We Saved $640 With a Money Jar! (And What We Did With Spare Change)

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…

The Teddy bank that no robber could ever carry without breaking a sweat or think there was so much money in there! Top safety!

I don’t normally make impulse buys but the fact that they were:

1) cute

2) practical

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.

Related: 21 Life Skills Millennials Should Learn Before Age 21

“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

Me and my husband’s both holding up the payments the tooth fairy gave him for his baby teeth.

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.

  1. We dropped any and all change found on the ground into the coin jar. Even if they were just pennies and dimes.
  2. We also put change we had into the jar as a means of organization. Jared and I always found loose change to be annoying so we compiled all physical cash to be in one place.
  3. 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 paper bills added up quickly.
  4. 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.
  5. Magic! *Shrug* 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.

Related: Wanna See How Rich You’ll Become? Do The Math!

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!

Related: At What Age Does Being Broke Stop Being Cute? -and- Top Reasons Why Some People Don’t Save Money

An Analogy

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!

Related: 4 Practical Budgets For People Bad With Money

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!

I guess our literal penny-pinching nature has finally paid off and our frugality has been rewarded.

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.

Related: 9 ‘Nails In The Coffin’ To Avoid For Debt-Free Living

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.

Related: Reverse Budgeting VS Traditional Budgeting 

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
  • Unicef
  • 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 🙂

Readers, do you keep a coin jar/piggy bank? What do you do with your loose change?

43 thoughts on “We Saved $640 With a Money Jar! (And What We Did With Spare Change)”

  • Ahh I love mango pudding too! In fact, I bought a similar jar at Great Wall about a month ago and finished everything in a week lol. I still have the jar at home. I thought about putting rice or sth in that jar but got lazy.

    Mr. FAF and I usually put our coins in a pouch. When it’s full, he’ll use it for road tolls or some random car-related fees. I gotta start on this project when I come home today. Money’s calling!
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…Why I Love & Don’t Care About Money At The Same Time

  • I love this Lily! My fiance makes so much fun of me for picking up spare change in the street. But it’s free money despite the small $$$. And clearly, it adds up. I began my coin “collecting” by picking up tails-up pennies for luck. Then I just decided to pick up everything. I once felt terribly for having to pass over what appeared to be like a dollar in coins that were in a puddle of a water (and possibly urine). That was painful, but I thought the ensuing related health care costs might have outweighed the benefits.


    [email protected] | livelihood redefined recently posted…Our First Month Making Money With AirBnB

  • Haha, this is a great story. Coins are the bane of my existence. You’d think the US would follow the lead of other countries and at least rid of pennies 😛

    My local credit union has a free coin counting machine, which is awesome. Apart from that, I usually dump coins into the car to use for parking or tolls. They’re also good for the bus if you don’t ride frequently enough to get a pass. I wish I could pay for everything by credit card, but sometimes this world is still cash-operated!
    Jess recently posted…Clothing Budget: January 2018 Purchases

  • Wow $640 that’s amazing! I had done this a while back throughout college solely with change in a big mason jar. Last year I finally took out the (really heavy) jar and found I had close to $100 solely in loose change! I was pumped.

    I still have a small jar I’ll collect loose change in, though there is not much in there at all as I’ve rarely paid cash for anything since college.
    Young FIRE Knight recently posted…Are you Taking Full Advantage of Your Employer Benefits?

  • Hahaha! Cool story! I don’t really like loose change either. I usually keep it in my car center console storage compartment and use them for parking meters. Perfect use for them.

    I have been in your situation where I somehow accumulated a ton of coins. When that happens, i usually take it to Trader Joe’s or some other grocery store to buy food. I might hold up the line by counting my pennies, but people don’t seem to mind. Yeah, I’m that guy…

  • Wow, Lily!

    First and foremost, I have to say that I love your teddy bear jar. It’s way TOO adorable… I probably would’ve bought it even without the mango pudding. The pudding is just a bonus haha…

    Overall, that’s awesome how you managed to accumulate that much with your loose/random change. My fiance did something similar where he randomly threw loose change in a massive protein jar and over the years, it just piled up like magic. He had no idea that it would add up so quickly. Sadly, he actually forgot about his jar… It was me that found it! So, we concluded that this traditional trick does work!

    BTW, we ended up using it as some spare emergency fund/change now. 😀

    P.S. I wish his was massive protein jar was a massive teddy bear jar instead, lol!
    fin$avvypanda @ finsavvypanda.com recently posted…The Epic Tool You Need To Retire Early Like a King!

