My Outlook

Just a handful of coins?

We know the procedure at airport security: grab a bin, take out our laptops and iPads, empty our pockets, send the bin down the conveyor belt and then retrieve our stuff at the other end. Amidst the frenzy of activity it's easy to walk away without retrieving everything. The most common item left behind? Loose change. As reported last week by the TSA, close to $1 million in loose change didn't make it back into the pockets of travelers at major American airports. Those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters can really add up. Yet the way we sometimes speak of coins denotes a certain dismissal: spare change. Not needed. Superfluous.

It's been seven years since we stopped minting the penny in Canada. The decision was celebrated by many but I think my Uncle Joe was probably the happiest person at the time. He did not like pennies at all. For years he tossed them into big milk jars and carried them to the basement feeling he was doing his part in ridding the economy of what he felt was a nuisance. Uncle Joe died a couple of years ago and I can only imagine the task it was for my cousins to deal with all the pennies. I am curious to know what the grand total might have been for his years of penny hoarding.

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Savings initiatives like the Penny Challenge certainly point to how effective a little bit of seemingly nothing can grow into a great big deal of something. The idea is to put one penny into a jar the first day, then on day 2 put in two pennies and so on for 365 days. At the end of the year you will have more than $660 in your hands. Trying the same thing in Canada but using the nickel instead could result in an extra $3,395. Not bad for something most Canadians no longer pick up off the sidewalk.

The key to these practices involves small steps done with consistency. Those who have been successful say they don't even miss the money--just like travelers who leave forgotten coins behind at security.

A bride shared a story of an unusual wedding gift from her aunt and uncle. On the day she announced her engagement they started saving dimes--just dimes--and put them into a pretty bottle. Those dimes, which would have gone mostly unnoticed over the course of the year, yielded $200 which was gifted to the couple on their wedding day. The bride commented not only on how unique it was but also that it started a practice for the newlyweds who continued to stash away coins to be used for special purposes; which is of course the next part of the equation--what to do with those coins that can now represent a significant amount of money.

There's a lot that can be done with coins that get saved up. They can be put toward a vacation upgrade or added to a mortgage payment. Perhaps be the push for a splurge purchase. More responsibly of course, they could be put toward household debt which Canadians carry in the billions. Yes, billions.

There's another option too. Despite our reliance on debit and credit cards, more than half of retail transactions in Canada are done using cash. That means there are a lot of coins floating around. Consider what could be done if we each selected one type of coin to set aside for a year. Just one. At the end of the year there may not be much there--but then again--we might be surprised. We could take those earmarked dimes or quarters, or even loonies and toonies, and choose a charity we may have never given a gift to before. Not spare change any longer, but major change for someone, somewhere.   On their own the coins might not seem to be worth a whole lot, but throw in a handful of others, and with mine alongside yours, well…the potential is priceless. That's my outlook.

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