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The best thing to do with your penny jar

Image: PA

More or less everyone has a jar or a pot stuffed with pennies somewhere. It’s where loose coins go when they’re found under the sofa or where you empty your wallet each night if you can’t stand shrapnel.

Over the last eight or so years, I've gradually filled a demijohn jar with loose change; mostly pennies, with the odd bit of silver thrown in.

I’m certainly not alone: Research by the Payments Council suggests that Brits are hoarding around £65 million worth of pennies in their homes.

So I decided to cash in my share of that fortune by finally emptying The Jar. I spent an exhaustive evening counting shrapnel into bags and discovered an astonishing £86.12 in there! Those jars must be built like the Tardis…

Watching your pennies…

But while I’m not exactly the most organised at keeping tabs on my loose change, others are considerably worse than me. A survey by Halifax shows that while three-quarters of Brits keep their loose change in a set place, such as a jar, this is far from the only place to find money in a home.

In fact, there’s an average of £17.69 floating around our bags, cars, desk drawers and sofas. In fact, I know of one man whose girlfriend found “well over £25” in their sofa thanks to his habit of leaving loose change in his trouser pockets.

It’s worth sweeping up this loose change once in a while and seeing if you, too, have a substantial sum.

[Related feature: How to spot a fake £1 coin]

Cashing it in

Despite the squeeze on incomes, the Payment Council study found that 43% of people never get around to cashing in their pennies. That rises to 55% of 18 to 35 year olds.

But my 86 quid shows just how much this cash can add up to, so it’s certainly worth taking the time to count it.

Having counted it, how can you turn it into real money? One way is to use a coin counting machine, such as the Coinstar booths you get in supermarkets. But you will pay a charge for your convenience; the Coinstar machines take an 8.9% processing fee but there have been some that charge as much as 20p in the pound.

I wanted my cash to be all mine, so I counted it up myself and took it to the bank. However, that backfired – I’d sorted the coins into denominations and then into bags, but the bank needed me to go a step further.

It gave me a handful of money bags and asked me to sort the coins into the correct amounts specified on the bags. Those are as follows:

  • £20 bags of £1 coins
  • £20 bags of £2 coins
  • £10 bags of 50ps
  • £10 bags of 20ps
  • £5 bags of 10ps
  • £5 bags of 5ps
  • £1 bags of 2ps
  • £1 bags of pennies

This took me slightly longer! Bear in mind that not all banks will accept mountains of coins, particularly if they are busy. It could be worth phoning ahead to check your bank will be willing to take your coins before lugging all that weight through town.

[Related feature: Check your small change - it might be worth a mint]

The best way to spend a penny…

So, having finally turned my shrapnel into notes, what’s the best way to spend it?

Because it feels like a windfall, albeit a windfall that took eight years to accumulate, I’m quite tempted to spend it on a treat, like a few extras at Christmas or some new clothes.

In fact, according to the Payments Council survey, 42% of people spend their hoard on treats while 15% just hang onto it for the reassurance of having cash in the house.

Around 8% give their loose change stash to good causes – that’s about two million people keeping a penny jar as a sort of in-house charity bucket.

This is an amazing thing to do. Even if you don’t notice the odd penny here and there, it must be hard to part with a full jar of coins.

However, if you decide to donate your hoard, then it’s still worth counting it up and making a formal donation, rather than simply passing it to a tin rattler.

That’s because UK taxpayers can then Gift Aid their donation, allowing the charity to claim tax back on every pound donated. So, if you donate £1 but Gift Aid it, it’s worth £1.25 to the charity.

It’s worth taking the extra time to count your cash and make a formal donation to increase the value by such a substantial amount.

[Related link: Brits hoarding Olympic 50ps]

Use it

I suppose the best way to spend a penny is to use it in day-to-day life and make sure every penny counts, rather than chucking it in a jar and forgetting it.

Shops do have to accept some shrapnel. In fact, according to the Coinage Act of 1971, 1ps and 2ps are only legal tender up to the value of 20p, although there’s no limit when it comes to £1 and £2 coins.

You can read more about the limits in our article ‘How much can you legally pay in coins?’.

Do you keep a penny jar? What do you plan on doing with the coins? Do you insist on spending every last coin or clear out your purse each night? Share your thoughts with other readers in the comments below.