Monday, 25 February 2008

Spare Me The Change

No one in my family likes change. As in spending, not alteration.

While they do okay with pound coins, fifty-pence pieces, and, in a pinch, twenty-pence pieces, anything below that -- namely ten-, five-, two- and one-pence coins -- does not interest them. They receive change when they buy things, of course. They bring it home, pluck out the pounds and fifty-pence pieces, and leave the small stuff lying there.

In time, it builds up.

Now, please bear in mind that I hate waste. I can't stand throwing out pieces of string, elastic bands, decent cardboard boxes, or used aluminum foil, so how in the world am I going to cope with growing mounds of change?

Everywhere I look, there is change. On top of the chest-of-drawers in our room is a huge, glistening pile of coppers; on top of the washing machine, next to the kitchen sink, on the shelves of book cases, the bathroom hamper -- change, change, change.

I find myself frustrated by this wanton accumulation. On my own, I don't collect change. I keep bits of it on me, and whenever I make a purchase, I am one of those insufferable people in the check-out line who watches the cash register display anxiously then fumbles madly through her purse while muttering: "£3.48? Hang on -- I've got three pounds here and..I'll just find...yes, I've got fifty, let's see, here's twenty pence and another ten, plus eight! -- here's the exact change!"

My husband and children cringe while this happens. "For God's sake," they fume, "just give her the damn five pound note!" In vain, I explain to them the principle behind my exact change ritual. If you get rid of your change on a regular basis, you don't end up with so much of it that your purse finally develops cracks.

But as I've said, they have no use for change, and they cannot do this.

I have jam jars, piggy banks, old vitamin bottles, pockets, and a wallet stuffed with change. When the kids decided that they wanted to eat in the cafeteria, I told myself that at least this way we could use up some of our surplus change. Silly me. The first time I tried to hand them two pounds in twenty-, ten-, five-, two- and one-pence pieces, they threw a fit. "Muuuum! We can't use that!" The money should preferably be in pound pieces; though they will grudgingly accept fifty-pence pieces, this is not ideal, and twenty-pence pieces are actively scorned.

Whenever I take the bus, I try to use up as many coppers as possible, but the bus driver frowns when he sees me take out my purse; he doesn't like small change either. All the check-out clerks narrow their eyes when they see me coming now, and the lady at the post office recently made a big point about giving me little plastic envelopes marked with small denominations. "For your change," she said frostily. "Mind you don't mix up the one- and two-pence pieces."

In March, I'm hosting a coffee morning for charity. We had a meeting recently, and one of the friends who is helping me organize this mentioned stalls. "One of us will have to remember to bring change," she reminded the rest of us.

I got excited. "Change? I've got a lot of change," I said hopefully. "And I'll definitely remember to bring --"

"Fine," she interrupted crisply, "just make sure it isn't coppers."

Spare change, anyone?


Katie Alender said...

Here in the US, we have machines called "Coinstar" at the grocery store... you dump your jar of pennies, nickels, dimes, etc., and it sorts them and gives you a receipt that you can use for groceries or trade in for cash. The fee is 7%, which isn't bad for people who have giant tubs of pennies sitting around. I think the most I've ever made is $167. We have friends who had $800 in coins!

Linda D. (sbk) said...

We use giant pickle jars. When they get full, we roll the coins, take them to the bank, and let the kids split the cash.

Last time they ended up with about $70 each. A little too much for a 6 year old, if you ask me. Then again, maybe I'm just jealous.

Brian said...

Good Heavens -- are British banks so backward that they don't have coincounting machines ???? We take ours there and get notes in exchange .

One unhappy tale : when Oz introduced the 50c piece the first ones were round and very loaded with silver ( changed later to 12 sided coins of a baser metal ). I liked them and was collecting them -- stashing them in my wardrobe on a ledge .Harpagon strikes !

I wondered why they were not filling up the space-- then found that my wife was nicking them to pay the bloody milkman !!!

I still have some -- waiting now for the price of silver to rise again . lol


Merry Monteleone said...

