The Coin Man – Pay For Your College Education With Other People’s Change

pay for college with coinsI 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.

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18 Responses to The Coin Man – Pay For Your College Education With Other People’s Change

  1. derrick says:

    Damn, I wish I had been more creative in college and then I wouldn’t have all these student loans!

  2. carl says:

    Pure genius! Just goes to show, where there’s a will there’s a way. Early entrepreneuring at its best.

  3. green day says:

    This would make an excellent part-time job. I think I might give it a try.

  4. Boston Gal says:

    I think this idea works best for someone who lives in a fairly trusting community. I just can’t imagine my urban neighbors letting any strange kid into the house to count coins (no matter how harmless he looks).

    Plus in urban centers you tend to be more anonymous, so taking coins to a bank or to a public change counting machine is not a bit deal.

    A possible way to make this work in my area would be to contact local senior centers and arrange a “coin counting/exchanging” day. I can see Seniors who rely on public transportation and who have accumulated a lot of coins more willing to bring them to an event like this rather than to the bank.

  5. alec says:

    Boston Gal: Agreed. But that’s where the magic of panhandling comes in.

    Quick question: what were the coins that were worth over their face value?

  6. pfadvice says:

    Quick question: what were the coins that were worth over their face value?

    He simply said that in the big jars, there were often older coins mixed in with the rest that were worth more than face value. We never got into specific coins he found, although he said he did come across $100+ coins from time to time.

  7. Joey says:

    I think what is not being included in this write up is the labor cost. The time, effort, gas to do the exchanges and of course there is zero mention about the sheer effort to go through each coin to determine potential value. It would take literally hours to go through a 5 gal water bottle of loose change. I can see how this could pay for college but at what expense. No life? No sleep? all for a few coins worth a couple of bucks? I really have a hard time grasping this from a labor effort.

  8. livingplanet says:

    Indeed, the labor cost must’ve been high. However, it was a story about a college kid without any money. As we all know, college kids do SLAVE labor :-) ..(I see a professor grinning right now). To do this when one is now a professional would not be laobr-cost effective…

  9. Smarty says:

    Great, when can he come and count my coins?

  10. Dave Prouhet says:


    That is a good idea. not sure how much time it takes the guy to find the valuable coins…that should be taken into consideration – but beer money does tend to take second fiddle to time involved.

    My son collects aluminum cans. He has three streets and collects 300-400 cans per week which works out to $8-$9/week, every. Takes him about an hour. Not bad for a youngster whose allowance is $7 per week.


  11. careful there says:

    Well, I would TELL everyone that any coins of value I would exchange for REGULAR coins, and that I keep any valuable coins. By switching the valuable coins for ordinary coins, this could be considered conversion (stealing) by a court. Yikes!!!

  12. Linda T says:

    So, how and where did he sell the coins he found. I know in theory it would work, but how do you then sell them?

  13. pfadvice says:

    So, how and where did he sell the coins he found. I know in theory it would work, but how do you then sell them?

    He said he originally had an arrangement with a local coin dealer and did some selling on eBay in their early days.

  14. Krissie says:

    To me this sounds like scamming and taking advantage of elderly/unknowing people, unless of course one would split the value of the rare coins. Just my 2 cents (bad pun, I know).

  15. Cindy says:

    I don’t see this as stealing or scamming. Coinstar machines and banks do not inform you if you are exchanging a rare nickel, or even warn you that you might have any!

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  17. bill says:

    It does seem labor intensive and you have to have a trained eye as you sort through all those coins.

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