Spare Change and Snowflaking: A Way to Boost Your Emergency Fund

by Kevin on June 11, 2008

I snapped the above photo a few weeks ago; the plastic bag bursting to the seams with $10.62 worth of spare change.

$10.62 may not seem like much to you. In the big scheme of things, perhaps it is meaningless. But our emergency fund now has $10.62 in it that originally was lacking. That’s ten dollars closer to our goal. Ten dollars if we find ourselves on the wrong side of an emergency.

People Are Lazy

Many people discount spare change, especially pennies. I love spare change. My wife laughs when I pick up pennies and nickels out of the road. “Do you know where that’s been?”, she always asks. Who cares? Free money!

When I worked at a movie theater in high school I knew guys who regularly threw away pennies. Into the trash. This always befuddled me. Why would you throw away money?

I can understand why people hate the penny. It’s weight is not worth its value. I’d rather have the weight of a quarter in my pocket than the equivalent weight in pennies. But it’s still money, right?

There was an instance at work that inspired this post. A co-worker had a lot of coins in the change portion of her purse. She dumped everything out on her desk with quite the jingle ringing through the air, then picked out the pennies. All told they numbered perhaps 55. She asked around to see if anyone would claim them.

My hand was the first into the air. Of course I would take them. I just earned 55 cents for doing absolutely nothing. Brilliant.

But now I had 55 cents. I, too, didn’t want to have it sit on my desk at work. What to do with it?

Hello, Mr. Coin Jar

For quite some time I have maintained a large mason jar for all of our spare change. In the past when we carried and used a lot of cash we regularly filled it up quickly. When the coins reached the top, we would dump them out, sort, and roll them before taking them to the bank. (Banks get rather irked when you walk in with $100 worth of completely loose change.)

However, since we use our credit card for every purchase possible, the level of coins has stagnated. I would bet we haven’t added more than $2 in total change in the past year to the jar.

That is until my 55 cent windfall.

Small Instance Inspires Action

As with many things in life, this small event inspired me to action. We added the 55 cents to the jar, then did our routine. Time to dump, sort, and roll. As you can see from the photo above we only had enough coins to wrap the pennies – I think we had 5 50 cent rolls.

The rest of the change had been sitting there, worthless to us. I counted it up separately and listed it in the card I put in the bag. Off to the bank — $10.62 added to our account then transferred to our emergency fund at ING Direct.

This goes hand in hand with snowflaking, an idea popularized by paid twice. You look under the couch cushions, in the street, in the closet… anywhere you can find money (or sell items for money) to get out of debt… the better. This is a perfect example. If we carried debt, we just snowflaked $10.62 toward the principle.

For those out of debt, this can be a great boost to whatever your current savings goal is. Again, $10 may not seem like much. What if you have $50 in change sitting around the house? Or $300 worth of items you don’t need or want and can sell?

Every little step counts.

Even little events can inspire great changes.

What steps have you taken lately?

What events have you ignored?

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Ricky June 11, 2008 at 11:34 am

I don’t think I get quite as excited about finding spare change as you do, but I can attest to the fact that it does add up. My dad is the worst about not spending change. Everytime he makes a purchase he pays with paper money and puts the change in his pocket. At the end of the day he puts the change into one of his dresser drawers and the cycle repeats everyday. The drawer is full of nothing but change, and it is about 3 inches deep across the entire drawer! I am not sure why he does it, maybe it is his retirement. Not really, but there is a lot of money in there! When my wife and I told my parents that we were expecting a baby, my dad gave us a gift. It is a small decorative jar with the words “Baby Fund” on the front of. My dad had filled it with change from his drawer. The jar is about the size of a cantalope so filling didn’t even put a dent in his supply. We counted our bounty and it was over $82.00! This will certainly be applied to upcoming baby expenses. Change may seem insignifcant, but it can defintely add up over time.

klein June 12, 2008 at 4:01 pm

I love my loose change. I wish I had more of it! I almost always use my debit card, so I hardly ever have cash to break.

I use my loose change as pure fun money. The last time I took it to the Coinstar machine nearby and bought an Amazon gift certificate with it. I thought, MAYBE, there was $25 in there, but it turned out to be more like $65!! That’s 6 books or 65 mp3 downloads, or 3 DVD’s! From my spare change.

Philip June 14, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Another one in the camp that used to have it add up. I use a big water jug (5 gallon I think) I had it filled half way and needed some money bad one day. Took it to the bank and had about $400 in it. Now with my credit card I try my best not to use cash, and when I do it is usually to someone else not a store and do not get any change outside of bills.

I doubt that I would try to get to a bank at the point of $10 though, I hate going to the bank. Didn’t you have a post about wondering why people actually go to banks anymore?

sarah June 22, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Great idea…however, my bank actually prefers that you DON’T roll the change yourself. They have a machine that counts it automatically to eliminate human error. Makes it super easy to cash in (just like a Coinstar, only free!).

Tiersa June 23, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I love this article and I LOVE loose change. We use our “Freedom Fund” jar to pay off our debt (80%) and the remaining 20% goes into our Freedom Fund that is right now in a 5% savings account. Some months we get quite a bit, others, like you’ve said, not so much when you don’t use cash all the time. But I find a penny on the ground and it goes in. We walk the dog and bring home cans in a bag… 5, 10, 15 cents. Any “unexpected” funds go in. I recently found $12 in quarters in a box. Crazy I know. In the last month alone, just by putting in 20% our Freedom Fund has increased by $67.39. One month. Imagine what we can do over the next year!

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