Ask LH: What Should I Do With All These Spare Coins?

Ask LH: What Should I Do With All These Spare Coins?

Dear Lifehacker, Despite my yearning for an electronic, cashless society, it still seems that for most of us, cash is still necessary to get by in this society. In particular, I seem to get home with a few coins in my pocket most days — this quickly builds up into small piles of coins around the house, occasionally consolidated into a larger pile, then jar. I don’t seem to ever have time to actually get to a bank to do anything with this money, and whenever I grab a handful of coins to take out with me, it just seems to multiply in my pocket by the day’s end. What tips do you have for dealing with this growing mound of metal in my house? Yours, Coining It In

Picture by Ben Hosking

Dear Coining,

I share your pain. A couple of years ago, I actually collected together all the coins in my house and took them to the bank. I had to place them in a very large suitcase, and drag them to the nearest branch with an automated counting machine, which was no mean feat using public transport. It took me the better part of an hour to feed them into the machine — the staff had to empty it out twice — and at the end of the process, I had $1200, with about a third of it in five cent pieces. That was a welcome boost to my finances, but also proof that accumulating coins around the house can very easily get out of control.

I don’t like carrying large volumes of coins in my wallet, since they cause unsightly bulges and ultimately tend to wear out the wallet faster, even when there’s a dedicated pocket for them, so like you I nearly always dump them every time they get full. My personal strategy now is to make sure I hit a nearby bank whenever I’ve got more than an ice-cream container full (and even that weighs enough to require a bit of planning). But if you don’t fancy going to a bank, then there are a few other options:

  • Grab a handful of coins every day to pay for small purchases. Shops can refuse to accept small change if you’re spending more than $5 and not using any coin larger than a 50 cent piece, but you can easily grab your daily coffee with that kind of money.
  • In a similar vein, when buying railway tickets, I always research the price in advance and make sure I have the right cents amount to minimise the small change I get. (I appreciate not everyone wants to work at that amount of detail and that I might be accused of being obsessive.)
  • Invest in a digital coin-counting money box. If you know how much money is actually in the box, you might be more inspired to head to the bank.
  • Hand over all the coins whenever the Red Shield Appeal (or whatever charity you feel like supporting) comes to the door seeking money. It might not be a good idea to demand a receipt, though.
  • Most fast food outlets (and many other stores) have charity donation tins chained near the cash register. Dump your spare coins in one every time you walk past.
  • Bury it in the backyard and create an unexpected moment of excitement when someone digs a garden half a century from now, a moment that will only be slightly tempered by the realisation that inflation means the stash is worthless.

I’m sure readers will have more ideas on dealing with spare coinage for us in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • If you drive, stash some spare change in the car for unforeseen parking fees.

    Vending machines are a great way to spend small amounts.

    If all else fails, your favourite charities will love your money in any form.

  • I second the stashing spare change in the car.

    I use it for:
    1. Car Park machines
    2. Maccas Drivethrough orders (usually a McDouble or some other snack).

  • The simple answer is to have a coin pocket in your wallet and always use them before breaking a note. Yes, I occasionally get the sh**s with a fat coin pocket but generally I have less than $2 of silver and less than$5 of gold in there at any one time. (Right now it’s $4 in gold, no silver.)

    I realise I don’t get the occasional bonus by taking a few hundred dollars of coins to the bank once a year but it kind of seems like a terrible waste to always pay with a note. Your money could be doing better things for you than sitting on the coffee table. Sitting in a bank earning interest, ideally.

  • I have two coin purses in my drawer at work. One contains all my coins (mostly sourced from my wife) and the other contains the exact change for a cup of coffee. When I go for coffee I just grab the coffee purse and hand over the exact change and then when I return replace the coins ready for the next time. The coffee shop likes getting the coins, I do not have to count out the coins when I get my coffee and I my wife’s handbag is not quite so heavy.

  • I just use the self-checkouts at Woolworths. I think the ones at Coles have a limit on the number of coins you can use, but Woolworths is unlimited.

    Go there when it’s quiet and no impatient customers waiting behind you and just buy either your normal groceries or a Woolies gift card.

  • I think that ANZ has some machines in their branches that sort the coins and deposit the amount on your account. The trap is that you have to have an account with them. Good service for customers though.
    In the US these machines are in supermarkets, they take a small cut, but give you a coupon to redeem at the cashier for cash (with less coins hopefully 😉 ) or pay for your shopping.