We used to have this problem... my husband was the worst - for some ungodly reason, when he deposited a check he'd deposit it even, so if it was for $542.73, he'd deposit $500.00 even and keep the 42.73 for pocket money... but he never uses the damn change, so what he was really doing was bringing home an extra 73 cents that wound up on the counter and then in my cookie tin of change!

We take our tin in a few times a year to the bank, have them count it and deposit it in our account.. usually it's over $100.00, so it's a nice little bonus of money you don't even notice you have. Now I keep a change cup in the kitchen and everyone drops their spare change in that - when it gets full I dump it in the big cookie tin that sits in my bedroom and there it stays until the tin is nearly full, or really unweildly to carry...

Also, my daughter can buy her own milk and fruit at school now, on days she carries a sack lunch - so she raids the change most mornings for spare quarters to buy and apple and chocolate milk rather than carrying 'babyish' juice.

Kim Ayres said...

Shove it in jars and I'll collect it next time I'm through in Moffat!

Every time we get home Rogan pounces on us for our coppers, which he then puts in a jar. Periodically he'll take it to the post office to cash in.

Last year when he went skiing with the school he had an extra £20 to take with him.

So now they are always collected to put towards trips.

If no one else wants them, our kids will hapily take them off your hands :)

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- Trust America to have something so practical and convenient as a change machine. I'd mention it to the banks here, but I know their answer already: 'If you like it there so well, why are you living here?' Because God forbid anything sensible should come from America. And those friends of yours with $800? I want to meet them. I live with their counterparts here in the U.K.

Linda -- Those pickle jars get lethally heavy, don't they? I've just gone through the headache of cashing in one, after filling lots of those little plastic bags the post office lady gave me. Yes, $70 is too much for a 6-year-old, but I'm not just jealous, I'm old. $70 when I was a kid could have bought the Taj Mahal.

Brian -- I'm keeping track of this: America, Canada, and now Australia all have change machines, but the U.K. does not! Yes they are that backward here. Although in London they may have one of these, out in the provinces we're on our own.

And your wife needed SOMEthing to pay the milkman! At least she wasn't sneaking them to buy fags or pay for trashy magazines. When I find my kids have raided my husband's generously stocked change collection, removing all the pounds and leaving the dregs for me, rather than grope about for the odd small coin, I get violent urges. And THEY aren't paying the milkman!

Merry -- I'm waiting to hear from a man -- any man -- who ends up keeping track of the spare change in his household. I know he's out there somewhere.

My theory is that men don't like to bother with details (though my husband would quite rightly point out that he is the one who checks tire pressure and tread depth, oil levels,etc), and change falls into the detail category. For the life of him, my husband cannot get the point of keeping change to a minimum, but then my daughters are the same, and we share a gender. My DNA seems not to have counted for anything in the change department. They too raid the change drawer for their lunch money, but all they take is the British equivalent of dollar coins (I know we don't have these, but still), 50-cent pieces and quarters. If we had nickels, dimes, and pennies, they'd spurn them.

Kim -- Rogan is on! I just cashed in a pickle jar of one- and two-pence pieces the other day, painstakingly counted out into those stupid little plastic bags from the post office, but no worries: the coppers will build up in no time. Rogan will do very well out of us, too, and good for him for saving up change. I did this when I was his age, and look at me now!

Kim Ayres said...

My mother always used to say - take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

However, in the risk of doing Rogan out of some coppers, I have seen one of those machines Katie mentioned in Tesco in Dumfries, by the door on the way out.

Susan Sandmore said...

I love change. My father throws all of his into a tin and brings it to my daughter once or twice a year. We'd never turn it down, even if it was all pennies. Funds are funds!

Carole said...

I belong to a woman's organization which is basically a group that supports missions overseas. One of the little things we do is called Change the World. We all bring our change, once a month and dump it into a pile. This is collected from women all over the US and it goes to buy women in third world countries things like goats, chickens, bikes, sewing machines, so that these women can become a bit independent and start their own businesses. Anyway, last year, with just this little bit of pennies, nickles, and dimes we bought over $45,850.00 worth of start up businesses. The big item last year was bunnies.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- The way it works in this house is that the kids and husband take care of the pounds and I am left to try and use up the pennies.

