I went out with a friend the other night and we met up with a group of his friends I had not met before. Somehow the conversation moved to the topic of college. I ended up paying for a good portion of my college with baseball cards I had collected during junior and senior high school, and this information usually grabs the attention when the topic of college and paying for it comes up, but I was put to shame by another person there who explained the most innovated way of paying for college that I have ever heard: he paid for college using other people’s change.
His idea came to him after he walked into a grocery store one day and saw that people were lining up to use the CoinStar machine and thought it was ridiculous that people would pay money to change coins into bills. He was discussing this with some of his friends when he realized there was a theme that while many people save their change, they hate the inconvenience and embarrassment of taking it to the bank.
So he went and purchased a portable change counting machine and started up business. Basically he went to people’s houses and counted their coins with his machine and then exchanged bills for their coins at no charge. The customer got full value for their coins and there was no embarrassment or hassle of having to drag a huge jar of coins to the bank.
So the question, of course, was how did he make money? What he found was that the people that didn’t like to take their coins to the bank usually had been collecting the coins for a long time and mixed among the coins were usually a few coins that were worth well over face value. In fact, he said it was common to net $20 – $50 in coins that were over face value per house (and sometimes much more).
He said by far the hardest part was getting the first few customers (“people tend to be skeptical when you say you will go to their house and count their coins for free”), but once he had done a few good transactions, word of mouth started to spread and he had plenty of business. The job was flexible so he could do it whenever he had free time, it paid far more than any part-time college job he could have found and he ended coming out of college debt free.
He said that over time, he realized that he could even charge for this service and eventually implemented a $5 fee for changing the coins. The fee actually helped his business: the fee kept people with small amounts of coins from calling him meaning that only those with a lot of coins would use his service. Since it was people with a lot of coins that were much more likely to yield valuable coins in the mix, these were exactly the customers he wanted.
Pretty ingenious and I bet it could still be accomplished today.