Are Dimes the New Pennies?

Photo (cc) by willc2

I’ve written before about my habit of picking up coins from sidewalks, Coinstar machines, and other places. In the past nine months, I’ve accrued $13.24. And here’s the surprising part: $5.60 of that was in dimes.

As many as 56 people didn’t bother picking up the 10-cent pieces they dropped. I routinely see dimes in those “need a penny, take a penny” cups at cash registers too.

Maybe some shoppers added the dimes by mistake, and maybe those who dropped coins didn’t always realize it. Maybe they just didn’t consider it a big deal – or maybe they were too embarrassed to pick the money back up.

Some people are ashamed to be seen picking up coins. I’ve heard from them. In fact, some have told me I ought to be ashamed too. Apparently, such behavior is unseemly. Too nickel-and-dime, so to speak.

When used as an adjective, two of the definitions of nickel-and-dime are “low-paid” and “small-scale or of little importance.” How much does it pay you, really, to bend down and pick it up?

One-tenth of a dollar for a few seconds’ work, in my book. Small-scale? Yes. Of little importance? Depends on where you are in life.

According to Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest), $1 will buy the ingredients for eight meals. Thus, a dime is almost somebody’s dinner.

Small expenses

Maybe dropped dimes, or all dropped coins, are a symptom of how detached we’ve become from our money. Sure, it’s “only” a dime. But dimes add up to dollars, and dollars dissolve into dimes.

Try this: For the next week, chronicle every dime. Seriously, write down everything you spend on every purchase, from apples to Zantac. An online money-management tool like Mint.com or Adaptu.com will help you keep track of debit and credit purchases, but carry a piece of paper in your wallet to scribble down where the actual cash went too.

The final tally – and the most top-heavy categories – might surprise you. They might also help you look at spending in a different way.

Dude, where’s my money?

That doesn’t mean giving up everything that makes life good. It does mean questioning money habits that have become so rote you no longer notice them.

Think I’m being nitpicky? Read John Scalzi’s simple yet powerful essay Being Poor. One way you know you’re poor is if you pick “the 10-cent ramen instead of the 12-cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.”

Obviously, that was written a while back (2005). The best ramen deal I’ve seen lately outside a warehouse club was 12.5 cents a package. But if all you had were a few pennies, you’d be praying for the chance to find a dime.

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