Is there REALLY a coin changing machine at the Dumfries Tesco? I've gone there a lot and managed never to see it! I feel so cheated. I wish I'd known about that before last week. Counting out all those piddling coppers! Clearly I need to get out more...

Susan -- I agree. I just get so tired of being the only one who deals with the change. Everyone else in the family happily slaps their ten-pound notes on the counter while I am left grubbing about, counting pennies and 5-pence pieces.

Carole -- $45,850? Good God, woman, I am amazed! I'm betting that over 85% of that is the stuff men pull out of their pockets every evening and leave on top of the chest of drawers for their wives to tidy away. Still, if that means that ladies all over Sierra Leone receive goats to milk and bunnies to raise for meat, I'm okay with it. And good for you, for helping to organize that.

Every year I collect for charity, during Christian Aid week in May. I stand out there for two hours freezing my hands off, and I think I get about $7. In pennies. Change the World sounds like a far better deal, all around.

Phil said...

Even in the backwoods of Lancashire we have change machines in the supermarkets. If I leave anything larger than 50p lying around, it disappears. Saving small change is the only way to save anything in this house.

My youngest son tells me that coppers are often discarded like litter in the school lunch hall.


Danette Haworth said...

When I first met my husband, he was proud of this two foot jar he had almost filled with pennies. It became part of our cargo after our wedding; we lugged it from house to house (along with his mysterious boxes, which have always been taped shut since I met him). The jar is still with us, somewhere in a closet, still full.

The Anti-Wife said...

I have a big pickle jar almost full of quarters - saving for my dream trip to England and Scotland some day! My pennies go to a friend at work who walks in the Breast Cancer walk every year and collects pennies for the cure. Everything else I spend.

ChristineEldin said...

I was going to say the same thing as Katie..about the coin machines. But if you go to your bank and not the grocery store, there is no fee.

I actually love change. When the mound is sufficiently huge and unwieldly, I take the tantrum-things to the bank and we have a guessing game about how much money there is. Then it gets divided between their savings accounts. (At which point there really is a tantrum because they wanted to collect the notes and go home.)

Ahhhh, I love this blog!

Paul said...

Hi Mary - just dropping by to say hi. Thank you for your comments on my blog - you are absolutely right about the happy distraction of blogging!

I have an old plant pot that I empty my change into - it's so full of coppers I can't lift it. No chance of it ever going to the bank, supermarket or anywhere else!

Mary Witzl said...

Phil -- You are the man! Once I read your line "Saving small change is the only way to save anything in this house," I knew I had found the one man I've always suspected was out there. If there are any more of you, let me know and maybe we can all form a club.

And shame on me for presuming there weren't any cash machines in the U.K. when both you and Kim have pointed out that there are. It is obvious that I don't get around much, isn't it? I have NEVER seen the one in Dumfries! As far as coppers being thrown away, though, your son is absolutely right. The streets of this town are littered with pennies and 2-pence pieces. I sometimes see other middle-aged people bending to pick them up. We always exchange wry looks as we bump heads.

Danette -- Now you've got me thinking about what is in those boxes. Do me a huge favor and peek, then let me know, would you? I don't think I could bear the suspense of living in a house with taped-shut boxes. As for the huge jar of change, are you telling me that he hasn't added to it since you married? If it were in our house, that jar would now have an extended family of brothers, sisters, in-laws, and cousins.

Anti-wife -- Whenever I go to charity shops (which is pretty often, come to think of it) I manage to get rid of great fistfuls of pennies by putting them in the collection box. I can't say the ladies in those shops appreciate this; like my kids, they'd obviously prefer the big stuff.

And I hope we're still here when you come to Scotland! At the very least, I can show you around this town and take you up to the Grey Mare's Tail.

Chris -- What a good idea that is, and perhaps if I'd done something like this, my kids wouldn't be so change-a-phobic. When my eldest was really young, she loved doing small chores for 50-yen pieces. They have a hole in the middle and she was entranced by them. Now she probably wouldn't settle for anything short of 100-yen coins. My two are really spoiled... It's such a shame you don't live around the corner. I've got some great tantrum stories that are far too long to post, and I'll bet we could top each other several times over.

