Coining: A New Idea About Change

You have heard it before, 2008 was a historic and troubling year for our economy. The stock market, banks and millions of investors. The bad news continued to make the news and overshadowed any of the good news that was out there. That said, it’s now a new year, we have a new president, and although things may change for the better there’s no point waiting when some things can simply begin with us. We will make it through this, and to do so it’s time to bring back the family traditions that have helped the American way of life survive through similar difficult times. Let’s “change” the way we think, and what better way than to start than with not just metaphoric change but also the actual tangible item. So, can you spare some change?

Although collecting change is simple in concept, it is powerful in action. Begin the change with the change in your pocket, the change in your purse, and the change in your drawers and jars. According to Coinstar, the average US household has about $90.00 of spare change just sitting around. You might be literally sitting on it! Why not turn yours into cash?  Before I tell you my secrets, let’s reflect on how coins also have powerful emotional connections for us.

Not long ago I read an article in the New York Times that the penny as we know it was released in 1909 and soon after the Lincoln “cent” was a big hit. At banks and treasury buildings in New York, Washington, Boston and other cities, people lined up to snap one up. Some entrepreneurs even sold them for as much as 25 cents apiece. This year this familiar portrait of Lincoln not only marks its 100th birthday as a coin but also marks the 200th birthday of the man himself. To celebrate these milestones, the U.S. Mint has released a special series of new penny designs for 2009. The new penny designs, which will appear on the reverse, or “tails” side, depict four different periods in the life of venerated U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. The obverse, or “heads” side, will remain unchanged.

These new pennies will be released this year, one at a time, each about three months apart. The first penny is due in February 2009, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. I’m so excited to find these collectible pennies. This is a perfect way to teach children both history and the art of collection while instilling good common “cents”. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

This got me to think if the common penny can generate so much “buzz” and excitement, why do we take for granted the penny and any other spare change we may have to lie around the car, house or even drawers? Women toss change into their purses, men — well we never have any except for what’s in our pockets, and kids are now getting dollar bills (and more!) from tooth fairies. Who’s the Tooth Fairy’s boss anyway?

These individual monetary units — pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters — are what we used to scramble for, and growing up they represented hard work from chores or special visits from relatives (“Here’s a bright, shiny quarter for you.”) Remember when you were little and coins had no value other than being “a money”? When I was four I remember being so happy that I had “7 monies” and my brother had only “4 monies.” It didn’t matter to me that his coins were all quarters and mine were all nickels. I had more. Boy, that soon changed when I learned to really count and save the “big monies,” and when I got my first paper money for doing chores I felt like a bazillionaire. Wouldn’t it be nice if spare change and small denominations had that kind of power again? Well, they can.

I know I’ve done the following: walked by a penny and just said, “oh look, a penny on the floor” and kept walking. Sound familiar? But no more. So with all the change in the world, how can we rethink, reuse and rediscover saving and collecting in a modern new way? Appreciating coins is the new frontier and not to worry, Mar is here.

Here are just a couple of ways to engage the family in the art of collecting change. The days of being bothered by all the change in a large jar and having to take the time and trouble counting, wrapping and rolling it are all over. You need to know the good news facts. The new and improved way is easier than you think.

The Best Way to Collect

Apothecary care jars are both decorative and fun to display. Each coin can have its own jar and yes you can even have one for the silver dollar if you wish. Alternately, each family member can have their own coin jar if you wish. Put them somewhere that makes it convenient to use — on dressers, or by the back door. If you are using one for the whole family I think the laundry is a great location: anything left in pants pockets can go right in the jar. The new and improved way to highlight your coin collection while making a responsible statement.

Recycling a Box

Kick off the collecting with a family craft session. Use clear packing tape to cover a square box both lid and top. Place top on the box and using the same tape, seal the lid to the box. With a paring knife or Exacto knife, make a slit on top for coins and you’re ready. Some store cartons (even from designer stores) work perfectly for this project, as the color and shape of the boxes
themselves are pretty or decorative and are perfect for storing on
a desk shelf.

Vases or Other Glass Vessels

The perfect starter place, but hopefully you will soon outgrow the vessel. Consider an empty cookie jar, water cooler bottle or a glass wine jug bottle. The best containers to start with as you can see your progress.

The Classic Piggy Bank

What can I say? There’s a reason this is a classic. You have all seen them and know you don’t ever have to break piggy to get your money out — unlike when I was little. Discount stores offer some fun choices so a piggy for a child is always a home run. But the “project itch” in me makes me really want to do some individual decorating with them — stickers, poster paint, glue gun, and beads, you name it.

