A Penny Saved Can Be a Pain!

Mary Hunt
People often ask me, Mary, can it possibly be true that you saved more than a thousand bucks in pocket change in a single year?

Yes. And I am quick to point out that while the result was dramatic it was a royal pain.

I am not exactly what you would call a coin collector. When I say that I save coins, I mean I don’t spend them. Ever. Even if the bill is $40.01. Are you SURE you don’t have a penny, Mrs. Hunt?!

The idea is to save your change through the day and dump it into a jar at night. When the jar gets full, exchange it for paper money or deposit it into a bank account. It’s a darn good idea because coins are money you don’t miss. It’s painless and adds up quickly. In fact, there are some who believe loose change breeds in the dark of night. However it multiples, I can tell you that mountains of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters can become a bothersome mess.

You can sort, count and roll the coins yourself; you can pay to have that done for you; or you can leave your collection in jars for your heirs to worry about—not a particularly good option.

Banks and credit unions have policies regarding loose coins. Some will not accept them unless they’re counted and wrapped in those little paper tubes. But here’s the funny part. You have to write your name and account number on each one just in case a roll turns up short. So does this mean they unwrap the rolls then re-count and re-wrap the loose coins they refused in the first place?

Then there are some banks that will not accept wrapped coins. If you show up with neatly counted and wrapped rolls they charge you a service fee to undo your hard work and dump all of it into their coin-counting machine. It is good to call ahead to find out your bank or credit union’s policy.

Which brings me to last weekend. I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps it was a severe case of TMC (too many coins). In a fit of frustration I dumped the jars into a big bag and drove to the supermarket. I knew it would cost me 8.9 percent but that seemed reasonable at the time. After a few minutes of shoveling my bounty into the Coinstar machine, out popped a voucher for $393.17. But my joy was short-lived. I’d walked in with $431.57. Big Green clobbered me with a $38.40 fee!

Karl Hartkopf, whose website is devoted to coin rolling techniques, advocates cheap or free counting machines. But he points out it is not always possible. So if you can’t find a bank or credit union to count your coins for free, should you pay the fee or should you roll your own? It all depends.

Breaking this down into simple terms, Hartkopf says I paid Coinstar an hourly rate of $26.70 to count my quarters ($.89 per $10 roll) because he says it takes less than two minutes for the average person to wrap a $10 roll of quarters. Pennies are another story. It takes the same amount of time to roll pennies but Coinstar’s 8.9 percent charge comes out to less than 5 cents per roll or $1.36 per hour to count pennies. To count nickels Coinstar charges $5.34 an hour and $13.35 per hour for dimes.

Most of us probably value our time at much more than $1.36 an hour. But not many get paid as much per hour as Coinstar charges to count quarters or even dimes. Who wouldn’t gladly "earn" a few extra dollars rolling our own?

At first I scoffed at Hartkopf’s suggestion that anyone could roll coins in two minutes per roll. No way, and I do consider myself at least average. It takes me forever to roll coins even when I use the various sorting gadgets available.

I tried Hartkopf’s method (see page 9). It requires no gadgets. Wow! It is slick. With very little practice I’m under two minutes already. Here’s the key: Work on a "made bed." Hard surfaces and coin rolling are not at all compatible.

Hartkopf’s mission is to discover every free and cheap coin counting machine in all 50 states. Those he’s found to date are listed by state on his site.

I’m still kicking myself over that fee. At the very least I should have rolled the quarters and dimes myself and hired Big Green to count the pennies and nickels.

I don’t know what I’ll do in the future, but for sure I’ll never stop saving change. I’ve located a cheap counting machine a few blocks from Cheapskate headquarters. But to be perfectly honest my made bed appears to be the most attractive option of all.

© 2003 The Cheapskate Monthly. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

"The Cheapskate Monthly" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt.  What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt.  Today, "The Cheapskate Monthly" is read by close to 100,000 Cheapskates.    Click here to subscribe.