While walking the neighborhood a few days ago, I saw two pennies along my route. They had been there for a while and were showing considerable wear from the time they had spent on a busy street. Though the stamping on each side was almost gone, I didn’t hesitate to snatch them up and carry them home. My views on money were largely shaped by the adults who influenced me as I grew into adulthood. I spent a lot of time around my maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother. All had lived on farms in rural Indiana, didn’t have a great deal to start with, and had weathered The Great Depression, which profoundly impacted them. My Dad was in his early teens during the worst of it while Mom was not yet in elementary school. After that came WWII and rationing, so the Shawhan and Richardson families knew how to stretch their meager resources to make ends meet. That last bit of ketchup in the bottle could be mixed with water to make something resembling tomato soup, but mostly it was a warm, flavored liquid that was better than going hungry. Dad’s income from his mining and construction business was spotty, but Mom and he were always able to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, though there were stretches where bologna on crackers and chicken noodle soup were frequent entrees.
I learned to scan the ground while I walked. It was a good day if I found soda bottles that could be turned in for a few cents at the local gas station. It was a great day if I found coins. All of that “found money” went into my piggy bank, which wasn’t a pig, but a small black ceramic teapot Mom gave me. Mixed in among the coins was some “folding money,” the term Dad used for paper bills. Those came to me on birthdays, Christmas, and whenever the grading period ended. I learned early that being a good student could have financial as well as academic benefits. The real treasures in the teapot were my $2 bills and silver dollars, which were not to be spent under any circumstances. The lessons I learned about saving, discipline, and delayed gratification continue to serve me well.
Though I don’t know how much money I’ve picked off the ground over the years, I can remember the most I found at one time. Late one evening after a basketball game I pulled into a gas station. As my tank was filling, I decided to wash my windows and found a $100 bill near the trash can. That was a very good day. It’s pretty rare to find paper money and most of what I get are small coins, but I stop and pick them up without fail and they go into a repurposed large plastic Planter’s Honey Roasted Peanuts jar. It takes about a year to fill the jar then I take the contents to a store with one of the change sorters. The last payout was almost $280, which I think is a pretty good investment for being observant and willing to bend over.
I’ve been a lot of places in the U.S. and have noticed that almost without fail it is those of us in a certain age group that tend to pick up coins. Younger folks do not appear to be interested in small change. Perhaps they are focused on becoming the next great social media influencer or internet entrepreneur. I wish them well. Less competition for me.