  • We have a teddy bear coin bank I’ve had since I was a little one. Both of the kids have their own banks (the 3 yr old got a save/spend/share but doesn’t quite get it yet).

    The wife and I will split however much is in our own bank. When the thing is full there is usually about $40-60 in it. That money just goes into our allowances for us to buy our own things with.
    Budget On A Stick recently posted…Oatmeal Candy Cookies

  • I have a Chinese fortune cat piggy bank. Bought it for $8.99 at a Chinese grocer like 99 Ranch. It’s about the principal of saving 🙂 (and Chinese superstition for good luck and prosperity – so I stick a $20 bill in just for kicks.) Old people will call it something like, “so you’ll always have some cash.” This has resulted in serendipitously running into cash I forgot about :). I guess that’s how we hardcore savers never run out of money. Must be in our DNA.
    Financial Orchid recently posted…Landlording: What are Capitalization Rates?

    • It’s good to know that you have some impulse purchases too. Ah, so you are human too. I don’t feel so bad now that I don’t save 6 figures every year like you guys do, albeit I’m solo earner. But I was extremely impressed that your spouse could stand at Michaels and forego buying baking moulds when he really wanted them even though he makes so much money. That’s some ultra discipline. Maybe you can surprise him with them for his birthday!
      Financial Orchid recently posted…Landlording: What are Capitalization Rates?

      • Lol wait, to clear my name…that wasn’t an total totallll impulse buy! I waited when it was on sale ($5.29 originally) to get it. Who says I’m hoooman.

  • Nice! 600 plus dollars from a piggy bank is a lot of money. You could definitely use it for a lot of different purposes. The most I ever managed to collect from a piggy bank was about 50 bucks. I don’t have one now. I collect my coins in a big bowl that I keep on my study desk. I also mostly use credit cards so I can collect cash back and rewards points so the bowl never gets filled but usually, it’s enough for a couple cycles at the laundry.

  • Great job! You’re just as nerdy as we are with the coins! We always underestimate what we’ve collected too!

    We use two thigh-high Coca Cola bottle shaped piggy banks and we also stuff in some bills. The bills came in really handy once when a contractor finished a job a day sooner than expected. We hadn’t yet gone to the ATM to get cash for a tip. Mr. Groovy and I resorted to pulling out some bills with a pair of tongs. They were quite crinkled but hey, it’s still money.

    Mrs. Groovy recently posted…Honor Begets Financial Dividends

  • Nice! $640 is no joke. Our kid has a piggy bank, but it’s empty. He traded it for bills and his envelop is in the safe now. He used to find a coin or two whenever we went out for a walk. Now he doesn’t anymore. I guess it’s because he’s more distracted now.

    We don’t have a lot of coins these days because we use the credit cards for most purchases now.
    Joe @ Retire by 40 recently posted…January 2018 Goals and Financial Update

  • I only had about $13 when I counted my bank. I researched coin machines, and definitely didn’t have enough for some rolls. The parking deck in downtown takes coins, so $5 went to that. I had a $1 library fine, and I still have to find a way to spend some of these pennies.
    It’s cool yu guys saved so much!

  • I have never purchased the paper sleeves to make coin rolls, my bank or credit union has always provided them to me for free when I’ve asked. I’m old school and like cash, so I get lots of change, and just like those apps that have come out that “round up” your purchase to the nearest dollar and save the change, I do it in cash by emptying the pockets at the end of the day and rolling the jar when it starts to overflow. Someone else on another blog had idea that on top of change you check your wallet for $5 bills and take every one and put it away and then check it after a few months. That can build up a substantial amount in short order. Finally, a comment to those who go cashless, if you live in an area that could suffer a disaster (i.e. earthquake, flood, hurricane, etc.) power outages and communication breakdowns are a real thing and you should have at least a few hundred in cash on hand because the stores and other services may not be able to take credit cards or electronic payments for a couple of days. You don’t always get the benefit of a warning. I used a version of the $5 out of the wallet to build our household cash to about $300 in case of sudden emergencies.

    • “Finally, a comment to those who go cashless, if you live in an area that could suffer a disaster (i.e. earthquake, flood, hurricane, etc.) power outages and communication breakdowns are a real thing and you should have at least a few hundred in cash on hand because the stores and other services may not be able to take credit cards or electronic payments for a couple of days.”

      YES! This is important. Thank you. We hold around $200 with us in cash for natural emergencies – in our neck of the woods, it’s most likely an earthquake.

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