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Found Money!

By April 15, 2009

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In these difficult economic times, people are doing everything they can to make their money stretch and perhaps bring in a few extra dollars every month. One of the things you can do that can surprisingly add up to more than you might think, is picking up coins that people leave on the ground. Barbara Humphrey's family has found more than $1,000 worth of change lying around on city streets, sidewalks, parks, etc., near their home in New York City. They document their daily successes on their blog called The Changepot.

Another interesting "found money" blog is the Money Walker. Written by Bobby Eason, a professor emeritus at the University of New Orleans, this is a found money blog with an intellectual twist. Bobby loves to wax philosophical and psychological about coins and money, and its place in civilization, and he sometimes provides strategy tips, too! Bobby's entries consist of two parts: the Journal Entry and the Feature Entry. He keeps a running total of the weight and value of his finds, breaking them down into the precise numbers of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and bottles that he finds. (Yep, like many found money aficionados, Bobby also collects bottles to turn in for the deposit refund.) A sample entry:

Journal Entry: Weight = 176; Coinage =$.76, .28 from a residual walk, 26 pennies, 1 nickel, 2 dimes, 1 quarter; 2 glass bottles retrieved. The external entrances to service bays of automotive garages and body shops are becoming a reliable place to find money.

Another good found money blog is the Rainy Day Fund. Written by a fellow who identifies himself as a 48 year-old male born under the sign of Aquarius, Rainy Day Fund is creative and humorous, and liberally illustrated. His tag line: "Just a little place to keep track of the free money that happens to come my way." His one-line summary of himself: "Trying to match the fortunes of Gates, Trump, and Buffett one penny at a time..." So far, he has amassed $104.83, for little more than taking the time to bend down and retrieve the coins!

Another favorite pastime of those looking to make a score with the coins people leave lying around involves monitoring CoinStar machines. These are the machines in supermarkets and malls where you dump in your jar of loose change and get paper currency in return, typically for a 10% fee. CoinStar machines don't actually dispense dollar bills, though; they print a receipt you take to a cashier in order to get your cash. CoinStars work by mechanically sorting and counting your pocket change, and anything that doesn't pass muster is rejected via a return slot. This return slot is the place to look if you want to find all kinds of oddments such as foreign coins, washers, slugs, small jewelry items, and silver coins (yep, silver doesn't match the electronic fingerprint of our cupro-nickel clad coinage, so it gets rejected!)

A CoinStar fan in England maintains a fascinating blog called the Copper Counter. He documents his visits to the local CoinStar machines in his neighborhood, often photographing the amusing and curious things he encounters there, like the bottles, jars, cups, boxes, and other containers that people bring their hoards of coins in. He also tells us about the coin finds he makes, and since he's in Great Britain, he gets a nice variety of world coinage from his local CoinStars.

Of course, coin collectors know that one of the best places to find a little extra value is right in your own pocket change. Whether it is searching rolls of pennies looking for die varieties such as doubled dies, or ripping the wrappers off of Presidential dollar rolls hoping to turn up an edge lettering error, searching circulating coinage is so much fun to do as a source of a little extra income because it's basically free. You buy the coins, search for goodies, and then spend or return the rejects.

Rachel Zupek, a journalist with CareerBuilder.com, published an article yesterday called 10 Creative Ways to Earn Extra Money. I was delighted to find that searching circulating coinage was tip #3, and she even quoted my advice about silver half dollars! Searching for silver halves is one of the most consistently profitable coin-searching activities you can engage in, because most people don't realize that there was still 40% silver in the U.S. Half Dollar until 1970. If you can find rolls of halves at your local banks, buy up all you can and see what you can find. If you don't know what to look for, check out the top 10 most valuable coins in circulation, or get a beginner's book on coin searching such as Ken Potter's fantastic Strike It Rich With Pocket Change.


April 15, 2009 at 3:26 am
(1) Emmi says:

I’ve been picking up change from the sidewalk all my life. I never had an allowance growing up, and pretty much my pocket money was what I found. I think my record was $20 in a day, though that was only because I found a $10 bill. Interestingly enough, most of my half-dollar collection I found on the sidewalks of Baltimore City.

April 15, 2009 at 9:14 am
(2) Fred says:

I see huge amounts of change, mostly Zincoln cents, on the ground at virtually every fast food drive through window. I’ve seen people drop them intentionally on the ground. Sure, many older people or poor people or people with no jobs will spend hours walking around and looking for change on the ground, but the average American despises the one cent coin. This is the reason that they end up on the ground, in trash or in empty water jugs.

