This story has been updated to correct information about coin-counting machines offered at Michigan First Credit Union and TCF Bank.
Some people say, "Change is a constant."
Not me. Change is a chore.
But this time, change is a practically free dishwasher.
For you — if you don't mind making a little effort — change could be a new television, tablet computer, fancy dinner out or weekend getaway. Or new tires, the next payment on the kids' summer camp or a replacement for the blown water heater.
The U.S. Mint churned out about 13 billion regular circulation coins last year, including 7.92 billion pennies. How much of that ended up sitting in car ashtrays, desk trays, coffee cans, forgotten piggy banks or strewn across the dustier corners of countless bedroom dressers is a mystery.
But we do know that in 2005, Edmond Knowles set a new record for the largest single deposit of pennies. The 62-year-old manager of Ed's Service Station in Flomaton, Alabama (population: 1,425) cashed in 1,308,459 pennies (that's $13,084.59 for decimal-challenged readers). The collection filled four 55-gallon and three 20-gallon oil barrels in his garage, and weighed in at more than 4.5 tons.
My collection of change wasn't nearly that big. Gathered over the years, the coins lurked in a coffee can on my workbench, an oversized Micky and Minnie Mouse glass cookie jar in the bedroom and a Contact-paper-covered Pringles can my mother stuck on my dresser in high school. It all ended up dumped into a pail after we moved to Michigan 10 years ago. When it was rediscovered in a closet, we found 60 pounds of coins.
Yeah, I told my wife, the long-suffering Mrs. Funny Money, we need to do something with that. Which, of course, we didn't.
That is, until the dishwasher went on the fritz, regularly exchanging the dirt on the cups with the dirt from the plates. We'd just emptied the home-improvement fund for a new over-the-counter microwave, which meant we'd be hand-washing for the time it took to save up for new dishwasher. A financially responsible move, sure, but it was frustrating that we couldn't get all the kitchen appliances to acceptably function at the same time.
But we did have that pail of change. How much would it be worth? According to the Coin Jar Calculator at www.coincalc.com, about $450. That would make hassling with all those coins worthwhile.
The project took on added urgency when we saw two special offers on the dishwasher we'd picked out: a $90 temporary discount, and a manufacturer's rebate for the full $149 installation cost from Lowe's. But that $239 in discounts expired in less than a week, which meant we faced marathon coin-counting sessions if we were going to make it.
We knew one option was the Coinstar machine at Kroger, but that would also cost us a 10.9 percent processing fee. Our bank doesn't have a coin-counting machine, and would charge an unknown fee for tellers to roll the coins by hand. We could buy a small coin-counter online, but with shipping the cost would be $30 or more, plus the wait time. But it was either pay to get it done, or get out the paper wrappers and start clearing off the dining room table. And the kitchen table. And the pool table. And probably part of the driveway.
But there was a work-around. If we took a gift card from the Coinstar machine instead of a cash voucher, there was no fee. Along with cards from Amazon.com, AMC Theaters, Staples, Starbucks and Toys R Us, was a gift card to Lowe's.
With salvation in sight, the entire Funny Money family trucked to the grocery store on Memorial Day, with plans to head straight to Lowe's afterward. The idea was to create a real-world money lesson for my boy, Funny Money Jr. or, as I call him, Li'l Money ('cuz that's all he leaves us). We lugged the change in two large buckets, to spread out the weight.
The Coinstar machine churned efficiently, if noisily, through most of the first bucket. It rejected a number of U.S. coins, along with several Canadian ones (a hazard of sharing a border with Windsor, Ontario), as well as a Dutch penny and one game token from Chuck E. Cheese's. Nearly all the U.S. coins were accepted when we redeposited them. Then, after 12 minutes, the machine suddenly shut down and spit out a cash voucher — deducting more than $25 as a processing fee.
So much for a valuable money lesson.
