Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cashing in some Change

I'm a total cheapskate. A penny collector and a penny pincher. I feel like most of the Irish people I meet think it's a strange attribute. The virtue of thriftiness in the extreme doesn't seem to be as big here as it is in the States. At least they don't have extreme couponing reality shows...

...But change collecting is a different game here. The pennies still clatter to the ground, and I can still collect gobs of them every time I go out, but I long ago learned why people here devalue small coins as much as they do.

Bank fees. Back in the States, banks and credit unions competed for business with low fees and high rewards. Many fees and interest rates are set by EU standards here, so banks don't have to up the level of service to attract customers. One of the services that I took for granted in Iowa was free coin counting. I could show up with a jar of mixed change, dump it into a sorting machine, and take the printed receipt up to the teller for cash or deposit. For free. Easy as that.

Here, ANY teller service draws a base charge, like a plumber's one-hour service minimum. Some services add additional fees. Coin services are no exception. Banks can choose whether or not to take coins, and some require that they all be counted and sorted into handy bags to reduce costs for machine counting.

And they can still charge both the standard teller service fee AND a percentage of the total take for their trouble of taking in coins that they will then charge someone else to collect for their cash registers.

But I won't be taken in by this racket, and don't even suggest I go to one of those green coin counters at the supermarket. Those fees can be higher than those at the bank... and that's saying something!

But how to solve the problem of turning several Euros of small coins into something of value? It hit me. The self checkout at the supermarket! Yes! Handing a handful of dirty pennies to a busy clerk at the checkout seemed a bit rude, but stuffing a handful of dirty pennies into a soulless machine, one at a time? Perfect.

I already knew the perfect target. Our local supermarket has cans of cheap whole tomatoes for an even 40 cents. In our mostly-vegetarian, one-pot cooking style these days, we go through about 4 of these cans a week. We always need them, they're cheap, and 40 cents is just enough to feed into a machine without jamming it.

I counted out 4 Euros of 1-and-2-cent coins into bank bags of 40 cents each. Over the next ten days, I went to the market every day, usually around 10 o'clock, and bought a single can of tomatoes- with 40 pennies.

It worked! I got the rhythm of the machines down; I knew exactly how fast I could feed them without jamming up the works. I wonder what the employees who saw me were thinking. I wondered if I should act like I was obsessive or otherwise mentally ill, but decided that would be insensitive to people and families who really struggle with mental illness.

Luckily, to date, no one has asked me why I come in with bags of pennies for a single can of tomatoes. My initial ten bags have already been spent, but now I know how to get rid of them quickly, easily, and without a fee.

If you're in a south Dublin supermarket, be on the lookout for the guy wearing headphones, humming to himself, and buying a single can of tomatoes with a bag of copper coins. If you see him, come over and say hello.

...Or back away slowly.


  1. Wish I had your thriftiness. I have made a late night trip to Tesco with a pile of 1 cent coins before, though. Has to be late night though, on account of the shame. Today I had no time for coins. When the lad in the Centra gave me my change I chucked in all in the cancer box - even the 50s...

  2. My husband makes fun of me because I would be the person who would pick up a 5 cent coin on the ground... I have used the Greenstar machine in Tesco (please don't hate me), but I really really needed the money to buy stuff that I couldn't get in Tesco!! Having said that, I usually spend my cents at the self service check out as well, but I try to do it when there are not many people in the queue...


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