    • as a former Pizza boy, if you’re planning on paying for your pizza with a huge amount of change, you should definetly include a decent sized tip, we have to count that all by hand either at your doorstep or back at the shop!

  • I have a two litre bucket filled with change. I use it every day for my train ticket and coffee.
    It’s also handy for any guests in my house from out of town. I can easily give them correct change for a bus or train before they can get to an ATM.

  • Get a big money box. Put all the coins in there as soon as you empty your pockets. Over 2 years i had enough coins in that box to buy a 32″ Samsung LCD tv (~approx $1400 at the time)

  • I mainly use my coins for my morning coffee, although I definitely put more money into my coin jar that I get out. It doesn’t hurt to leave enough in my car for the occasional piece of drive through.

    Although, there is another, more creative, use of coinage: building coin bridges. Here are some I prepared earlier. Bridge 1, Bridge 1 failing and Bridge 2

  • Take it to a bank. Seriously, last time I did this I took one of those hessian money bags (half the size of a standard shopping bag) full of silver only and walked away with $180. That’s not small change (pun intended). I keep gold separately as that gets spend on vending machines, parking and DIY car wash places

  • Keeping shrapnel around the house for me is the best way to save money. I have one of those coin tins which is roughly the equivilent size of a 2 liter ice cream tub. when the coin level gets high enough I go and get the change bags from my local branch and just bag up the money. At most its only an hour (or less) of work .

    some people just make it hard on themselves when counting coins, easiest way is to separate the coins into denomination piles and the count up to the value required on the change bag. once you are done you can easily check the value of all your coins. If you dont have enough coins to match the required value on the bag just write what is in there on a bright post it note for you to easily see when counting.

  • I use the self-service machines in the supermarkets. Chuck all the coins in, and it will give you more appropriate change in return.
    If you don’t have enough cash to pay the full amount, chuck all the coins in and hit cancel payment, and it will give you more suitable denominations.

  • If you make an actual effort to spend it I find I very rarely have more than five dollars in change. Which is typically a dollars worth of silver and the rest gold.

  • woolworths or any other place with self serve machines are perfect for getting rid of coins.u can pump the machine full of the coins before putting in notes. i use at least 10 dollars worth of silver coins every week doing this

  • The office draw at work for the 10am/12pm/3pm coffee urge… or those times when you simply don’t have time to cross a few streets to get the ATM.

    I do find spending all the larger denominations leaves your draw with a raging epidemic of 5c pieces. This is easily solved by adding 20-50c worth to a coffee order everyday. For the non-coffee people, same principle applies… just substitute for a daily regular 🙂

  • I’m right with you on all of this. I take anything under $2 out of my wallet, make piles, compile those, and then fill a fishbowl. Last time I emptied the bowl, it was over $500.

    To get motivated to actually take this to the bank (and, yes, it’s a major hassle), myself and my partner decide in advance what we’re planning to do with the cash (eg. fancy dinner, weekend away, new technology, etc.). Then, when the bowl is full, you’re motivated to find out exactly how much is in there, so you can start planning which restaurant/hotel/TV you’re going to buy.

  • Just spend it as you go. I don’t understand how people can get into this state unless they just can’t be arsed dipping into their change when paying. Virtually without exception every shop you go in likes getting change as it keeps their float full of small coins for those who don’t bother!!

    If something was $4.60, say, I’d always give them the 60c on top of whatever note I’d hand over so I get rid of that change and get a single $1 piece back. Similarly if something was $8 I’d try and see if I had $3 in coins to pass over with any note in order to get just notes back and lose some change.

    It’s obviously just a habit and but takes no more time really. Doing this as a matter of course also means that you never have a load of foreign coins when you come back from a foreign holiday.

    • I agree with this. I think the key is to make a habit of checking to see what coins you have BEFORE you just hand the girl at the counter a $20 note. Often you will find that you can do what Jonathan says and top-up the notes with coins so that you only get notes back and/or get less notes back. I very rarely have any more than $5 in coins in my pocket because I make sure to spend them every chance I get. I’ve never had a single sales assistant complain about me giving them coins, especially now that they just type the amount into the register and then it tells them how much to give back!

  • Take all your coins to a local pub with a ‘Barry’ machine, and preferably other gaming machines (as they change dollar coins to larger denominations). Insert all your coins in Barry, (except 5 cent pieces – you’re stuck with those little jerks..). After you’re done – play away as much or little as you like, then hit collect. All your money is dispensed as dollar coins – which at gaming venues are simple to have converted to cash.

