I found a penny in the Costco parking lot today.
Hardly a momentous discovery, unless you’ve heard about our national coin shortage.
The Husband used to get a kick out of my habit of picking up spare change wherever I found it. Mostly it was parking lots, but also in the grocery store, especially around the change converter machine, around newspaper and food vending machines and at school bus stops and on the bridges crossing the waterways while I was out on my morning run or bike ride.
But lately, the sightings of spare change have been slim to none.
Blame COVID-19. We’re outside less, shopping less, spending less, and when we do spend, we’re using plastic or tapping our smartphones, so there’s less actual money circulating. Add the closure of many bank lobbies (which offer free coin counting machines to account holders) and you have a recipe for less sidewalk cents.
I picked up street change for many reasons. It’s legal tender and no one should be throwing it away. And those small amounts add up; on average, I add about $100 to my savings account every year when I turn in the money at the credit union. It’s more than frugal, as my favorite financial writer Donna Freedman says in this 2016 Surviving and Thriving blog post about what she calls found money. It helps you build a safety net in the form of an emergency fund to use for food, rent, medicine, transportation, and any of those things you need when you’re suddenly out of a job, as many millions of Americans are at this time.
None of us ever saw a pandemic coming. None of us ever considered the impact it would have on the economy, schools, culture, education, social interaction, and worst of all, politics. I’m not suggesting one person’s spare change will make an impact on a global crisis. But if you see money on the ground, don’t pass it by. Pick it up and save it. Or bring it to a bank or retailer; they need it if you don’t. Or donate your saved change to your local food bank (on average, every $1 donated to a nonprofit food bank buys 10 meals).
It’s not just the frugal thing to do. It’s practically patriotic It can also save lives.