Why I Still Pick Up Pennies From the Ground

As I was walking out of Dairy Queen the other day I heard someone behind me say, “There’s a penny on the ground for you.”  She was an older lady and probably grew up around the depression or World War II era.  Now, I admit, the first thought that went through my head was what on earth is a penny worth anymore?  But I didn’t want to sound like a jerk by shrugging off her wealth tip, and plus I like free money no matter what denomination it comes in. 🙂

So I picked up the penny and walked to my car.  As I backed out, I saw the lady open the door to her jet black BMW and hand the sundaes to her husband in the passenger seat.  Now I have no idea about that couple’s total financial picture, but I can put two and two together.  Why was it that an older lady driving a BMW would be so concerned with a penny on the ground?  It would take six million pennies to buy the beamer she was driving and six hundred just to buy the ice cream they were eating – what good is ONE penny?

The truth is, one penny isn’t worth much at all.  It can’t even buy a piece of gum and the cost to make a penny is more than it is actually worth.

A Penny Won’t Make You Rich, Or Will It?

I didn’t feel any richer that day with an extra penny in my pocket, but I saw something I hope I never forget.  Your attitude towards money today will have an effect on how you’re able to use money in the future.  I really can’t say for sure that the older couple in the BMW was in a good financial situation, but it’s a lot different than many current (and soon to be) retirees, so they probably know a thing or two about managing money.

I’ll also make it a point to say that a car isn’t a measure of someone’s true wealth.  The lesson I learned wasn’t that saving pennies would allow you to drive a BMW at retirement.  It was that your attitude towards money today will have an effect on how you’re able to use money in the future. 

My Two Cents

1.  Watch your inflow and outflow carefully.

I like to think that there are two parts to your income and expenses – big-ticket items and small ticket items.  The big-ticket things probably aren’t changing anytime soon once you make a budget.  These are your paychecks, mortgage payment, car payments, etc.  The smaller ticket items can be adjusted quickly and include: entertainment budgets, eating out fund, side hustle income, etc.

The big-ticket items are usually on autopilot.  The smaller items usually involve a choice. Guess which one usually causes budgets to be squeezed each month?  For us, it’s sometimes easy to ignore the small $3 spent at Walgreens or occasional $7 spent at WalMart, but those small things can add up to triple digits quickly!  The same is true for income.  We’ve found that with bonus checks or side income, the best way to do is to earmark the money for a specific expense or debt.  If we overlook it and throw it into the checking account, it slowly becomes absorbed by other expenses.

2. Don’t get tired of being thankful for the small things.

We live in a society that’s focused on upgrades, would you agree?  It’s become normal to upgrade to bigger and better things when you make more money.  The problem that can come from this mentality is that we can forget about the small things – and I’m not just talking about ignoring a penny on the ground.  How many things do we take for granted each day while looking for ways to upgrade to something better?  I’m guilty of it and I’m sure you could think back to a time when you weren’t practicing contentment.

It’s challenging, but I think it’s the key to growing your net worth.  Watching your inflow and outflow while reminding yourself to be content with what you have is fundamental if you want to grow your wealth.

Do you still pick up pennies?   Do you think that your attitude towards the small things (like pennies on the ground) will affect your attitude in spending in the big things? Meet us in the comments!

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  1. MGalloway

    Interesting. Another subtle point: look at the words inscribed above Lincoln’s portrait on the coin. There has been much talk over the years about removing those words.

  2. aemi

    Very good article.

    It reminded me of two principles I like:
    1) Don’t go to fast food (Dairy Queen :P, sorry, I could not resist) to buy food.
    2) Little things can make a difference in your habits.

  3. Stacy Makes Cents

    I ALWAYS pick up pennies! 🙂 My mother taught me to do it and now I teach my my daughter – pennies make DOLLARS. 😉

  4. Dan

    I agree with MGalloway. A long time ago someone a lot smarter and a lot wealthier than me. pointed out that he still took the time to pick up pennies because it reminded him about the importance of putting his trust in God. Ever since then I have done the same thing.

  5. btoto

    I liked the article a lot and in fact I agree with most of it.
    Keep on remebering this saying from my Soviet childhood:
    “Kopeyka rubl berejot” i.e a kopek (soviet penny) saves a rubl (soviet paper money).

    I would like to share this article on my blog and show the source of course.
    With your permission of course.