  • I don’t like carrying coins so I tend to empty my pockets when I get home into a container by the door (my girlfriend likes to joke she could just quit her job and live off the coins I leave around).

    When we come to something major (holiday away, moving house etc) we cash the coins in at my local bank (make sure you sort them into the bags the bank provides, makes the whole process go a lot smoother and there’s a lot less questions about if you robbed a vending machine).

    It makes for a great little surprise bonus of cash. The load of coins we deposited before our last holiday was a tad under $400 worth (some 9 months worth of coin collection). It did take three trips to do it (bags of coins are very, very heavy).

  • I went to the post office and bought a big mailing tube. I duct-taped the two ends up and cut a hole in the top. Any money I had in my wallet at the end of the week, went into the tube. Sometimes I was even putting $20 or $50 notes in there. I told myself that I wasn’t going to touch the tube until it was full. And when it was, I emptied it and counted it out. There was about $700 in there. That just about got us a really nice 42″ plasma TV. I’m doing the same now, but only putting change in, no notes. That’ll be my camera equipment fund 😉

  • I dump them in a pile in my room whenever my wallet gets too fat and heavy. Then if I’m going to the city, I’ll grab $5.40 worth from the pile to spend on my train ticket. Tends to keep the pile in balance, since it doesn’t grows about as much as a go to the city.

    • Only limitation with this approach is that Sydney ticket vending machines won’t accept more than 10 coins (and won’t accept 5 cent pieces at all) – so not always a strategy for unmanned stations or early morning/late night.

  • I drop my loose change into a tin that I keep by the door that has dollar notes printed on it.
    I can tell when it’s getting full as it acts as a very good door stop.
    it’s heavy now so i’m looking to empty it and hopefully there will be enough cash for an Xbox console with kinnect. Last time there was around $400 and I bought an old piano. I think it’s cool to buy something you’ve saved up for without really noticing

  • I do this.
    I a couple of years ago, I was collecting coins in one of those 20L Olive oil tins. It got to a point after about 5 years, when it was 3/4 full it couldn’t be lifted, and the metal began to buckle, so I put it on a skateboard and wheeled it to the local back.. an hour and a half later I was $2500 richer, it paid for my PC upgrade, and a nice present for the missus.

    I’m nearly at that point again… 😀

  • Never really had a problem with this. Whenever I’m buying something, the coins come out first. I also give checkout operators amounts of cash which specifically minimise the number of coins I’ll get back in change. Ideally zero, if I have exact change, but otherwise only one or two if I can.

    As a result, the number of coins in my wallet generally only increases if I have no coins at all and have to pay with a note. Otherwise, the daily push is towards getting rid of them. It’s quite easy after a bit of practice to pull out silver to the value of the cents on the bill (or 50c either way), and/or gold to the nearest $5.

    Example: If I have to pay $18.65, I’ll pull out $3.65 in change and a $20 note, and get a single $5 back. If I don’t have the $3, I’ll pull out the twenty and 65c in silver, and get $2 back. Either way, I’ve cut down on the amount of shrapnel.

  • I can’t remember where I heard this but basically:

    Wait until you have a large enough amount of coin to fill both pockets on some cargo shorts.
    When you do grab a siren/alarm and fill your pockets with as much coin as you can carry.

    When a guy asks if you have any spare change. start up the alarm and hand yell out CONGRATULATIONS YOU ARE A WINNER!!!!!! and hand over all the money

  • Put some coins in to a small plastic bag, and give it to a street musician or a homeless person you pass by during the day. Granted, you have to carry around the little bag with you, it’s still an option, if you are carrying a purse, backpack, etc. . Of course, it helps if you live in a big city, as I do, where you’ll most definitely pass a street musician or homeless person during your daily commute. Also, if you give to a street musician, I would make sure the bag has enough money (a few dollars), because, unlike the homeless, street musicians are not necessarily desperate to get whatever money they can get. Hence, they might not be as keen to get coins.

  • I know this is a very old discussion, but if I may add my two cents. I was inspired by Marie KONDO’s book “the life-changing magic of tidying up”. In it she suggests not accumulating coins *ever*. She suggests carrying no more than 1-2 dollars or equivalent in your local currency. I noticed many people in this thread have stated, “it’s a major hassle”, ” it’s a problem”, it’s difficult”, “it’s a pain in the arse” to drag the coins to a bank or coin changing machine. So let’s END IT. I carry less than US$1.50 in change… good luck to all!

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