For the past several years, I've been following Dave Ramsey's1 advice and using cash instead of credit or debit cards2. Every time I come home I throw the change in a little container on the counter. After several months, this results in the accumulation of lots of coins. I used to take these to the bank, but have started taking them to Coinstar3 machines instead.

When Coinstar machines first appeared they looked interesting. After throwing spare change in the machine, it spits out cash. The catch being that Coinstar takes a hefty cut of ~10%. At some point, they started offering gift cards as well as cash. Unlike the cash though, Coinstar doesn't gouge you when calculation the value of the gift cards. You get 100% back on what you put in.

Here's what the process looks like: Start with a few months of loose change.

Like, 14.8 pounds of it.

Visit your local Coinstar machine.

Check out the cash option first.

They want almost 10%, so back out and start over.

Try the 'No fee' option.

Check out the options on page 1.

Check out the options on page 2. (I tried 'Amazon MP3' in the past. As far as I can tell there was no difference between that option and the regular option. The credit appeared to show up in the same place.)

Stick with plain old Amazon. Getting a friendly reminder that you won't be getting cash.

Go through some legalese.

And more legalese. Once you hit accept, you're ready to go.

Put coins in the hopper. Then, lift the handle and dump them in.

The machine churns and churns. Every now and then, it will. It drops a little gate somewhere inside preventing more coins from entering. Once it's caught up, it opens again and the process continues.

After it's done counting, it give you another chance to loose ~10% of your money.

You have to take a survey before they'll give you your money. This time, it was only one question.

And they want your email address, just like everyone else.

A few seconds of a progress bar.

Seems like it should know if coins were returned or not.

In my case, some were.

And that's it. You get a nice message that seems to indicate you now have more coins than you started with.

The gift certificate prints out on a little slip.

In this case, 14.8 pounds of coins came to $193.82.

Just punch the number into Amazon and you're good to go.

I use these cards as "fun money". Specifically, I get Amazon cards and use them mainly to buy music. When the funds from the card run out, I stop buying songs. It provides a nice throttle and makes it clear how much I'm spending on music. And since it's coming from spare change, it feels like I'm using money that was already spent.

Overall, the process is quick and easy. If you're not already saving your loose change, I recommend you start doing so.


Links and Notes

  1. Dave Ramsey - A powerhouse in the personal finance education industry (and a great self-promoter). I'm not always a fan of his views outside of personal finance, but I recommend everyone follow his Seven Baby Steps to Financial Peace. If you have any debt, it's a solid way to work yourself out of the hole. It takes work, but you'll be better off for it.

  2. Some exceptions: Gas, Online shopping.

  3. Coinstar - The makers of the machines that turn your cash into gift cards (without charging you a fee).