Last Week, Coinstar Blew My Freaking Mind

It has happened countless times. After waiting in line behind some responsible soul who patiently picks out exactly thirty-six cents, rather than break a dollar and end up with even more loose change, I step up to the counter. Faced with a bill of $9.18, I throw a ten spot down and shove the resulting change into my pocket, never to be accounted for again. Change: An Epic Tale of Loss, soon to be appearing in a couch cushion near you.

Somewhere along the line, my zest for spare change that began with the piggy banks of youth and guided me through the college and post-college desperation for coin of any kind somehow faded into the laziness that came with the daily grind of life and having a few dollars in the bank. But letting that change get sucked into the universe is fiscally embarrassing. Money is money, and that change is worth something. A lot of something.

While there isn’t exactly data on how much change the average couch yields in a year — conservative estimates have it at a six-pack of PBR and an egg sandwich — consider reports that travellers in the United States left roughly $675,000 in loose change in airports in 2014. According to the L.A. Times, that staggering figure is comprised solely of change passengers can’t be bothered to pick up after a security screening; they choose to leave it in the bin rather than take the time to put it back into their pockets. Nickels, dimes, pennies, even quarters left for dead.

Why the collective blasé attitude toward change? Because coins are a pain in the ass? Because so many of us have forgotten what it feels like to be totally broke? Because we love the “carpet paved with pennies” look that’s all the rage in home décor? My guess is because most of us have never seen it add up. After a recent visit to my local Coinstar machine yielded $248.33, I saw it add up and my mind was blown.

Like Imelda Marcos and Miracle Whip before it, Coinstar appeared out of nowhere, dripping in ridiculous insanity and revolutionizing the way we looked at the world. Owned by parent company Outerwall Inc. (“champion of a better everyday”), Coinstar came into prominence in the mid-1990s. No longer did change need to be laboriously rolled or even sorted. You simply fed your change into the green machine of dreams and out popped a slip of paper printed with the most beautiful number you’ve ever seen in your life. In the span of thirty minutes you could magically go from sitting in your apartment with a bag of change to hitting the streets with cash money.

It was the future you and Imelda always dreamed of.

Outerwall, which also owns Redbox and electronic recycler ecoATM, had revenues of approximately $2.3 billion in 2015—not exactly chump change. The company’s success has been aided by upgrades designed to make it even easier for users to cash in. Aside from turning your change into cash, less a 10.9% processing fee, a Coinstar kiosk now gives you the option of purchasing no-fee gift cards to leading retailers or making a tax-deductible charitable donation. Because now that you have actually gotten all your spare change together, located a Coinstar and lugged the coins down the block, you are totally going to give all that money to a good cause.

Coinstar has also added a “locator” feature on its website to help you find a kiosk and a Twitter feed so you can speak directly to the company, sharing your personal story of spare change triumph. I smell an app coming.

It was in the quiet moments between hugging my bag of change for the last time and watching that little slip of paper pop out of the Coinstar that my mind was sufficiently blown; the ease, the take—like getting away with contraband that doesn’t belong to you—and the oddly familiar rejected items. Coinstar takes local currency and nothing else. Objects it can’t process are returned. Among the gems that Coinstar spit back out at me were two small white buttons, a bent nail, a blue pill (is Viagra the one that’s blue?), ninety pence, a pen cap, an Orbit gum wrapper and an object I deduced was a Lee Press-On Nail. What had I been up to?

Two seconds later out came the magic number, $248.33, and all questions ceased.

Once Coinstar helped me see the fruit of my change saving labor, I had two choices: I could go buy something—the wholly materialistic reason I started saving change in the first place—or, I could ride the savings wave a step further and hold on to the money, another mind-blowing concept. Think of it as a slush fund to cover other “wasted” coin instances like ATM fees, your lottery ticket habit, that bottle of Cristal you poured all over yourself — remember when you just tipped a 40 to your homie? — or just think of it as the beginning of not spending.

A couple of hundred dollars every few months can add up. Who can argue with having extra cash around when you really need it? It may be sooner than you think.

The United States Mint offers a few suggestions for how to get started with “coin collecting,” its highbrow way of saying, “saving change.” And while you may not get crazy organizing your change into detailed theme or date collections, like the enthusiasts at the US Mint, holding on to your spare change will pay off no matter what your methodology. With the price of nearly everything in life going up by the minute, don’t let those coins in your pocket go to waste. Now, more than ever, it’s time to keep those pennies. It adds up and damn, is it gratifying.

Screenshot 2015-09-22 14.01.32

Wow. Way to go, Porsha’s son.


When not perpetrating ridiculousness on the streets of New York City, Casey Coler is at work on Ridiculous in the City, an epic chronicle of ridiculousness for our times.

Photo: Clean Wal-mart



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