Ask the Readers: What To Do With Loose Change?

Today’s Ask the Readers post comes from Andy, a recent college graduate who managed to pay off student loans before graduating in May. Here’s his question excerpted from our email exchange:

I’ve already established a Roth IRA this summer and am now looking into some other things for passive income generation. One thing that keeps popping up in my head is my “piggy bank.” Although it is actually in the shape of a giant Coca-Cola bottle, it was something I got for a birthday when I was a toddler, and throughout my childhood I would put any spare change into it. At some point I got smart and took out all of the quarters, so it’s just pennies, nickels, and dimes.

When I started driving and finding use of change (the dreaded $5.08 or similar “hate to break a dollar for that” tab at Taco Bell!), my deposit rate decreased rapidly. And through college, I somewhat forgot about it since I was away. Now I’m home, on the verge of moving to a new state for graduate school, and I’m remembering how I always wanted to do something grand with my saved up change. I do not have an official count, but the last time I counted it was around $130 and that was probably prior to getting a car and a job (because without either, what else does a kid have to do but count his life-size Coke-bottle full of change?). My estimation is it is probably nearer to $170 now.

So my question for you is do you have any ideas that could be an adventurous way to spend my savings, something that would be a cool story to tell my kids one day, so something other than “Yeah, I put the money into my first couch” or “I used it for my first month’s rent.” I am open to investing it, though it isn’t a huge sum of money. I’ve been sitting on this money for 20 years, so I’m also not opposed to letting it sit somewhere (earning interest or some kind of dividend, though) for long-term. That might make the story even more interesting for my future kids if it turned into a larger quantity than anticipated.

Andy, first of all, congratulations on your recent debt-free graduation! Paying off student loans is a tall order, and doing it before graduating is practically unheard of–way to go!

Your question of what to do with the Coca Cola bottle full of change is certainly an interesting one. In some ways, it would be easier to answer your question had you asked me how to spend/invest $1,000. I realize it is only $170, but that $170 represents a lot of childhood dreams rattling around in a big bottle. What would your seven-year old self tell the current you to do with the money?

I’ll brainstorm a few ideas here, and then I’ll turn it over to Frugal Dad readers and ask for their input. They’re a creative bunch, and will no doubt provide some inspiration.

Ideas for Andy: Spending $170 from a Lifetime Collection of Change

  1. Open a brokerage account and buy 3 shares of The Coca-Cola Company stock (KO). This one occurred to me as you described the change saved in a “life-size Coca-Cola bottle.” KO recently closed at $52.40, which should allow you to buy three shares plus a commission. KO’s yield hovers around 3.3%, which means your investment will pay dividends for years to come, and if reinvested, could one day grow to a handsome sum. (Full disclosure – I own KO stock and have a mild addiction to their soft drinks)
  2. Buy a cheap round-trip plane ticket to a city you’d like to visit. For $170, you can often find a cheap flight special at a travel site like Orbitz (here’s a link to their flights for less than $200). If you live close to a departing city, consider a short drive and fly somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Now that would be a cool story to the kids one day!
  3. Open a Smarty Pig savings account. Smarty Pig is now offering one of the highest interest rates around, 2.15% APY at the time of this writing.
  4. Invest in yourself. With $170, you could probably hire a personal trainer for a few sessions, get your teeth whitened, get a new haircut to boost your confidence, or buy a new coat and tie for a future interview session. Now, I don’t know you personally, so I don’t know if any of these apply, but you get the idea.
  5. Give it away. You could very easily find a local shelter to donate money, food, blankets, or any combination of items. I also like what Secret Santa used to do – make giving even more personal. Call your church or local family services office and ask if they know of a family you could “sponsor” with a week of groceries, gas in their tank and a little extra spending money. If you prefer to wait until the holidays, your $170 could go a long way towards giving a family in need a nice Christmas.

Whatever you decide to do, my best advice is to make it as personal and memorable as possible. After you finish graduate school and start your career, you will have many more “$170 opportunities,” but I guarantee you none will be as memorable as this one. Make it count, and best of luck with graduate studies.

Frugal Dad readers, what other ideas to you have for Andy?


