Saturday, February 7, 2015

In praise of pennies

Zinc cents, FTL
In which I disagree with Senpai:
Question: I would like some information on saving coins. I have been going through my coins and want some clarity on what to save. ... should I be saving nickels and quarters from 2000 to present also? ... – D.D.
To which James Wesley Rawles responds:
... I DO NOT recommend saving any post -1964 quarters! They each only have about 3.7 cents worth of copper. 
And frankly, pennies are not worth the time to sort, unless you have a sorting machine.

You should save ALL nickels, since they each have about 5 cents worth of copper and nickel, and that value will likely rise...
Of course, I would not bother with a post unless I disagreed with someone who knows far more than I.  Still, at the risk of sounding a fool, I would flip JWR's advice on its head: yeah, save your nickels, but make an effort to sort your pennies into pre-1982 and post-1982 groups, by hand.*

Such an effort sounds like a pain in the ass, and it is, but here are the reasons to prioritize pennies above nickels:
  • Nickels are easy.  They take literally no effort to save.
  • You can't process nickel in your home foundry.
  • Each pre-1982 1-cent contains 40% of the copper of a 5-cent nickel.**
  • You really don't bring home that many pennies in any given day.
  • You waste an incredible amount of time in your day.
That last one is really the issue.  You can make the argument that sorting pennies takes a lot of time for relatively little benefit, and that if you instead spent that time splitting atoms or panning gold, you'd make a lot more money.  I don't disagree with your astute application of the very definition of Opportunity Cost.  But you're really not spending 7-10pm most weeknights splitting atoms, are you?

I am always amazed at the number of my coworkers -- professionals, white-collar, whatever you wish to call them -- who know everything there is to know about Game of Thrones or The Office or (God forbid)  The Kardashians.  They expect me to know those details as well. That I can't name 3 Kardashians is irrelevant.  That we Americans collectivity waste so much time watching more Kardashians than that is not.

So we're not really comparing coin-sorting time with working time, but comparing coin-sorting time with TV time, wasted time. And we have that and to spare. The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day, 34 hours a week. He has no right to complain that an hour sorting pennies is wasted.

And how hard is it to sort pennies while watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? It's not hard, and the end result of that minimal effort over weeks and months and hopefully years is a shitpot of 95% copper pennies. A shitpot of bronze. A shitpot of an asset that, unlike your retirement plan, is not simultaneously the liability of someone who is likely to default.

If you really want to accumulate assets, realize that so long as that, like most Americans, you waste an incredible amount of time, there is no sense in despising low-return activities.  Such activities will not stroke your ego, I'll admit.  But over time, they may save your ass.

You have to decide which is more important.

* This, of course, leaves 1982 cents. But that is a problem which will solve itself given sufficient experience holding cents on fingers.
** They are not, as JWR asserts, 100% copper pennies. But they are 95% copper, and as such are much better fitted to re-use than nickel coins.


  1. There are three Kardashians? Anywho.... Alright, I might even tinker with the penny thing. I'm trying to gather a small nestegg of coin and currency anyway, just to have on hand. And I save coin, and will be saving more as I am going to cash-only transactions from now on for the most part.

    I used to love sorting coin as a kid. Of course, back then, a silver coin might be in there, or a wheat head. Much easier to see those, mind you. It's sort of a fun hobby. Nerd hobby, but with benefits.

  2. Where does one keep a shitpot of pennies?

  3. There are three Kardashians?

    I think they are like Pokemon in that as soon as enough people collect them all, the marketing department issues a new batch.

    Where does one keep a shitpot of pennies?

    Surely you have an empty shitpot in your stockpile?