The Change Game

Get the whole family involved to seek out and collect any loose change they can find. Once your container is full each family member should guess the total amount–the closest to the actual amount wins. A lot like a game from The Price Is Right. The winner can either win the amount or decides how it will be spent. A great family activity for all.

Collecting as a Learning Tool

I love this idea as I have successfully collected each of the series of states quarters, issued and released over time, from 1999 to 2008. In fact, I only last week got my final elusive quarter: Alaska! (I was like that little four-year-old again: “Look, I have a money!!!”) I’m no stranger to this as I have a wonderful collection of two-dollar bills and other coins that I have had the pleasure of finding. For me, it became a game to find each one and look at each quarter to see if I had it. Children could benefit from this as it gives them a wonderful opportunity to learn each state and the responsibilities of money.

The Art of Collecting Coins

When it comes to rare coins there are 3 types. Rare, Key Date/Semi-Rare, and Common Date. So the real question becomes what determines which type of coin it is, and what’s its value? Most people would assume that if a coin is 100 years old it must be rare. The truth is that age has nothing to do with rarity. Rarity is determined by supply! For more great information about history and collecting visit your local library or check out

Cashing In

The best part is if you’re are over the age of 30 you’ll appreciate this the most, as there is no longer a need to ever wrap your coins and take them to the bank. Who has time for wrapping coins anyway? Or in my case, who has the talent and skill and patience?! This was always a task; as a child I would do it with my brothers, always fighting over the process. I always got stuck with the pennies while my older brothers got the nickels, dimes and quarters. I was the youngest, so truth be told I did what I was told as they could always beat me up and then I would have nothing to show for it. It was best to just go along with them. That was then, but the new and improved way to cash in all that change is
simple “Coinstar”! That’s the ticket!

So what are you waiting for–take those old jars and plastic containers to Coinstar. It’s so easy: just log onto to find the nearest location to your home. These self-service kiosks are easy and fun to use. Just pour in your mixed coins (yes: mixed coins!) No need to separate, and watch them add up. Love that! (As the machine tallies them the sounds remind me of playing a slot machine”_so I like to imagine I’m playing a slot machine that always pays out!) When you are ready to cash out (when all your coins have been counted) you will have some choices about how you want to turn your coins into funds.
Coinstar offers several free options when you use their service; I know I was surprised by the variety. For example, want to donate to a favorite non-profit charity? Just choose the “donate” option from the onscreen menu, select a
non-profit from the list of options, designate the non-profit organization by their unique identification number (shown on the Coinstar screen), pour in your jar of mixed coins and take your tax-deductible receipt. It’s that simple.

Other option: get yourself a gift card and the whole experience is again free, yes free. Choose from a variety of stores and be on your MARry way. I chose the Starbucks gift card as my credit, but my friend Darcy picked an gift certificate. Later that same day he was able, in a few clicks, use the gift certificate to get a credit on, and then a few moments later bought himself a video camera. “Imagine,” he says “in under an hour my loose change that was doing nothing became a video camera — for free!” Now that’s good thinking.

Still, the most common way (possibly because it still seems the most familiar) is to print out a voucher to redeem for cash at the store checkout or apply directly to purchases from that store. If you choose to cash your voucher in at a bank or credit union, you’ll get a voucher to redeem for cash at the teller or deposit into your account. Both of these “get cash” options mean that you pay a very small service fee (8.9%) for the convenience of this service. To me, that’s very little considering the fact that until this moment the coins were not doing anything but laying around.

After all that encouragement for Coinstar you may still have some strange need to go to a bank to cash in your coins (or you may have no Coinstar option in your areas.) If so, do yourself a favor and call your bank first to see if they have a coin counter and if they provide this service. If so ask if there are any fees for this: there could even be a flat fee versus a percentage of the total. (Usually, there is no fee if you wrap and roll your own coins.) Coming from a former life in the banking industry I can tell you that many banks are looking to “nickel and dime” you for just about any service they provide you so be careful who you bank with and what the fee schedule is.

Keeping your nickels, dimes, pennies and quarters is a wonderful way to learn about history, geography as well as the different presidents. Collecting is a terrific way to learn, have fun and pass it on, which has always been my motto. But using your small change to add to your income is a pretty good motto, too, these
days. Enjoy discovering all your options.

And there you have it.