  1. I love the buy Coke stock idea! But I’d probably donate it, write it off on my taxes, and then buy some shares.

  2. Depending where he’ll live, keep the cash with him and pay for tolls, meals, etc (secretly) during his year in graduate school. I do like the idea of sponsoring a family’s grocery bills for a week. Grand ideas, not so much but they would put a smile on my face to do it…

    In any event, please ask him if he would be willing to share what he eventually does with us.

  3. Hmmm…. $170.

    If it were me and I were at your stage of life, I would consider going on the cheapest road trip I could, and come home when the money is gone. Grab a tent, get in the car, and go.

  4. While it’s just $170, with reinventment, compounding, etc the act of getting it out of the jar and putting it to work will pay off time and time again. Why not KO? Paying better than Cd’s, it’s been into their container thus far, why not pull the lever and start investing in them. Buy the 3 shares & “Park Them” for the same period of time & see what happens. Please let us know what you decide. Good Luck

  5. For memorable – a trip comes to mind – something fun and not too far away – and take lots of photos to share when the time comes.

    For investment – I’d add enough to it to open up a small IRA all by itself – and just let it grow til it was big enough to retire off of…. too bad he doesn’t have the interest off that piggy bank for all these years 🙂 Then he can say the piggy bank earned him enough to retire off of.

  6. Whatever you do, be sure and pose your coins for a group shot before you spend it. In the future, when your kids ask for a new video game system or whatever, you can show them the picture and say, “That’s what $170 looks like. And you would need to double it to get the Nintendo Super Wii, third edition.”

  7. I had the same Coca-Cola bottle growing up. I finally cashed it in when I was 24 to help pay for my wifes engagement ring.

  8. I do that with my change throughout the year. At the end of the year, I usually have a few hundred dollars and it becomes my Christmas budget.

  9. I had the same coke bottle growing up! I only took some change out for a road trip when I was around 19, and then eventually invested the money in a savings account. It became my emergency fund and is still in use today.

  10. If you go to CoinStar and deposit the money into a giftcard – Amazon for example to buy grad school books or something, sometimes, they add a percentage on to the gift card, like an additional 5% on the a $50 gift card.

  11. Keep saving.
    I had a 1 quart jar that I used for nickels, dimes, and quarters. It took me about 4 years to fill it, and it had $240 when it was full. I bought 2 more quart size jars and moved each coin into it’s own jar. I will probably take me several more years to fill the jars, but I should have around $800 when I am done.

  12. I would go to Ing direct and open up an electric orange checking account. They offer a $50 bonus for doing it right now. Take that bonus and the $170 and go to their affiliated sharebuilder account and purchase some shares of stock. McDonalds offers good dividends. Then just let the stock grow with automatic div reinvestment.

  13. Though $170 doesn’t seem like a lot, I like the idea of investing it or putting into a savings account. (Put it somewhere where it will earn interest). Like you said, you have lived with it in the ‘shadows’ for quite some time now. Imagine what it will be like if you invest it, or put it in savings (and add more change to it). I think this would be worth the pay-off that you would receive years from now.

  14. Though $170 doesn’t seem like a lot, I like the idea of investing it or putting into a savings account. (Put it somewhere where it will earn interest). Like you said, you have lived with it in the ‘shadows’ for quite some time now. Imagine what it will be like if you invest it, or put it in savings (and add more change to it). I think this would be worth the pay-off that you would receive years from now.



  15. Before he spends it, he should examine each coin to see if it is old enough to either contain siliver or be a collector’s item. Pennies can be sorted into wheat vs. non-wheat (and even copper vs. non-copper as copper coins are worth almost 2 cents each). He can then either save them or sell them at a local coin shop to increase the total amount of money he has.

    Then I would suggust buying a DRIP stock (like KO or XOM) even if he has to add a 100 bucks or so meet some starting requirment.

    But check the coins. It would be a shame to spend 40% silver 50 cent coins (1965-1970) at face value instead of 2.70 or a siliver quarter worth 3.30 dollars.

