Is Picking Up a Quarter Worth Your Time Anymore? Was It Ever?

Our mailboxes are down the road in our subdivision. They are all connected and the postal worker puts all the mail in one large metal box with locked compartments for each address. It seems that the days of everyone having a mailbox in their front yards are waning.

This is good since I’d need two hands to count the number of times our mailbox at my childhood home was hit with a bat by teenagers, ran over by a drunk driver, or crushed by a tree falling on it during a storm.

This is also good because it counts as our poor excuse for daily exercise.

While walking over there yesterday, I noticed a quarter on the sidewalk and picked it up. Then I wondered to myself, “What would I not pick up?”

A dime? A nickel? Would I pick up a penny?

I would not pick up a penny, I assure myself.

But yes, I decide while ignoring the beautiful sunset and whatever Briana is saying, I would pick up a nickel.

Thanks to inflation, these coins just ain’t worth what they used to be:

Source: Visual Capitalist
Source: US Inflation Calculator

I like to play this game where I find everyone’s dollar limit on specific things. I ask my friends questions like, “Would you lick the floor of this bar for $50? No? Okay what about $500? Still no? Okay, okay. What if I gave you $5,000 to lick the floor of this bar right now?”

At some point they cave and say as awful as it would be, yes, they would lick the bar floor for $5,000. So their number is either $5,000 or less. Then I try to find the exact number. It’s a fun thought experiment.

So, my limit on picking up money is a nickel. I would walk past four pennies and not bother stooping over. But a nickel? I would stoop.

Then I wonder, what would other people pick up? What would they not pick up? More importantly, what would this say about them?

Are there people that would be embarrassed to be seen picking up a quarter? Of course! People love seeming to be rich. And nothing says rich like being able to ignore the lure of a shiny quarter on the sidewalk.

Maybe they would pick it up if they were standing around, but they would not pick it up if they were late to a meeting. Makes sense. Maybe they simply don’t care about money. That’s fine, too. These actions say a lot about their values.

But I think the same people that would pick up a quarter, and especially a nickel, likely apply that mindset to other areas of their financial life.

They are probably the same people who would cancel one streaming service before signing up for another. Or pay off their car before buying a new one. Or look at the price of the medium 5 topping specialty pizza for $15, and conclude that it would be cheaper to actually buy a medium pizza with just cheese for $9, and then add the 5 individual toppings at $1 each.

This mentality is what drives true wealth. Morgan Housel said it best in his book, The Psychology of Money: “Wealth is what you don’t see.”

Being a high saver is one of the slowest, most boring paths to extreme wealth. And it can be taken to an unhealthy place. I hear about people so frugal that they cut their empty toothpaste tubes in half to scrape out the last bit of toothpaste. That feels unhealthy to me, but to them it could be an outcome of growing up poor or having high job insecurity. It makes sense to them.

I pick up loose change not because I’m cheap, but because I like being able to afford a house in a safe neighborhood, buy my friends gifts for no reason at all, and tip the teenager at the Taco Bell drive-thru who seems to be having a difficult night. I also like virtue signaling apparently.

It’s all related.

If that means I need to be the type of person that picks up change off the sidewalk, so be it. It makes sense to me. Unless inflation is running at 100%, they’ll have to pry that metal from my cold, dead hands.

No wonder they call it personal finance.

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6 thoughts

  1. Completely agreed! Maybe I just don’t care about what others think of me anymore, but I would pick up even a penny off of the floor. Anything to grow the net worth and nest egg. When I see change on the floor, I never think of its present value, I always think of its potential future value after it has compounded. It’s a mindset!

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