Saturday, August 31, 2013

Collecting Change

I've been collecting change for a long time. I've mentioned my friend Jenny, who sent me a care package around Easter. When we were undergraduates, Jenny and her fiance (now husband of seven or eight years!) paid for their wedding almost entirely by collecting change. I've been repeatedly amazed by the amount of folding money I've gotten back when I turned in giant piles of clanking money, so I've kept a change bank for years and years. I'm that guy, who picks change up off the ground when I see it. (Pictured is the contents of a full Guinness coin bank from November of 2009, which amounted to $54.81.)

British money - particularly coinage - is a bit different than American money. The three big differences are that the Brits use £1 coins in lieu of bank notes; there are £2 and 2 pence coins ("pence" is often abbreviated to "p", but I think saying "two pee" sounds vulgar, so I usually say "pence"); and in lieu of quarters, they use 20 pence coins. Fifty cent coins are also rare in America, whereas 50 pence coins are as common as any other coin. I tend to use my 10, 20, and 50 pence coins, and my £1 coins, while my pennies (that's the same) and 2 pence coins pile up. I've been trying to use my 5 pence coins lately, but previously piled them up as well.

Since I arrived in Scotland last September, I can probably count the number of £2 coins I've actually spent on one hand. Instead, I save them, and currently have nearly seven piles of fifteen coins apiece, for a total of £210, or about $321. I took this picture when I was four coins away from having seven piles, but now I'm just one shy of that £210. I have no idea what I'll do with the money once I have it, but I'm sure I'll make good use of it. (I'll probably turn in my current cache of 1, 2, and 5 pence coins at the same time - last time I did it, that ziplock bag full of low denomination coins wound up being something like £30!)

I saw this link on Facebook the other day. I don't usually talk about non-Scottish politics on here, but since it's relevant (and non-partisan), I'll share my comment:
I'm currently living in the United Kingdom, which uses the equivalent of one and two dollar coins in lieu of bank notes. I prefer a dollar bank note, but the pound coin(s) aren't horrendous, and I think Americans could learn to live with them if they gave them a chance.

That said, it strikes me as similar to organizations I've worked in that started tightening up on the use of office supplies and printing. If an organization's budget is so tight that it has to look to superficial solutions, then the budget problems are generally too deep for those superficial solutions to actually accomplish anything of value. America is in the same boat: saving a few billion dollars by instituting a dollar coin may save us money, but it doesn't address the deficit itself, which is caused by both parties working together to spend far more than we could ever hope to raise in revenue (which is often just a euphemism for taxes). What we really need is entitlement reform, because it's a combination of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - and, to a much lesser degree, fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement - that's bankrupting the country, not the use of one dollar bank notes.
I'd just like to reiterate: I prefer the Greenback, at least for American money. (As for here, it probably helps that I'd never visited the United Kingdom until long after the genesis of the £1 coin.) It also can't help that attempts at $1 coins have all been rubbish. C'mon, Sacajawea? Really? You put a president on a coin - a famous president. Hear me now and believe me later, if you put Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan on a $1 coin, I'd personally be a lot more receptive to it than Sacajawea or Susan B. Anthony.

For now, though, I'll just enjoy the accomplishment of having spent ten months collecting more than one hundred £2 coins. Outstanding!

* * *

In early August, I loaded my stacks of £2 coins (and my loose 1, 2, and 5 pence coins) into my Rush MOAB 10 and headed off to the Coinstar machine at one of the local supermarkets. I think it took me a good ten minutes to load all of the coins into the machine, and a number of them - mostly the £2 coins, oddly enough - had to be loaded in twice because the machine initially rejected them. Eventually, there was a single £2 coin that I put through eight or ten times, and it still wouldn't take it, so I just kept it. So, what was the final tally?

Well, as you can see from this picture of the receipts (and that last £2 coin!), the final score from about ten months of saving (plus the 1's, 2's, and 5's - I'd already turned those in once before) was £202.07. Not bad at all. Although this was all money that I'd received as change at one point or another, it felt like free money; and it was nice not to have to hit the ATM for a few days. That's been one of the great things about the change-heavy manner in which I spend money here in the United Kingdom: because I use both banknotes and change on a daily basis, the money tends to go further than it does in our banknote/debit card heavy American system. I still sort of wish that I'd saved it for something special, but my whole year in Scotland has been special, so I guess it's not quite so important.

Ladies and gentlemen, the lesson for you is clear: collect your change, it feels like free money!

UPDATE: Jenny noted a correction: "Not to be a stickler, but simply for the sake of historical accuracy which we both prize: we've been married TEN years now! -- And our wedding wasn't entirely financed by our [found] funds (though a trip to the [theme park] for five people was...) Just work + the usual savings methods... And [husband]'s mom made the cake, a friend made my dress, I made all of the corsages, bouquets and such, [husband] burned CD's for the music & my brother brought the stereo equipment & friends did the pictures -- so the cost of our wedding was $1,000 or less (mostly the cost of renting the sanctuary & reception rooms). :)" I stand corrected!

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