Thursday, August 14, 2008

Change Hunting - my experiences looking for loose change on New York City's Streets

While working on a story on folks who stop and pick up stray pennies on the street for Marketplace I decided to keep my own change seeking diary. You can hear the full story here.

Wednesday, Day 1
TOTAL: .01

A penny! Right outside my doorstep I find one penny. It's still early in the morning, I'm on my way to work and my mic is packed safely away in my bag so that later in the day, at a more Decent hour, I'd be able to document my finds. I fish my mic out of my bag, untangle my headphones from around a sandwich (lunch)plug in and record. What a GREAT start. Clearly this isn't going to be as hard as I thought.

Thursday, Day 2
TOTAL: .02

Jackpot. Again a first -thing-in-the-morning find. This time it's 14 cents: a dime, then the pennies, one, two, three, four. I am SO GOOD! I'm a change finding goddess! Wonder what I'll buy with all my riches. I'll just run downstairs and tell my boyfriend my good news. Hm... Daniel looks suspiciously unsurprised. A minute later he cracks and admits he PLANTED the change. Want to strangle him with my mic cord. But all is peace and harmony a few minutes later when I find a penny under the bench on the platform of the A train at Jay Street Borough Hall. I'm a numismatic goddess again.

Friday, Day 3
TOTAL: .02

4 p.m. So far I'm on a streak. So it's only two days at a penny a day. So what? That's two cents I didn't have before. Tonight there's an opera in the park and I plan to clean up big as the concert fans pack up their blankets, wine bottles and baguette crumbs and go. I'll be there with my change purse.

9:30 p.m. - Ug. Why didn't anyone tell me that Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna were going to sing so many encores? And why didn't I remember to bring a flashlight? There may be change on the ground here, but it's too dark to see a thing. I'll come back tomorrow and look properly. Nothing today.

Saturday, Day 4
TOTAL: .02

11:00 a.m. It's gotta be over 90 degrees today. The city feels a steamy shower stall, but not with that shower fresh scent. It's not the kind of day that inspires action let alone change hunting. But, I've got to get to the park to see if I can cash in on last night.

12:00 - I don't understand this. There were tens of thousands of people here yesterday. How is it possible that I can't find so much as a penny? After tramping what feels like miles through the grass I decide to take a walk around the block. All I see are gum wrappers, cigarette butts and many reminders that people need to clean up more thoroughly after their dogs, but no spare change. I'm starting to get depressed.

Sunday, Day 5.
TOTAL: Still an uninspiring .02

Don't want to talk about it. Tomorrow am off to interview Humphery family of Long Island who have somehow miraculously managed to accumulate over a thousand dollars in change. They have two small daughters. Small daughters must have sharper eyesight. Aha! That must be it. Feel better now.

Monday, Day 6, Staten Island
TOTAL: .02
The Humpherys are amazing, especially Barbara. She's turned change hunting into a hobby for the whole family. They're a military family and sit lined up on their couch looking all-American as Scott Humphery, the dad, jokes that he wants to send thank you notes to everyone who's dropped the coins they pick up as he says that collecting brings the family together. They fill me on some tips, things that worked for them. To be honest, they are things I'd thought of, but I think I lack the determination. The next day I speak with another collector, Scott Caulfield in St. Paul. He's also good, definitely much better then me, after all, he's found over $200.

Here are some tips Scott and the Humpherys give me:

1. Colleges and parking lots are among the best place to look. Especially under vending machines. Barbara says college campuses are solid gold.

2. Car washes, stores near the register and security checkpoints (a tip from Scott's friend Chris) are also good bets.

3. Banks will let you trade in your old coins, banged up ones that don't look useable for shiny new currency.

4. (From the Humpherys) - those old earrings, broken chains and other doo-dads you find on the street might be valuable. Grab 'em if you spot them. They've been picking up old jewelry and so far have managed to make over one hundred and fifty bucks from broken bits that turned out to be gold and silver.

5. If change hunting is for you might also look into soda cans, bottles or even bottle caps. But those do take more room.

Sunday, Day 18
TOTAL: More then .02 but still under .50

Since talking to the Humpherys and Scott Caulfield I've realized that change hunting is sort of like training for the Olympics - it's something you've really got to want. I have found more change since talking to them - a penny here and a penny there and now I make a point to stop and pick it up. In the past I might not have. And today, at the Laundromat I had my biggest find ever - 16 cents. Not bad for a beginner.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will always do a "bendover" for a penny. I have a harder time picturing me reaching under a pop machine (ugh). I really liked the piece on Marketplace. Thanks.

Martinsville, IN

8/14/2008 12:30 PM  
Blogger Char said...

I've been picking up change for family and friends rib me about it - but the change does ADD UP!! :) One year I kept track of how much I found - it came to over $13.00! :)


2/06/2009 8:11 AM  

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