    • Like ArandomPerson says, check those coins for their silver content!
      $170 might buy approx 6 Silver Eagles. Just keep stacking and it may pay off one day.
      Off topic – not spending $5 notes is a winner for me. The money adds up really quickly. Any $5 notes that you get in change goes straight to the jar. I’m not sure if this technique works with the US currency or not – do you have $5 notes or are these coins? (may be a stupid question but i only know of $20 and above)

      • No five dollar coins in the US. The government can’t even seem to get Americans to like the idea of a dollar coin.

  16. Investing in others through micro loans: Adventurous and a cool story or stories for the kids, though not an investment.

  17. I love the idea of investing in Coca-Cola stock! Seems very appropriate to me. I also like the idea of going on a trip to a city you’ve always wanted to go to. I think that that memory will be worth a lot more to you and would be a better story for your kids than any physical object you could buy.

  18. I like the idea of turning it into the start of a great emergency fund or using it for a trip. If I had $170 of fun money that I wanted to remember, I’d use it to buy a couple of tickets to a great show like Transiberian Orchestra or take you and a group of friends to the nosebleed section for a baseball game or something. Remember to take pictures!

  19. At this point $170 would not buy a single share of Google Stock (GOOG) but I would definitely find a way to put it into a high yield savings or checking account and gain interest. Compound 4% interest on a high yield account over many years and the money will grow. Or just add $320 to it and buy one share of Google Stock.

  20. If you want to save it – buy some silver. If you put it in a savings account you are getting a negative real interest rate. Inflation will eat away at it until it is worthless. Silver serves as a hedge against inflation and is in a bull market right now.

    If you want to spend it – spend it on something that will create a memory. As Americans we already have enough crap and gadgets to last a lifetime. Instead, create a memory that will last a life time. Take your family camping somewhere new, visit a new city an use the money towards the hotel, take a good friend out to a nice dinner, etc.

    • I like the idea of buying 3 shares of CocaCola, and reinvesting the dividends. I have done that for my kids.
      I have been saving my change for 10 years, and buying quality silver coins with the money. I have friends who buy “junk’ silver coins for the silver content. They got me started when I could buy a junk Morgan silver dollar for about $8. Prices now are around $23-25 for silver dollars, for the other coins, you can buy $1 face amount of junk silver coins for about $15.

  21. Andy,
    1. Go to mall or wherever the people your age congregate.
    2. Find a Flower shop.
    3. Buy 1 really nice Rose.
    4. Walk around, until you spot some beautiful girl you would like to meet.
    5. Give her the rose, tell her where the money for it came from (“I have been saving up for this since I was a little kid….”)
    6. Invite her to a nice Dinner on what Money is left.
    7. The rest is up to you, Don’t blow it.
    8. Let us know how it turns out. if you do blow it, you can lie a little.

    • From the POV of the ‘girl’, this could come off as being really creepy. Imagine you’ve just got finished getting your watch fixed and are wandering down to Borders to see if they have anything interesting when some random stranger comes up and starts talking as though you were his soulmate?! And if, on some off-chance, she’s not creeped out by THAT, a fancy dinner is completely inappropriate for a first date with a stranger. This might be a generational thing but that kind of reality-TV/romcom stuff isn’t how young people actually date.

      From the POV of Andy, this is also a bad idea. Romance is unpredictable, and he only has one childhood piggy bank (I assume). Odds are, he’ll have no story to tell the kids, because the chances of any given flirtation between strangers ending in kids is slim to none. Sorry to be a party pooper; I know it can seem romantic watching this kind of thing on television, but we’re talking about real people here.

  22. You missed a golden opportunity to trade stocks, penny stocks in general, they are as low as 0.0001 xD Eternal Image is a good company to invest in, they are trading at 0.0065 adn its soon gonna be like 0.015 according to the analysts 🙂

  23. I love the Coke idea!! What a great way to get started in the stock market.

    Andy can’t really use this since he has no kids but…

    Someone gave my a Tiffany piggy bank for my son at my baby shower, my husband and I put all our quarters and stray dollars in it (occasionally if hubby leaves a larger bill sitting around for too long it goes in there too!) each year at my son’s birthday we open the piggy bank and use that money to pay for his party. This system has worked very well for us since sometimes when his birthday rolls around we’re definitely too broke to do anything but with the piggy bank money we don’t have to feel guilty about throwing him a big party and it creates great memories. He has a second piggy bank in his room for all the other coins and that money is for him.

