Updated: May 17, 2016

Survey: 62% of Americans Put Spare Change to Good Use

A recent MyBankTracker survey reveals how Americans are using their spare change. Loose coins are being used for savings, vacations, gift cards and more.
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Loose change has a lot more spending power than you might think and a recent MyBankTracker survey put that theory to the test. We polled our readers to find out what they do with their spare coins. If you’re wondering what the average American is doing with the money in their change jar or how you could be using yours more effectively, dive in with us as we break down the full survey results.

Vacation and bills top the list of uses for spare change

The MyBankTracker survey offered respondents seven different responses, as well as the opportunity to chime in with their own two cents on how they use their change. Here’s how the numbers stack up:

  • 22.1% of readers said their loose change was going towards a vacation fund. Interestingly, higher-income earners are more likely to use those nickels and dimes to cover the cost of a weekend getaway. There were 31.8% of respondents who reported earning between $100,000 and $149,999 a year and said they saved spare change for a vacation.
  • 11.3% of respondents said they used spare change to help cover the bills. This time, we saw a very different trend when we looked at income. The group most likely to use change to pay for monthly expenses? Americans earning less than $25,000 annually.
  • 7.6% of Americans use their change to pay down expensive debt. When you’re struggling with high-interest debt, literally every penny counts, especially for middle-income earners. Of those bringing in between $75,000 and $99,999 annually, 17.8% use coins to hack away at their debt balances.
  • Two of the responses included in the survey centered on giving and we found that some Americans are generous with their change. Only 5.9% of respondents said they donate change to charity while another 5% said they just give it away to people on the street.
  • A small number of respondents thought of loose change as a retirement savings tool. Just 4.8% of readers said they used their spare change to beef up their retirement accounts.

The open-ended responses were varied and reflected a range of attitudes about just how much spare change is really worth. While many of the write-in responses involved using the money for something fun (like shopping for iTunes) or something practical (like feeding the parking meter), some of the other replies were a little more creative. One respondent, for example, planned to save their spare change for a new tattoo while another said their dream was to fill up a room of their home with coins and swim around in it like that penny-pincher Scrooge McDuck.

More than a third of Americans do nothing with spare change

While our survey found that the majority of people are using their spare change to improve their finances or someone else’s, we were surprised by just how many aren’t putting it to good use. Overall, 37.9% of respondents said they’re not doing anything with their spare change.

Men are more likely than women to leave it untouched, with 39.1% of male respondents and 34.3% of female respondents choosing to do nothing with their extra coins.

Surprisingly, it’s older Americans who are the most neglectful where their change jar is concerned.

There were 43.7% of seniors aged 65 and up and 41.3% of adults aged 55 to 64 who said they don’t do anything useful with their loose change. Young people were the least likely to overlook the value of change and only 25.4% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they did so.

When income was factored in, it was determined that high-income earners are actually less likely than middle-income earners to let loose change fall by the wayside. 41.9% of people who said they don’t do anything their spare change reported making between $50,000 and $74,999 annually.

So why does it seem like people don’t assign as much value to loose coins? Part of it has to do with how individuals perceive their worth.

One research study identified a phenomenon known as the “denomination effect”, which is a measure of how much psychological pain we experience when spending paper money versus coins. The researchers conducted various experiments where test subjects were asked to spend change versus dollar bills on identical purchases.

The study found that overall, people are more likely to spend change freely before they’d break a dollar bill, even if the amount they’re spending is the same. Going back to how many people in our study said they do nothing with their change, it’s easy to assume that they just don’t feel as motivated to use extra money unless they can fold it in half and stick in their wallet.

It could also be chalked up to the fact that paper money is simply less of a hassle to use than loose coins. For example, counting out your change at the grocery store instead of handing over cold hard cash is likely to lead to feelings of impatience on behalf of the cashier or the people waiting behind you, which can make you feel embarrassed at lugging around a pocketful of coins to begin with.

What’s the best way to use spare change?

If you’ve got a big chunk of loose change sitting around doing nothing, you’re essentially throwing money away. MyBankTracker has come up with five productive ways to make the most of every single penny.

  • Convert it to cash. When you’ve got piles of change lying around, the smart move is swapping it out for paper bills but who has time to roll up all those coins? Carting it off to a coin-counting machine at your bank or using your local Coinstar machine is a less time-consuming alternative. Just make sure that when you’re using one of these machines, you’re paying close attention to the fees. Currently, Coinstar charges a 10.9% processing fee, which is taken right off the top of your change pile. If you’ve got a substantial amount of coins, that’s a pretty steep price to pay for the convenience of not having to fiddle with those paper coin rolls.
  • Trade it in for gift cards. If you’re set on using Coinstar, there’s a cheaper option than getting cash. You can recycle your loose change into gift cards from selected merchants instead. There’s no processing fee if you go with the electronic gift card option and there are more than 20 stores and restaurants to choose from, including Amazon, Best Buy and Chili’s.
  • Start your emergency fund. If you’re still not making an emergency fund a priority, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon. Having some rainy day money set aside as a hedge against financial emergencies is a must and your spare change can be the perfect springboard to saving. Saving $100 per month can add up to a $6,000 emergency fund over the course of five years. Parking the money in an online savings account will help your emergency fund grow faster. Use MyBankTracker’s Savings Account Tool to find the one that’s right for you.
  • Use it to open an IRA. Socking away money in your 401(k) every payday is a great way to build up a sizable retirement nest egg but investing your spare change can pave the way to greater wealth. For instance, if you were to put $500 in loose change in an IRA every year for 30 years, you’d have over $50,000 when it’s all said and done.
  • Apply it towards your student loan payments. Student loan debt is a huge financial burden for millions of Americans, particularly millennials. If you’re saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt, that spare change you’ve got lying around can help to bring the balance down faster. Here’s an example: Let’s say you have $30,000 in loans at a 5% interest rate. On a 10-year payment plan, your payments would come to $318 a month and you’d pay about $8,200 in interest. If you used your change to round your payments up to $400 a month, you’d trim 29 months off the repayment schedule and reduce the total interest paid by $2,000.
  1. Treat yourself to something nice. While it’s essential to save regularly, it’s also important to enjoy your money from time to time. Your spare change can help fund these occasional treats for yourself, such as your daily Starbucks run, a new shirt, mini road trip or new perfume.

The bottom line

When you look at spare change in terms of what it can really do, the possibilities are endless. Whether you choose to spend, save, invest or give yours away, the most important thing is that you’re putting those coins to work instead of letting them lie around collecting dust.

Survey methodology

This nationwide, online survey was conducted by Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of MyBankTracker. The survey received 1,070 responses and all respondents were age 18 or older. 53.3% of respondents were male while 46.7% were female.