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The value of a penny

Updated on March 16, 2011

When I was little, my grandpa used to save up all his pennies (and an occasional nickel or dime) in a basket on the tv shelf.  When the basket got full, he dumped it into a coffee can, then the basket would start to fill up again.  He never spent any pennies if he could help it.

When Christmas came, my cousins and I would find something filled with pennies by our stockings.  Sometimes there was enough for a gunney sack, sometimes a knee sock, sometimes a ziploc bag full.  We'd ask Grandpa for penny rolls, and spend some time counting out the money and getting it ready for the bank.  Of course, when we were really young, an older relative would be there to make sure we were counting and rolling correctly, but we learned quickly.

Off to the bank we went, to get dollars that we put in our piggy banks.  When I was eight years old, I remember taking my rolled-up pennies to the bank, along with a check I'd received, and opening up my first savings account.  That year, there was amost $50 in pennies (a knee sock full) and the $15 check.

As we grew older, the amount of pennies decreased.  We had our allowances from chores and other jobs like taking cans and bottles to the store.  By giving us the pennies, Grandpa showed us early how to save and what the true value of a penny is. 

My dad's current job is as a parking garage attendant.  He worked as a grocery store clerk for most of his adult life before that.  Each job he's had, he buys the Susan B. Anthony dollars, Eisenhower half-dollars, and now the golden dollars from the till, exchanging bills for the coins.  Every so often, when I see him he gives me a plastic baggie full of these.  Sometimes I put them in the bank, sometimes they get spent.  It depends on how low I am on funds at the time.

When I was in college, the dollar coins paid for most of my book expenses every year.  Now, they usually go toward our cat care expenses.  Whenever I spend the coins, I smile.  Usually, the people at the stores ask me where I got so many coins from, and I tell them about my dad buying them for me.  Two other people I've talked with have told me they do the same thing.  One of them even pulled out a dollar bill and bought it from the till right then and there. 

My mom keeps her own coin jar. It is a plastic bank in the shape of a dog that she has named "Big Red". One time, its contents helped finance a trip to Hawaii. Another time, they went toward buying a new couch.

Whether it's pennies or dollars, if my husband or I have any loose change around the house it goes into our own coin jar. We have a 5-gallon water container that we use. It was about half full last week, so I took it in to the bank. Lo and behold, there was a sum total of $160.

Sometimes, money comes out of the coin jar to buy food or things around the house. That is just a necessity of life. But, when there is an opportunity to save, into the jar the coins go.

Not everyone saves their coins. Some people leave them at the "take a penny, give a penny" trays at businesses. Others donate them to the March of Dimes or other causes at the checkout counter or CoinStar machine. Some school programs like World Wildlife Fund's Pennies for the Planet encourage children to save pennies for good causes.

Whatever happens with pennies, they all add up.  I know I will never forget the lessons of my grandpa's pennies and my dad's dollar coins.  I hope to continue those lessons when I have children, so they can learn the value of a penny.  I don't save every coin, but enough of them get into the jar to make a difference. 

Do you save your pocket change?

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