Paul -- At least you put it all in one container! If I weren't around, I wonder how much change would have to accumulate on top of the various surfaces in this house before it struck my family to do something about it? Hope I never have occasion to find out.

I'm long since finished with my Writers & Artists novel, by the way, but have not worked up the courage to submit it for another review. I should do this...your organized dedication is inspiring me...

Kappa no He said...

And I haven't seen those change machines in Japan. At least not for us to use. I have seen the banking types using them.

My theory is when the big earthquake hits I'll have billions of yen all in small change. Let the others line up at the banks. Bwa ha ha!

debra said...

My mother-in-law throws all her change in a large jar all year. Around the beginning of December she takes it to the bank, and, voila! Christmas money.

My brother-in-law has a 5 gallon water jug filled with pennies. I haven't a clue how he will ever lift it. My sister just rolls her eyes

The Anti-Wife said...

As devalued as the dollar is now, it may be a long time before I can save up enough money for my dream trip, but I shall remain hopeful!

Eryl Shields said...

I sweep up all the change that gets left lying around this house and put it in an old biscuit barrel. One day I'll take it into Tesco or a bank and turn it into spendable money, probably when we're really broke.

Kanani said...

I've used those Coinstar machines as well. They work like a charm!

Go ahead, Mary. Grab all the change, go to the machine and then go treat yourself to something special!

Ello said...

I am change queen! I love change, but that is because this is how we got my daughter's bank account started and now it is up to $1000 just from change accumulated from her grandparents and me and her dad. She always helps rolls the coins and goes to the bank with us. Since my kids actually find this a fun thing to do, it has become a tradition here.

Ello said...

Oh and given how strong the pound is against the dollar, I would gladly take all your change! ;o)

-eve- said...

LOL! This is really strange.... over here, everyone wants change! *guess our money isn't so big that small bits of it could be worthless :-) Even 1 cent coins, which are PRACTICALLY worthless, can be accumulated; once you have 10, that's enough to buy a packet of ice cubes...*

Mary Witzl said...

Kappa -- You probably don't remember when they didn't have a sales tax in Japan, but it used to be that you could pay for everything mainly in notes, and change involving ten-, five-, or one-yen coins was very rare. Before sales tax, people didn't have a lot of change on them. After sales tax, everything changed -- (no pun intended!) At least the one-yen coins were so light that you didn't strain a muscle trying to shift them.

Debra -- I am rolling my eyes with your sister. What in the world is your brother-in-law going to do with a 5-gallon jug full of coins?

Your mother-in-law's system is good, though, and I will adopt it. Once I've found the coin changing machine the others have told me about, I'll finally have some REAL money of my own! And the good thing is, I know for sure that no one will touch my source. Maybe your sister should start pilfering from that jug...?

Anti-wife -- Just keep saving up your change -- you never know!

Eryl -- Just point me in the direction of that coin machine. Now that I know there is one, catch me trying to get rid of my jam jars full of coppers! Having a blog has been a huge help to me in so many ways, but I never thought it would help me cash in my change.

Kanani -- Coinstar, here I come. If only they had hot fudge sundaes here, that would definitely be what I'd treat myself to. Now maybe Eryl or Kim will tell me where they DO have hot fudge sundaes, and then I'll be all set!

Ello -- I'm developing a healthy new respect for all that change everyone keeps throwing away. No longer will I see it as a burden; from now on that is my nest egg!

I should have started my kids early on picking up change and cashing it in. I didn't do this, and they have never seemed to cherish the idea of saving up small sums of money. When we were kids, we collected old bottles, got change for pulling weeds, babysitting, walking dogs, etc. Now I tell my kids that and they look at me in utter amazement. "They gave you change and you were HAPPY with it?" It's a new age...

Eve -- I can't imagine saving up money to buy ice, but that is because I've just driven back from Edinburgh along icy roads with a bitter wind whistling outside and my feet like blocks of ice themselves. I think a Malaysian summer would make ice something I'd start saving my pennies for, but a Scottish winter makes it quite superfluous.

