This is the first in an indefinite series on personal finance, money management, financial management and personal money and whatever else it is that Suze Ormand and the rest of that crowd thinks they're doing.
Every day since I moved back to Boston fifteen years ago, when I get home for the night I dump my keys, my wallet and my spare change into a little plastic basket on the counter.
After a little while the basket filled up. Luckily, the previous tenants in my apartment had abandoned some pots and pans. One of them was a 4-quart cast iron pot. Obviously not sanitary to use as originally intended, but as a large change jar it was perfect. So that worked for a few years until that too filled up.
Even luckier, though, the previous tenants had also left behind a 4-quart porcelain casserole pan, also unusable for cooking (but I wouldn't have used it for cooking anyway so it all worked out). So I used that for a few more years until recently when it looked like it too was fixin' to fill up in the next few months or year or so:
What with the end of the world rapidly approaching, either coincident or not to my own death, I started worrying about what a hassle that change would be when I was gone. Coinstar is a ripoff at 12 percent and retail neighborhood banks don't even deal with large amounts of loose change anymore, not that I would foist that off on the nice tellers at my local branch anyway. They do, however, take rolled coins and give you free coin wrappers for the asking. So I took a fistful of free wrappers home one day and resolved to roll my coins.
Which resolution lasted about thirty minutes. I got a roll of quarters done picking through the top of the pile and realized at that rate I'd take six months full time to get the job done. So there the problem lay, festering in my soul, until one day at a thrift shop I saw a coin separator. I pondered. I picked it up and it started running because it seemed to be movement activated (weight, as it turned out, but I had happened to jostle the lever when I picked it up). Price was $1.99. I looked inside. Two fresh Duracell batteries. Those are worth $3.99 so I was actually making two dollars if I bought it. Plus it would make my coin-rolling a lot easier, I hoped.
I knew the batteries were fresh because using implements like this really really sucks, especially if it sucks so bad you give it to a thrift store. And I'm pretty sure the batteries were fresh because they worked non-stop for hours, long enough for me to get a hundred and fifty dollars worth rolled. And that was strange because to start I thought I only had a couple or three hundred dollars worth and I had only gotten part way though the pot and hadn't even touched the casserole pan. I was like. Wow: Four figures, I'm going way over a thousand dollars. To paraphrase the late SENATOR EVERETT DIRKSEN, a roll of pennies here, a roll of pennies there, pretty soon you're talking real money:
What a diva. Just because she wasn't in the starring role she ran off to the kitchen table to pout.
But finally the thing seized up from overuse (I had ignored the instructions warning me "Do not overuse"), but I was okay with that. For a dirt cheap injected-molded plastic machine, it held up great. The thin layer of pocket lint on every coin probably screwed up the moving parts eventually:
But I still had a problem. Another $1,000 or so of coins to roll. But at least now I had an idea of what I needed to do. So I kept my eyes peeled in thrift stores and clearance shelves for coin separators. One day I saw one at Wal-Mart, open-box, for $4.97. A nice one with an AC adapter instead of batteries, which was a huge plus because I wouldn't have to keep shelling out Duracell cash. But it scanned at $24.97. So we had one of the helpers do a price check. Turned out after some clicking and tapping on store tablets that it was in the Wal-Mart system but not in that store's inventory, which was weird and caused murmuring among the help. The assistant manager figured someone had probably ordered it online, decided it really, really sucked, which it did, and returned it, after which it was mis-shelved with the other coin/cash register supplies.
She was going to charge me retail, but I whined about it being open-box, so she said, okay, ten percent off. So then I said Thank you! very nicely rather than continuing to whine, as I was tempted to, and she said to the cashier" "Know what? Give it to him for twenty." So I got it for $20 plus tax.
So I brought it home and that thing kicked butt!!
After a good deal of coaxing and the addition of certain riders to her contract, Ruby deigned to expand her supporting role.
I did have one issue, though. It was designed for the wrappers with a stiff edge that you buy and I sure as h*ck wasn't going to waste money buying those when I had all the free ones I wanted. And because of that, I could only fill the plastic catch tubes about three-quarters full. But luckily, the earlier separator I got had been for hand-rolling, and those plastic tubes filled perfectly to the top. So I'd used the fast one, then pour the separated coins into the other tubes, then lay out the coins in stacks just about roll size:
I did end up counting all the quarters, dimes and nickels anyway, but that's just 'cause I can be a little compulsive-obsessive, but man was I glad I had those extra tubes for the pennies.
So I got a little system going and in just a few days, working just a couple of hours a day (I heeded the "Do not overuse" warning this time) I got to $1,008.50 with some leftover. They did say to do only 500 coins at a time, and it turned out I had well over ten thousand coins (over 4,000 pennies, almost 3,000 quarters, around 2,000 dimes and 1,000 nickels), so I pushed it a bit, but not too much. If I heard grinding I blew out the pocket lint with keyboard cleaner and when I heard the motor straining, I stopped.
I also found two dollar coins, two subway tokens, a Taiwanese coin, a Hillary button a key, a damaged "Commonwealth of Massachusetts" pin almost the exact size of a quarter, and various paperclips and keychain parts:
And if that Taiwanese penny turns out to be collectible, I'll be rich!
All the rolls fit neatly into the casserole pan. There was the small detail that I couldn't pick it up, not even a tiny bit, I could barely even slide it using maximum effort, but otherwise my plan worked to perfection:
Verily, I was pleased. But then a new feeling seeped in. Yes, I had prepared for my inevitable demise and/or the impending Apocalypse, whichever comes first, but then what? Just deposit it in my checking account so I can pay my phone bill with fifteen years worth of small change? How mundane. So uninspiring.
Then I remembered I was supposed to meet in July with the guy at my local bank who takes care of the little wealth instrument I have. I decided: I'll deposit it in my Securities account. I'll start getting returns on my my spare change! And since my guy beats the market, my spare change will beat the market!
Okay now, I thought, that will be funny. My financial adviser will get a kick out of it, and have a story to tell, the tellers will get a kick out of it, and have a story to tell, which is the least I could do for making them deal with a thousand dollars worth of coins, and I already got a kick out of it, and have a story to tell. So that's just what I did:
Here's the way I figure it. The wrappers were free. I made $2 on the first separator with the total price plus the free batteries. Including tax, I paid about $22 for the second one. Free plus $2 minus $22 equals a net $20 in expenses. Which is 2% of $1,000 which is one-sixth what Coinstar would have charged. However, because I still own the second separator and it still works great, and it was used to increase my securities account, I can treat that as a capital investment, with writeoffs and depreciation and all. So I figure a true cost of about 1%, which I can reduce even further if I roll up the remaining $150-200 left in the cast iron pot.
And in fifteen years when I do this again, expenses will be zero!! (Assuming, of course, that coins haven't been electronically replaced, that I'm not dead and that civilization has not collapsed into a dystopian nightmare.)
Part 2: Coming soon or whenever or maybe never depending:
How to retire on beverage container deposit returns if you live anywhere near the New Hampshire border.