How to Take the Pain Out of Saving Loose Change

I am not one to spend coins. I prefer to save them. In fact, I go out of my way to make sure I get plenty of change. But I hate to carry loose change, so my husband and I routinely dump the day’s accumulation into a container to save for a trip or to buy something special. One year we saved $1,100 in coins. But I have to admit the logistics can be a royal pain.

Banks and credit unions have strict rules about loose coins. Some require them to be rolled, wrapped and labeled before deposit. Others won’t accept wrapped coins. Either way, most charge a fee these days.

I don’t know what happened to me last weekend. I guess I was suffering from a severe case of TMC (too many coins). In a fit of frustration, I dumped the jars into a big bag and drove to the supermarket. I knew it would cost me 11.9%, but at the time it seemed reasonable.

After a few minutes of shoveling coins into the Coinstar kiosk, out popped a voucher for $380.22. My heart sunk once I realized that I’d walked in with $431.57. The big green machine clobbered me with a $51.35 fee!

Karl Hartkopf, whose website is devoted to coin rolling techniques (, advocates cheap or free counting machines. But, he points out, it is not always possible. So, if you can’t find a bank or credit union to count your coins for free, should you pay the fee or should you wrap your own coins? Well, that all depends.

Breaking this down into hourly rates*, Hartkopf says that I paid Coinstar an hourly rate of $26.70 to count my quarters (89 cents per $10 roll) because he says it takes less than two minutes for the average person to wrap a $10 roll of quarters. Pennies are another story. It takes the same amount of time to roll pennies, but Coinstar charges less than 5 cents per roll or $1.36 per hour to count them. Nickels work out to $5.34 an hour, dimes $13.35.

Most of us probably value our time at much more than $1.36 an hour. However, many workers do not even get paid as much as the hourly rate Coinstar charges to count quarters. Who wouldn’t gladly earn a few extra dollars by rolling their own?

At first I scoffed at Harkopf’s suggestion of two minutes per roll. No way, and I do consider myself average. It takes me forever to roll and wrap coins. But then I read his method (look for the “Counting-Rolling-Wrapping Your Coins” section on his website). I tried it and wow, it is slick. With very little practice, I’m under two minutes per roll already.

Here’s the key: Work on a made bed. Hard surfaces make coin rolling nearly impossible. Hint: Spread an old sheet over that made bed first because money is very dirty. Then follow his detailed steps.

Look on Hartkopf’s site for an extensive list of cheap or free coin-counting machines in all 50 states, too. He’s adding new ones all the time.

I’m still kicking myself over that $51.35 fee. At the very least, I should have rolled the quarters and dimes myself and dumped only the pennies, and maybe the nickels, into the big green machine. Or opted for having the entire amount of $431.57 in an e-gift card, as that option has no fees!

*Note: Hartkopf’s hourly rates are based on Coinstar’s old fee structure of 8.9% and have not been adjusted upward for the increase to 11.9%, which makes the effective hourly rate of rolling your own even higher.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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