  24. Well, I have spent my entire life saving- now in my late 50’s. Our vacation time from our jobs was spent renovating the numerous “redos” we lived in then sold over the decades. We rarely ate out, went to the movies maybe once every four years- etc. VERY frugal. We took a HUGE hit in the 08 financial crisis in our IRAs, 401Ks and personal stock accounts. We are ok because we are debt free- BUT- we missed lots of possible memories for all of the foregone vacations, and fun times only to see our efforts blow up in ’08. This kid already plans- graduated DEBT free- So I say- GO MAKE SOME FANTASTIC MEMORIES and balance your life with savings AND fun! You have a lifetime of earnings potential and you are already financially responsible- SO—TAKE A ROAD TRIP- JUST DO IT!

  25. Love the rose idea…
    If you dont have the nerve for that (make a GREAT story for the kids) – another idea would be:
    Twist on the road trip idea (since gas would quickly eat up your 170) take the 170 and use it for nothing but consumable supplies (food, tp, propane) get your backpack, a sleeping bag and a light tent and head for the hills. Come back when your 170 is gone. Truth be told, you may be back way before this, as 170 of ramen noodles goes a LONG way. It’d be a great way to spend the summer.
    As a note I met a guy doing this in the san gabriel mountains and it changed his entire life. He also told me that reservations arent necessary if you’re on federal land – as long as you’re not blocking someone’s right-of-way then you’re free to overnight there (probably longer if nobody comes around but once a week on a long hike).

    If you cant stomach that – then hop on your bike (or borrow a buddies) and do a road trip on a bike – did that with a few buddies a number of years ago and we’re still talking about it. Motel 6 can be negotiated with fyi.

    In any case – have fun with it – your inner child deserves it.

  26. One thing neither the post nor the commenters mention is turning these coins into something spendable. Anymore even most banks charge you to take rolled coins off your hands, and they don’t even give away the coin wrappers free.

    I keep a change jar — one that originally held 14 ounces of olives. WHen it’s full I take it to a Coinstar machine at my local grocery store. Now, if you want cash or to buy groceries, Coinstar charges about 9% or 10% of the face value of your coins.

    What most people don’t know however is that several merchants have arrangements with Coinstar. If you take a give certificate you get 100% of the value of your coins. So I get an gift certificate and can then spend that money on anything sells. There are other merchants that have the same arrangement including Lowes.

    So take your coins to a Coinstar machine, and get a gift certificate. Use it to buy something you already planned to buy. Then put the cash you saved toward your chosen treat/investment.

  27. My boyfriend and I buy our Christmas tree in December with the pennies we find all over the flat (under the sofa cushions, inside drawers etc). We don’t really have enough to buy more than that because I’m a bit obsessive about spending pennies regularly so as not to waste them. But it is nice to look at our lovely real tree every year and know that it was bought from money that we didn’t realise we had.

  28. All of the saving/invest advice I disagree with.

    This is dream money. Childhood money. What will my future be money. It is a complete waste of the dream to save it or invest it in stocks. There are countless other opportunities to save/invest, etc. Don’t waste this one chance.

    Invest it in a life altering memory. You just graduated and are likey at “The crossroads” That is such a great place to be in life. The future is wide open. Get yourself in front of possibilities you never dreamed of. Yes, $170 can do that. $10 can do that.

    The rose idea from Rod is stellar. A rose costs $3 that could change your life. So could a road trip. Or guitar lessons, or anything that challenges your future.

    If it were me, I would use it to do something ballsy. Unordinary. High risk. Meet a girl. Meet the girl. Gas to meet a hero. Plan a trip to meet the founder of your favorite company. Something. It will give you a story. It will give you something to think about, but most importantly it very well could change your life. If you have enough balls to do something that very few others do, and a great story/reason on why you are doing it, some very interesting people will be impressed. And those people can open doors and give you alternative directions to your life.

    Because that was the basis of the bottle in the first place. A place to deposit your future. Now cash it in.

