Small Change

You see a penny on the ground, do you pick it up? What if it were a nickel, dime or quarter? At what point is it worth it to you to pick up a coin? Are you more inclined to pick up a coin from the ground if no one is around to observe you?

I learned from my children that you only pick the penny up if it’s heads up, they’re lucky if they’re heads up. If it’s tails up, it’s not lucky and should be left as is. Funny, even though my kids are all grown up, I still exercise this behavior, but only if no one is watching, otherwise, I let the coin lie. A few years ago, my daughter and I started turning the tails up pennies over so the other could then pick up the heads up penny for good luck. My dad was a believer in “lucky coins”, too, he’d pick up any coin he found on the ground, because it was good fortune, and put it in his pocket. My dad had a certain amount of nervous energy, as do I. He would fidget a bit if he were impatient or anxious to get going. Usually when he fidgeted, he jingled all the lucky coins in his pocket.

When I was growing up, my father had a bicycle shop. During college I worked as a bicycle mechanic on the weekends and over the summers. I would commute to the shop with my dad early every morning. After we arrived at the shop, I’d begin assembling new bicycles and my dad would take his leaf blower and clean off the sidewalk in front of the shop, blowing any leaves that may have dared fall upon the sidewalk into the gutter. There was a bar a couple of doors down from the shop and sometimes there was litter left over from the nightlife that probably ended just a few hours before our arrival. One morning, as my dad was cleaning up the sidewalk he saw a dollar bill in the gutter. When he stooped to pick it up, he discovered it was a twenty-dollar bill. He picked it up, pocketed it and continued cleaning up the sidewalk. When he came in the store a few minutes later he gave me the twenty bucks and sent me to the bakery down the street to buy pastries for the rest of the crew to enjoy. The next Saturday, Dad sent me to the bakery, again, for pastries, this time spending his own twenty dollars. The following Saturday I was sent to the bakery once more for pastries. This became a weekly tradition that lasted for years until he finally retired. The twenty-dollar bill my dad found in the gutter one Saturday morning probably ended up costing him many hundreds of dollars over time, but a happy tradition was born of it.

My son and his girlfriend used to dump their coins into a large jar, though I don’t ever recall seeing the jar more than a quarter full, ever. Last Fourth of July I was invited to go to a local celebration and fireworks display with them. We were all a bit short on cash and we decided to count up the small accumulation of coins in the jar to see what we had. We spilled them out onto the coffee table and organized them into several stacks, each totaling a dollar. Once everything was piled up and counted, we found we had enough money for parking, admission for the three of us, and even part of our meal. We had a fun day together and all for pocket change.

Small Change
Small Change

I usually just collect whatever change I am given in a coin purse and use it up at some point on small purchases, or to make exact change when shopping. Sometimes my coin purse is quite heavy, burdened and bulging with many coins. When I can stand it no more, I’ll use it all up on a purchase to relieve myself of the weight in my already heavy purse. The love of my life manages his change a little differently. He empties his pocket change into a can and allows it to accumulate for a very long time, then takes it to the bank and has it all counted up and converted into bills which he will devote to a long desired purchase or project. A few weeks ago he carted his change to the bank and had accumulated $453, enough to buy building materials to finish the roof on his garage. Small change adds up, those few coins in your pocket or in your purse, when allowed to accumulate, can really add up to a significant amount, yet most of us just disregard it, use it up on insignificant purchases.

I was in Reno, Nevada for work a couple of weeks ago. The training center I was teaching at was directly across the street from a large casino and hotel, so it made sense to book my lodging there. Every morning I would exit from the elevator, headed for the training center, and even at 7:45 AM, there were many, many people parked on stools in front of slot machines in the casino, pumping coins into the machine, mindlessly, hour after hour. Coin after coin after coin. Some would win a jackpot, eventually, after spending some untold amount. Most would not. Those that won, often, would just pump their winnings right back into the machine. As an accountant, this is hard for me to watch, and even harder for me to do. I have never been much of a gambler. I’d much rather waste my money on clothes, shoes and electronics, I at least have something definite and tangible at the end of my transaction. The one time I did play slot machines, I played the nickel slots. I had one roll of nickels, so two dollars. That was my limit, once it was gone, I planned to leave. About a buck fifty in, I hit a jackpot. Nickels spilled out and spilled out some more. I collected them all into one of those paper buckets and took my winnings to the window to be counted up and exchanged into bills. I made sixty-five dollars. I left. I decided I’d much rather buy dinner and a tank of gasoline with my winnings than pump it all back into the slot machine inside the dark, smoky casino.

In money, small change can really add up if we allow it to accumulate for a period. In life, small changes can also add up to something significant if we allow them to. We can either make small changes every day, allow them to accumulate and become something great, or we can waste our change, pumping them into a metaphorical slot machine and ultimately lose it all. What is your slot machine in life? Where are you wasting your small change? Do you invest a little time and energy every day towards furthering your goals or do you waste your extra time and energy on pointless ventures?

If you want to make a difference in your life, if you want to improve yourself in some way, your health, your fitness, your eating habits, your relationships, your career, your knowledge, your general happiness and well-being, you are going to want to make small changes over time. It is impossible to just flick a switch and make a momentous change to your life, to your lifestyle. You can’t just take the coins that have collected at the bottom of your purse and hope to make a large purchase, but you can save up all those coins over a period of time and have far more to spend on something you really want. Changes to our behavior, our outlook on life, our attitude are exactly the same, collect them over time to become something we really want to be.

Both in saving coins and in making changes in life, it is best to have some sort of goal, some sort of plan. With a goal in mind it is much easier to allow those coins, that small change, to accumulate for a larger purchase, rather than spending it on a coffee at Starbucks or a pack of gum at the store. With a goal in mind, an overall plan, it will, likewise, be much easier to make small changes on a daily basis towards that goal. You can’t just wake up one morning and shed twenty pounds, though that would be really nice! Instead, you have to alter what you eat, how much you eat and your activity level or a period of time to reach that goal.

To sum it all up, no pun intended, we need to allow small change to accumulate until we reach our ultimate goal. No day should go by that we don’t take stock of our change and put it in a safe place to grown into something significant. This will take thought, this will take discipline and, of course, time. The larger the goal, the longer we will have to accumulate our change, the more diligent we will have to be to not waste it. Anything is possible if we are committed. Many wealthy people come from extremely poor and humble beginnings, but their ability to amass small change into large fortunes sets them apart from the average person. The same is true for people who are able to make enormous change in their lives, they have the wisdom and tenacity to accumulate small changes into something grandiose. Begin by picking up that first lucky coin, real or metaphorical, placing it in your pocket, taking it home and putting in the coffee can in your closet. Do this daily. Change your world.

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