A penny may not go very far these days, but Americans are still attached to the copper-colored coins. Three quarters of us will stoop to pick up a penny if we see one lying on the ground, a Gallup poll found. Most people don’t expect to make a lot of money scavenging for loose change, but taking a moment to grab those pennies could be an easy way to make $1,000 if you’re lucky enough to pick up the right coin.
Ally, an online bank, has placed 100 lucky pennies in 10 cities around the country. Each penny is worth $1,000 to the fortunate finder. The prize-winning coins are slightly larger than official U.S. currency and have the Ally logo on one side and the number 100,000 on the back.
Treasure seekers can hunt for the lucky pennies in Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami, New York City, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. If you find a winning penny between October 18 and December 31, 2016, you can redeem it online at AllyLuckyPenny.com to claim your prize. For hints about where to find the pennies, follow the #AllyLuckyPenny hashtag on Twitter or Facebook.
The bank hopes that encouraging people to hunt for pennies will also inspire them to think about their own saving habits.
“We believe every penny counts when it comes to saving, and it’s important for everyone to understand that routinely saving, even the smallest amounts, is important to generating wealth over time,” Diane Morais, chief executive officer and president of Ally Bank, said in a statement.
The power of spare change
Even if you’re not one of the fortunate few who get their hands on a lucky penny, you can still turn your spare change into serious coin. A pile of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters may not look like much when it’s gathering dust in your car’s cupholder, but you can quickly make $1,000 or more if you’re diligent about feeding your change into your piggy bank.
If you’re able to save $83 in spare change every month, or about $21 per week, you’d have $1,000 at the end of the year, the equivalent of one of those lucky pennies from Ally Bank. That’s a lot of quarters, but even smaller contributions will get you to four figures, though you’ll need to be more patient. The number will add up faster if you can get the whole family in on the act, as many families do, or if you save all your $1 or $5 bills in addition to your spare change.
Danny Iny, a marketing expert, managed to save $723 in seven months just by collecting spare change, he explained in a blog post for Get Rich Slowly. Whenever he paid for something in cash, he added the change he received to his coin jar. Over time, he got so excited about his growing pile of change that he started paying for more items in cash, just so he could add to the kitty. One thing worth nothing: Iny lives in Canada, so his savings included $1 coins, which aren’t widely used in the U.S. Still, the exercise shows how easy it is to turn relatively small amounts of money into a sizable nest egg.
Save your pennies with an app
Of course, few people use cash for the majority of their transactions these days, which makes it hard to accumulate a significant amount of spare change. But several money-saving and investing apps automate the process, allowing you to painlessly boost your savings.
Digit makes saving painless by analyzing your bank account activity and then making small withdrawals into an FDIC-insured savings account. Some days, the withdrawal might be as small as 25 cents (or nothing, if Digit sees your bank account balance is low), but if you’re flush with cash, it might withdraw as much as $50. The service is free, but you don’t earn interest on your savings. (Digit does sometimes pay small savings bonuses.)
Acorns is an investing app that rounds up all of your purchases on a linked card to the nearest dollar. The “spare change” is then invested into one of several portfolios. The service costs $1 per month, or 0.25% per year if your balance is over $5,000.
Bank of America’s Keep the Change program also rounds up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference to a savings account. To participate, you’ll need a Bank of America savings account, checking account, and debit card.
Qapital is a more robust saving app that lets you set goals and rules for savings (such as a “guilty pleasures” rule where a certain dollar amount is automatically transferred to your savings when you make certain types of purchases). One of Qapital’s most popular options is the “round it up” rule. As with similar apps, purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar. The typical user manages to save $44 a month this way. At that rate, it would take a little less than two years to squirrel away $1,000.
Once you’ve started saving your spare change, what should you do with it? If you’re like most people, you’ll use it for a getaway. Twenty-two percent use their collected coins to pay for a vacation, a MyBankTracker survey found. Eleven percent used spare change to pay everyday bills, especially if they were lower income, and roughly 8% used their pennies, dimes, and nickels to pay down debt.