
“HOLY BATMAN, there’s almost $640 in here!!”
(It was like $638 something)
Even though it was only 3/4 full, there was the small denomination of $1, $5, $10, $20 bills and 1 forgotten $100 in there…collapsed under all the coins. The opening at the top of the Teddy is for coins but whenever I did have extra cash, I inserted the cash by folding it small and dropping it in any way. Eventually, the coins that followed ended up covering the paper bills and I forgot about them under there.
This is where all of the household’s loose change goes. I didn’t think we had so much in loose change. I mean, it has been about 2 years of casual collecting but still…
It’s like finding a random $5 in your coat pocket but this is better by a hundred times over.
All of this money “saved” for an initial set-up fee of $4.99. That teddy coin jar sounds like a straight-up bargain now.
How We Did It
Well, I’m not too sure myself where all this money came from but that’s what makes piggy banks so brilliant. It’s just a money hole you drop coins into. I bet top dollar anyone can do the same thing with similar results if they haven’t yet.
- We dropped any and all change found on the ground into the coin jar. Even if they were just pennies and dimes.
- We also put change we had into the jar as a means of organization. My husband and I always found loose change to be annoying so we compiled all physical cash to be in one place.
- We bought and sold things on Craigslist. Teddy was our ATM machine since most transactions on Craigslist are cash only. I remember selling a sofa for $500 and buying a love chair for $300. I remember selling off my crockpot, neck massager and 8 gallons of fabric softener I got for free and didn’t need. The large paper bills added up quickly.
- Over Christmas, we found a stash of my husband’s coin collection from childhood. There was some dollar sized coins from the “tooth fairy” as well. All of this boosted the value of teddy’s net worth too.
- Magic! We magically forgot that the jar even opened and just kept dropping random coins around into it. The teddy was only getting fatter by the day.
Day by day and year by year, we put in scattered coins, loose dollars and random change back into the jar which grew itself to a big $640 with absolutely zero effort on our part.
We all have loose change around somewhere in our dominion. We’re a credit card loving family and it even breaks down our plastic card ridden barriers. I can’t even tell you where our coins come from and how it gathered so quickly in just 2 years. For us, the money was never meant to be saved but it turned out to be one of the easiest ways we’ve implemented savings ever! Despite the cliche of having piggy banks and the inconvenience of coins, a piggy bank is actually one of the most powerful, easy tools out there to force a non-saver to save money!
Yeah, I’m getting there, you know what the analogy is?
Mango pudding is always worth it.
Forming saving habits is the foundation for wealth building. Silent and smart choices add up in the end and make a large difference later. How insidious!
I guess one could argue we should have kept a closer eye on the jar and invested the money. With how the stock market performed in 2017, we could have seen 20% gains if we invested every cent of that jar’s contents. But hindsight is always 20/20 and I don’t feel more than 3 ounces of regret. Hey, I didn’t even know we had that extra $640 laying around a few days ago!
Now the delightful surprise has worn off, time to figure out what to do with it…
What to Do with Loose Change
Every cent saved is a great cent but coins are very inconvenient. Not to mention they are too heavy to carry for casual spending and no one wants to be ‘that guy’ at the checkout counter rummaging their pockets for the exact change.
The first thing we will do is to keep some cash on hand for emergencies like earthquakes and power outages (knock on wood). After that, there is not much reason for us have a 10-pound change jar full of quarters like we’re 8 years old again so we have 5 main options:
1. Organize it, roll it up, to the bank you go
Most banks require their clients to roll up the coins themselves before accepting them. Banks are not required to take your change if they don’t want to do so. Policies will differ branch to branch. My best advice is to call up your local bank for the details.
Banks do not charge fees for depositing rolled change but the actual rollers for the coins will need to be purchased separately. If you want to avoid the tedious process of sorting coins, there are also coin sorters available for additional costs.
Credit unions are a different animal depending on which one. Some credit unions may not take any coins, rolled or not, but they might offer their own coin sorter for a much lower fee (like 3%) than commercial coin sorters that charges 10%+
2. Organize it and pay down debt
No matter how bulky and inconvenient coins may be in the era of credit cards, you can’t hate on the money. If you have any debt, organizing and throwing any extra payment amount towards the owed principle sounds like a beautiful, smart thing to do.
3. Organize it and spend it
The amount in our teddy coin jar was a surprise that none of us expected. Since the coin jar was never tracked, it’s a definite extra in the budget books, which means it could be spent and not missed.
4. Locate a coin counting machine near you
Do a quick search of coin sorting machines nearby and you would be surprised how many of them are around. We’ve lived here for a couple of years now and I have never recalled seeing any Coinstar machines until my dad pointed one out at the grocery store we frequented! Whoopieeeee!
The catch is: Coinstar machines take a fee of 11.9% for all transactions that transfer to cash. That is a hefty fee! I would be handing over $65 dollars to Coinstar alone for a one-time sort! But the good news is Coinstar machines forgo the fee if you transfer the balance to a gift card instead. The Amazon gift cards are available on Coinstar which makes it very convenient because an Amazon gift card is as good as cash in our house. Coinstar minimum is $5 for gift cards and you cannot load more than $1,000 – full gift card options and details here.
5. Donate it
Coinstar also skips their processing fees for nationally recognized donations organizations. The selection is limited to 7 of the following:
- American Red Cross
- Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals
- Feeding America
- The Humane Society of the United States
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- United Way
- WWF (World Wildlife Foundation)
If there are no Coinstar machines and it’s a hassle to deal with, drop it off at any charity of your choosing and they would gladly take it. Some charities might accept foreign coinage as donations as well. Plus you would be doing some all-around good of course 🙂