Monday, August 25, 2008

Got Any Change?

Somewhere between six and seven years ago, I found out about Coinstar machines. Have you ever seen these things? If you live in the United States, Canada, the UK or Ireland, you should really search one out, because they rock!

Basically they are free-standing kiosks--usually in grocery or drug stores--that you pour all of your spare change into and then either receive a voucher for the money, or a gift card from a certain vendor. When I first tried one out, I was living in Boston, and the only option was to get a voucher for cash. You would get a print-out of how much money you had poured in, take it up to the check-out counter, and they would give you your designated amount.

If you just get cash from all of your inputted coins, Coinstar takes out 8 - 10% for their fee, depending on where you live. My dad said, "Why wouldn't you just roll your coins and trade them in for dollars at the bank and forgo the fee?" The answer is: 1) I don't have time to roll coins, nor do I have the little wrappers you need to do so, 2) I bank at an Internet-based bank that has no physical branch nearby, 3) If I did roll coins and took them to another bank or check-cashing type of place, they would also charge a fee, and 4) the Coinstar kiosk is right around the corner from my place.

My husband and I had been tossing spare change into a big plastic bag ever since our last Coinstar visit all those years ago. I finally took it to our local kiosk and was totally excited to see the option of getting gift cards for your change instead of only cash. Because with the gift cards, they do NOT subtract any fee! Why wouldn't you select this option?

I ended up getting a $10-ish (it's hard to pour in even amounts) card for Starbucks, a $138 voucher for iTunes, and a $93 voucher for These are all places that I shop at anyway, so it made complete sense to get their gift cards rather than lose 9% of my money solely to get bills in my hand then and there.

On top of the convenient location of the machine and the fact that, in a weird way, it feels like you're getting "free money" (even though the coins are yours and were worth every bit as much sitting up in the cabinet above the fridge in the big plastic bag), the experience of pouring the money in is totally fun. At least I think it is. You dump all of your change into this little bin, and then lift it up so that the coins start falling through a small slot that leads to the coin-counter. The kiosk makes the same sound that the jackpots in Vegas make, which I am positive that humans must be hard-wired to love. Every once in a while, the machine will spit out a foreign coin, or, in my case, one of my husband's guitar picks that was mixed in with the legit coins (?!?!). And then you wait for the grand total. When it's hundreds of dollars, it's quite a thrill!

I know, I know, it doesn't take much to amuse me.

But if you have a ton of change sitting around, you should seriously see if they have a Coinstar near you. I would think that it would be a fun experience for kids, too, who were perhaps saving up in a piggy bank or something. Or maybe you should encourage your kids (and yourself) to keep on saving a penny here and a penny there and wait for a long time to tally them up. Because then you could be like this dude, who cashed in $1.3 MILLION DOLLARS in pennies he had saved up over 38 years?!?! That's right, it was all freakin' pennies! It took the machine seven hours to count it all.

Edited The Original Post To Add: Oops. A thank-you to Anonymous, who clued me in that I didn't read the article carefully enough. The man in the picture had 1.3 million CENTS total, which is $13,000.

But... he's still my hero. That's it, I'm not cashing in again until I'm 71.

- e


Anonymous said...

That dude had 1.3 MILLION CENTS, not dollars. So, it was really only about 13 THOUSAND DOLLARS. Still, pretty impressive!

Spenzer said...

Cool! I wish we had these here in germany. I shop at Amazon so much anyway, why even bother depositing it at the bank, hehe. You've got crazy stuff over there ;)

drew said...

I am over in New Jersey and we have a bank called commerce bank, and they have that type of machine there and its free for account holders. Plus you get to guess what you have before you start, and if you are close, they give you a little piggy bank thing that looks like their symbol, this big red C.

Love the blog.

Erika (aka "e") said...

Anon - Oops, thanks! I edited the original post.

Spenzer - Well, you guys have Oktoberfest and the Autobahn, so don't sell yourself short!

Drew - We actually studied a case about Commerce Bank in graduate school (business school in my case). They definitely seem to be a very smart, non-banklike bank! Good for them for taking a bite out of Coinstar's market! More banks should get the hint...

- e

Spenzer said...

I'll try :)

I did a little math btw. and considering the weight of 1c (which I wikipediad) that whole pile of change must weigh a little more than 4 tons ... how do you even begin to transport that without special equipment?

Oh, and the guy reminded me that I wanted to be Scrooge McDuck when I was a kid. Having a pool filled with money to swim in. I bet he could do that. Now I'm jealous.

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people who really love these machines and this doesn't change the internet banking status, but I don't think you have to roll change for the banks anymore. I bank with behemoth Chase, and when I bring in my change, they don't charge me a fee to deposit the stash. They just dump the bag into their change counter and bring me the total for my deposit slip.

Erika (aka "e") said...

M - Shows you how long it's been since I've been in a bank... ; )

That's good to know, though!

- e

Brian said...

Now, was that $13,000 net or gross? I am guilty of not using coinstar because of that 10%, and I'm not depositing thousands of dollars.

Plus, having your hands smell like copper after an hour of coin-rolling is an even better reward than a fish biscuit after a job well done!

Elizabeth said...

I've always rolled my coins and avoided these machines because I can't stand giving away 10% for a fee. Now that I know I can get a gift card for the full amount I'm so excited!!! Thanks for this info E, I feel liberated!