I cashed the voucher and called Coinstar the next day. If the machine encounters a problem, a representative told me, it's supposed to generate a voucher and waive the fee, which she cheerfully agreed to refund, after promising to dispatch a repair person. That night I lugged the remaining coins to another machine and they processed just fine. In less than 20 minutes, the 4,855 coins — including 2,899 pennies — were converted to a Lowe's certificate worth $238.04.
Here's how it broke down:
$525.96 — appliance cost after price cut and rebate
$474.10 — processed coins, including refunded fee
$51.86 — balance
We had $16.67 on hand from recycled cans which, after adding our whopping $43 state income tax refund, covered the total cost of the dishwasher after the rebate, with $7.81 to spare. It also meant we grabbed a total of $229 in discounts and rebates, or 30 percent of the full original cost. The value of the redeemed coins had come to about $25 more than the Coin Jar Calculator estimated.
We ordered the dishwasher, paying with the certificate and putting the balance on a rewards credit card. Then I deposited the cash and immediately paid that toward the charge. That leaves just the cost of the installation, which gets paid when the rebate arrives. It's in the form of a gift card, so we'll buy groceries with it and send the cash we would have spent to pay off the final balance. If the rebate doesn't arrive during the credit card grace period, we might be out just a bit in interest charges, but we received nearly 500 rewards points, too.
Was it worth the hassle? All it entailed was some online research, two trips to the grocery store and making the deposit at the bank. In exchange, we got a $755 appliance which, besides the coins, cost us just $52 from other miscellaneous sources. If we hadn't spotted the deals offered, those coins would still be sitting in the closet, essentially worthless. So, to my mind, we snagged a brand-new dishwasher with a five-year extended warranty and installation for just 7 percent of the total original cost.
For most purchases, I don't normally resort to full frontal frugality but, yeah, this was worth it.
One final note: Coinstar estimates there's $7.7 billion — yes, "billion," with a "B" — sitting dormant in the United States. So go weigh that penny jar.
Other free options
Some national and local banks and credit unions offer coin-counting, either for free or at least less than Coinstar, including:
Big banks: PNC Bank and TD Bank offer coin-counting machines free to customers. BB&T counts the first $25 for free, then charges a 5% fee. Noncustomers pay 5% at PNC; 8% at TD Bank; and 10% at BB&T. Wells Fargo says some of its branches in the UP have coin counters but doesn't say if a fee is charged. Bank of America sends your change out to be counted for free, then credits your account.
Local banks: Talmer Bank and Trust has free machines at some branches, for customers only; Fifth Third Bank has free machines at some branches and charges 5% to non-customers; Flagstar Bank sends change out to be counted in 3-5 business day at no cost, for customers only; TCF Bank offers coin-counting machines in all its Michigan branches, free to customers and with an 8.9 percent fee for non-customers.
Credit unions: DFCU Financial has Coinstar machines at the Livonia branch and the Fairlane branch in Dearborn, charging 8%, less than the standard Coinstar fee; Michigan First Credit Union has free machines for customers at all Detroit branches, including the Wayne State University branch opening in August; Genisys Credit Union has counters for customers only, free up to $50 a day and then charging 3% on any balance, at the Crooks Road branch in Rochester Hills and the Pontiac and Auburn Hills branches.
Charity: If you donate to one of eight charities via Coinstar, the machine waives the fee. The charities are the American Red Cross; Change Making Change; Children's Miracle Network Hospitals; Feeding America; The Humane Society of the United States; The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; UNICEF; and the World Wildlife Fund.
Children: Isn't this why you had kids in the first place? (OK, this and lawn maintenance.) If the kids want the trip to Cedar Point, just say, "Roll 'em!" Most banks will give free coin wrappers.
Sort-of free: Use some of your coins and get an Amazon.com gift card through a Coinstar machine, and buy a coin-sorting machine or tubes. Use the machine to roll the rest of the coins, and deposit at your bank. Most institutions accept change only from account-holders.
Sources: MyBankTracker.com, Detroit News research