April 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm
(3) Ward says:

I pick up anything I find! I also use a low-end metal detector and find quite a bit of change, as well as jewelry. The machine has more than paid for itself!

April 15, 2009 at 12:55 pm
(4) John says:

Walking is SO boring, so the only way my wife can get me to walk with her is to walk over to our local high school parking lot and look for change. We’ve been doing this for roughly the past five years.

Anyway, we find about $150/year in change and bills. We also find a variety of jewelry from time to time. I have found several wheat pennies and even a 1976 Eisenhower dollar, all dropped by students.

To be completely honest, my wife tells me she is embarrassed doing this because we look like vagrants, but I have the type of personality that enjoys a little competitiveness (I usually win, although she thoroughly embarrassed me one time by finding a $20). It’s the little things in life…

April 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm
(5) Matt says:

Today at work i found a buffalo nickel in the cash register and exchanged it with a Jefferson in my pocket. It was a no date (under 10x magnification) p-mint buffalo, but nonetheless, it was found in circulation 70-95 years after its production! I guess you were right about people turning in their change, delaying the pennies. I’ve also been finding a few wheats in the register, even one from the 30s.

April 15, 2009 at 9:12 pm
(6) Mark Tran says:

My son came home today after school and showed me a EF/AU 1925 Stone Mountain Commemorative coin he had found in a field. I was floored.

April 16, 2009 at 12:43 am
(7) James Lambert says:

Great article and so true. I Metal Detect as a hobby and in the last week have found about $15 in change laying around, not to mention some other goodies.

In these times, you get it where you can.

April 16, 2009 at 9:26 am
(8) Dave L says:

I will bend down and pick up clad change in public, but if a penny it either has to be a wheat cent or no one around. Reason being I picked up pennies in public and two rich couples offered me a $20 bill thinking that I was hard up. It was rather embarrassing. I declined to accept the $20 from each of them and said thank you for offering if I was hard up but I am not, I just cant see money wasted on the ground. I generally kept the pennies in my cars cup holder for days when a few cents are needed when topping off gas tank and going over the $25 by $25.02 etc. Havent kept track of money found on sidewalks etc but it probably amounts to $100 or so over the last 2 or 3 years.

April 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm
(9) Barb says:

I pickup change I find and throw it in a cup. When I’ve accumulated a dollar, I cash it in for a lottery ticket.

April 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm
(10) Noost says:

When thr snowbanks start melting, it’s the perfect time to search for change. Found a 10spot my first time. I pickup ALL change and cans I see. Even pickup/save metal that is destined for the trash heap. Probably got $150 in scrap metal so far this year. This becomes my coin/paper money fund.

April 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm
(11) coiny says:

I remember when i was a kid around 10 years old, i watched a bunch of older boys fishing coins out of a grate, that coverd below ground windows at the brewery where i lived. There was a bus stop there at the corner. They looked like they hit the jackpot. Useing a long thin stick with bubble gum stuck to the end of the stick they carefully slid the stick with gum attached down to the coins lying there and hauled them up very careully one at a time. Untill they got every coin down there. From there on i watched this spot every day. Most times it was empty. I got one coin out of there my self. About a half dollar sise. I had the most trouble retrieving that coin — it wouldn’t come out of the grate with out me droping it many times. It didn’t seem like it was possible that coin could fall through the grate, because it felt to big to have fallen through the grate in the first place. I eventualy got the coin out with the help of my father. I needed three hands. Later on the men working there got wise to the change factorie they had at their disposal. They kept the window open there at all times and took what ever change fell through the grating for them selves, and chased away any one else that tried to muscle in on what they believed was their rightfull stash of found coins. So that ended a good thing, with the threat of being arrested. It was a public sidewalk that the grates were on. The thugs that worked there took it over like they owned it. I tried to water them a few times through the grate, and made them shut their window. To let them know what i thought about them. Yellow streams never felt so good!


April 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm
(12) Mike says:

Even better than just randomly finding coins in the street, is taking the trusty metal detector out in early Spring. Discovering coins dropped from the winter snows can be so much fun!

April 21, 2009 at 1:03 pm
(13) Dave in MA says:

Yep, pick up coins anytime I see ‘em. I find change all the time on my walks. Found a credit card on the side of the road in January and then a VISA debit card in March. They were pretty beat up but still valid so I just cut them up.

February 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm
(14) Ruth says:

I’m an avid coin finder from the UK. It makes my day if I pick up a penny. However I don’t know what US people mean by wheat pennies?

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