A Paperback Writer said...

I love your take on why UK banks won't have change machines. I, personally, think this is also the reason why NO BLOODY COUNTRY IN EUROPE will install a window screen anywhere.
I am well-traveled and far from being the average American xenophobe/isolationist. In general, I generally don't think that the American way is superior in all things. But window screens, I ask you. Why can't other countries realize that something that lets air circulate but keeps out unwanted life forms is a GOOD THING?
Also, several of my friends and I keep running tabs on where we find public drinking fountains in Europe. I know of one in Hamburg, Germany, for example. And there are two of them on the George Square campus of the Univ. of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Oh, and I use a credit card for almost everything at home (just one payment at the end of the month -- it's so easy). But in Scotland I used mostly cash. I didn't get quite the reactions you do. Maybe the folks in Edinburgh aren't so picky about their coppers. Try spending some there next time you visit and see what happens.
But UK change gets heavy. There's a reason, I think, why the things are called "pound" coins: 4 of them in your coin purse and that's about how much it weighs.

Sarah said...

You know what I do with all these silly 1 kroner coins? They are worth nothing! (There are a few cheap things available that cost 89-90 kroner.)

I give them by the dozens to friends' kids in the states. The kids think the foreign coins look cool, and how many people have a coin from Iceland?

Um--do you need some 1 kroner coins?

Anonymous said...

I was going to tell you it's a shame you don't have Coinstar, but I see katie alender beat me to it. It is a shame for you though.

-eve- said...

Heheheheheh! Yes, that's true, Mary... LOL!

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- You are so right: drinking fountains are in short supply here in the U.K. and in Europe in general! How odd... And I might be wrong, but I think there ARE window screens in the Netherlands, in banks.

One thing I must write a separate post about is how frustrating it is that every country gets a few things perfectly right, and others completely wrong, but they rarely want to hear kindly-intended suggestions for improvement. When people who have spent time abroad make good suggestions about the useful customs or practices of another country, the response is usually a xenophobic sniff: "Well, if you think it's so great there, why don't you go back?" I always feel like responding that I like it where I am just fine but would like it better if they could make certain improvements. Ah well.

Sarah -- Being naturally acquisitive, as soon as I saw what you had written about 1 kroner coins I immediately wanted some. But I still owe several of my fellow bloggers origami cranes, and I would feel extremely greedy asking you for kroners! When I first went to Japan, I took along hundreds of pennies and nickels, prettily wrapped in foil. They were a great hit with kids there.

Riley -- I have since learned that they DO have coin machines at the supermarket in the closest large town. Believe me, the next time I go there to shop, I'm cashing in my coppers. I'll have enough to buy myself something at a thrift shop -- oh, the thrill!

Eve -- We had a terrific storm here last night and it was freezing. If I could have, I'd happily have exchanged some of our ice for your sun.

A Paperback Writer said...

Mary, you may be right. I haven't been in the Netherlands since '98, and I don't recall anazlyzing the bank windows the last time i was there.
I remember being fascinated with Copenhagen's recycling (curbside) program in 1981. It didn't find its way to Salt Lake City until about 15 years later. (But we are doing very well with it now.)
Now, if we could just catch onto Denmark's ideas about parental job leaves and excellent child care....

Mary Witzl said...

Now I'm trying to remember which Dutch bank I saw this in -- and I can't!

You're right about Denmark having great childcare and parental leave laws: every time I've talked to Danish parents, I am struck by how good they've got it. I was last there in early 1988, but I don't remember the curbside recycling...

Danette Haworth said...

Ha, those boxes! One suffered a huge gash (old age, I'd say, not fit enough to experience rough handling). Out spilled a bunch of outdated text books from high school and freshman college. I need those, he said.

Mary Witzl said...

Danette -- My father was like that! He had a whole stack of mysterious boxes in the garage. Only after he died in 1993 did we open them up. They contained, among other things, his Navy uniform from WWII, a huge stamp collection, and his christening gown, circa 1920 -- all in nearly pristine condition. And I do believe he had every textbook he ever owned in there as well!