  6. Erika

    The old saying my dad always said, ” A penny saved is a penny earned” I still pick them up and put them with other change in a piggybank designated for childrens ministires missions overseas. If I don’t pick up the change I could keep some kid from getting the ministry/mission help them need. Yes put a guilt trip a bit on myself so I pick up the penny since it all adds up.

  7. Jeri

    I used to pick up pennies off the ground. Then I moved to Papua New Guinea. I rarely see coins (toeas) lying on the ground. But when I do, I just can’t bring myself to pick them up. I always think, ‘there’s someone who definitely needs that 20 toea more than I do,’ and I feel like I should leave it. Maybe that’s weird, but living in a developing nation really changes how you feel about money – even about money on the ground.

  8. Grace

    I always pick up pennies too. They sure add up. It doesn’t really make a difference in how I spend money though. I rarely buy anything I don’t need. Once in a while I do but being a widow that was left with four children to raise, I have had to learn to be good at being frugal. Now that my children are grown up I still save because I would never want to be a burdento them. God provides, but that is how he provides. He gives us the common sense we need to survive.

  9. Roger

    My wife was the one who was always picking up pennies in the parking lot of Quik Trip as we walked in or out. Now whenever I am by myself and see a penny on the ground, I take it as a little reminder of my wife at home and so I just say Thank You Lord.

  10. Lee

    I pick up whatever coins I see on the ground – penny, nickel, dime, whatever. Legal tender is legal tender. But then again I am also a coin collector. Pennies minted prior to 1982 are made wholly of copper and are therefore of greater value than those minted after 1982, which are copper-covered zinc. A couple of weeks ago I picked up a dime I happened to see on the ground, and it turned out to be a pre-1965 (silver) dime – like copper pennies, it is worth more than its face value, simply due to the increase in the price of silver. And a few days after that I happened to get a wartime silver nickel out of a change machine. So, yeah, I not only pick up coins from the ground, but I routinely go through my pocket change. The good thing about picking up coins from the ground is that it kind of trains you to look and see what else people drop as they go about. I’ve found change purses and paper money (dollar bills, even a ten-note once) as well. [If there’s any sort of identification – like a wallet – I hand it in to the police.]

  11. Carol J. Alexander

    Great thought provoking post, Tim. Yes, I agree about the attitudes. They come from the heart and we need to check them even on the smallest things.

  12. Spiz Watts

    I know I am a day late in commenting on this article but I wanted to share this. Whenever I find a penny (nickel, dime, or quater) I always say this prayer:
    Dear God, please bless this penny in my hand and may it grow a thousand times over in my stewardship. More importantly, may it glorify your name a million times over. Amen.

    The important word is stewardship. We are only managing this money for the short time we are here. This helps me to keep things in perspective,

  13. Matthew

    I learned to pick up change (and check change slots) from Dad and still do it. The change goes into a bowl on my dresser, which fills up quickly and then pays for a dinner out with my wife. The habit translates to being more observant of my surroundings and thankful for what I have.

  14. Kristi

    My 3 year old loves to find change on the ground. He gets so excited and can’t wait to get home and put it in his piggy bank. I love that his first thought is to save it and not to go buy something.

  15. Cherie

    Attitude is right.

    There are a few stores in the area that always have coupons available for 15-50% off one item. The clerks will sometimes look at me funny if my coupons savings is only a few dollars.

    Coupons are a habit.

    Not paying full-price is a habit.

    Whether it’s $1.20 or $100, a penny saved is a penny that will grow into more for tomorrow.

  16. Diane

    Love this perspective! I also pick up pennies, and I love the idea of remembering to trust in God with every one that I find! I think I also just really enjoy the concept of free money– even if it’s just a little bit!
    But I love the perspective of this article, that those little choices about how to spend up can add up to big changes in our financial bottom line. Great stuff!

  17. Aaron

    Good thoughts Tim. Can’t lose gratefulness in the small things. And, an attitude that suggests we wouldn’t bend down to get a penny says alot about our views on money.

  18. David

    Interesting article. I have been doing this for awhile now. I attribute it to “the bread from heaven” God provided the Israelites in the desert. They needed only to go out and “pick it up”, “those who gathered little didn’t have to little”. Then recently I had an experience with picking up a nickel. I was at my auto repair shop that I own, the business is currently closed. It was in the evening and it was dark. As I checked the door locks I happened to glance down, went over, bent down and grabbed a dirty nickel out of the gravel parking area near the building. This seeing and picking up coins has been happening for awhile now and so I asked Jesus “If I could see that coin in the dark why can I not see his plan for my larger financial needs.” I always think about and talk to God when I find these coins. Thank you for the article.