    • Totally agree! You could also use the funds to make a favorite book or scene from a movie come to life (thinking about the kids who remade “Raiders.”) Or meet a childhood hero. Think like a kid. Get in touch with your inner 7 year old.

  29. While I haven’t been saving coins since I was a child, I do make a point of putting all my change in a jar – I hardly ever use change when making a purchase. In fact, I go out of my way to get change buy paying with $2 for something costing $1.15, etc. Once or twice a month I take the jar to my credit union where they have a free coin counting machine for members. I then deposit the amount into my vacation club. Small checks throughout the year (i.e., expense reimbursements for work – usually under $30, small dividend check, etc.) go into the vacation club. This year our family of 3 went to Niagara Falls, ON for 3 days with the coin/club$. Last year we celebrated my hubby’s 50th in NYC for 2 days, with you guessed it….the accumulation of a lot of change. So, I vote for a trip or other memorable experience. Chances are you’ll remember a good time spent with loved ones vs. a new possession!

  30. About 10 years ago, I was getting rid of some ancient clutter and found a piggy bank I had kept as a teenager, with two $20 bills in it. I decided to “pay it forward” and bought a good botle of port (1997 Warre’s Vintage) and put it aside in a corner of my nice cool basement for my 70th birthday. (Five years later, I bought another good year, 2000 Dow’s Vintage, for my 75th birthday.)

    It gives me pleasure to know that I’ve set aside a special birthday gift to myself for those milestones, and if worst comes to worst, they hold their financial value at least as well as most investments these days. And when the time comes, they can be shared with the special people in my life (and we can laugh together if it turns out they’re vinegar).

  31. The best advice for this was in the article: what would your 7 year old self tell you to do with the money?

    If you are not currently seeing anyone and want to, I second the rose idea (I commented above to say how sweet it was). However, there is the risk there that the woman you give the rose to does not end up being the mother of your future children – and the story is of course so much better if it’s “I bought your mama a rose” – so, think about that one.

    Given the situation though, I personally think the coca-cola shares are the most fitting thing to do with the money. For story purposes, I would also earmark the returns from the coca-cola shares and continue using them to build a future of dreams. Once the money has grown a bit, get creative with it and invest it in something that will go until your children are old, and they ca be actively involved in when the time comes. That might mean starting a side business, but if you do, have your children involved in making some of the decisions about it. They are going to love the idea that something that daddy started when he was a child has grown to something that they are involved in themselves (also: built in opportunity to tell the story lots of times!) and that they will be able to put their strength and talents to, and they will be able to pass on in the future!

  32. First: look over the coins. Look for special pennies minted in 1942 or 1943 (Google the year, I am not sure) and other peculiar years…for example, use of copper was too expensive and the U.S. turned to an alternate, but a certain number were accidentally made, etc.

    Second: Buy Ford DRIP stock which is way undervalued and still sells for only $11.90/share. I bought it soon after the ’08 crash when it was only $4.00/share.

  33. So I suggest creating a memory that would blow your seven year old self’s mind and at the same time, keep you from becoming a grad school hermit. A ticket to the Lego convention (just ’cause Legos were awesome), Tae Kwon Do lessons, river rafting trip, a puppy from the SPCA, or even an killer vintage red bike with a banana seat (and sparkly handle bar tassels!).

    But there is no rush, the bottle has been there for a while. It will keep.

  34. I had saved $800 in change during college (with the help of those who thought that a few cents just didn’t add up to much) and I ended up buying a pair of plane tickets to Hawaii for my 92 year old grandmother and my terminally ill mother for their first vacation ever!!! Obviously I spent more once we got there but it was the best gift for me to have had that money to take the trip with them while they were still both well enough to go.

  35. I vote for the ballsy adventure – camping trip; visit to an unfamiliar city; the rose idea is cool, but pick a girl who looks adventurous rather than beautiful. And buy your mother a rose, too.

  36. I love the Coca-Cola idea! I’ve also been saving some money (not in a Coke bottle) and my mind has been a little boggled as to what to do with it and a $200 investment in KO sounds like such a simple way to get the ball rolling and see how it pays off! Great advice 🙂