So today we’ll be talking about something that is as conceptual as it is practical: what is the value of the change you see on the ground?
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Everybody would stoop over to grab a $20, but what about something smaller? Would you stop to pick up a dollar, a quarter, a nickel?
By the time you finish this article, you might think differently about the value of change on the ground.
What is the worth of loose change?
Let’s simulate how it goes when we are picking up loose change: you see it on the ground, and you look around to see if it belongs to anyone. Nobody’s bending over for it, so you double-check to make sure it’s OK to take it. You lean down quick and grab it; you’re feeling a little self-conscious about being seen, but now it’s yours.
Despite all that thinking you just did, the whole process probably took around five seconds or so. And five seconds is the long estimate, if you quickly swoop down for the change it will take even less time.
So let’s just use that five-second assumption to do some quick calculations.
An hour has 3,600 seconds in it (60 minutes to an hour, 60 seconds to a minute, 60×60 = 3,600.) At a rate of one coin per five seconds, that’s 720 coins in an hour, assuming there are as many coins as you can grab.
In other words, that’s:
- $180 per hour, with quarters.
- $72 per hour, with dimes.
- $36 per hour, with nickels, and
- $7.20 per hour, with pennies.
Now, it is true that in this hypothetical situation, there are an unlimited amount of coins. But we’re also assuming that you’re picking them up pretty slowly at a rate of 1 coin per 5 seconds.
It’s more realistic to assume that there is a limited number of coins, but that you’re picking them up more quickly (which may equal out to about the same rate, if you were doing something like walking down the city center and grabbing all the change.)
If you can achieve around this rate, even with pennies, you’re making US federal minimum wage.
What if we picked up the pace?
If you are in that same unlimited-coin situation we were proposing up above, what kind of results would you be seeing picking the coins up more quickly?
Five seconds is pretty slow for a small task like grabbing coins after all. Let’s assume you’re going faster than that– like picking up 1 every 3 seconds. That’s about the pace it’d take to spot a coin, step over to it, and swoop down.
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If we plug this pace into our previous calculations, now it is:
- $300 per hour with quarters,
- $120 per hour with dimes,
- $60 per hour with nickels, and
- $12 per hour with pennies.
Now even the pennies are going to be scoring you a wage much better than the federal minimum.
Of course, we’re still assuming that the coins are unlimited, but those calculations are all based on a singular type of coin.
It is more realistic to take the average of all the coin types, which would be netting you $123 in an hour (wow!)
Don’t forget, either, that this is tax-free money.
So what’s the conclusion?
Obviously, we’re not saying that you’ll ever find yourself surrounded by an unlimited amount of coins.
But that’s the thing: you don’t need to be surrounded by coins for this to be practical advice.
Even though we’ve assumed some hypotheticals to come up with these numbers, the core concept rings true. There really are coins all over, and change lining the ground outside countless shops, stores, food stands, etc.
If you had picked up all the change you passed on your trip around town today, how much money would it be?
That’s just money you can pick up in passing, while you’re already doing something. Imagine if you set out with the explicit intention of picking up all the change you could find. It could be some actual, hard cash that you got for nothing.
Don’t underestimate the change just because it is on the ground, or because it is a small denomination of money.
Change is something that you amass in large amounts, and that’s when it really becomes worthwhile– remember that the next time you see a coin on the ground!