Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Coinstar Earns $1.93

On Sunday I decided to rid myself of many, many pennies by using Coinstar. "Turn your change into cash," goes their slogan, as if somehow change and cash were two distinct entities. Empty sloganeering aside, what happens is you dump your change into their machine, it counts it for you and issues a voucher good at the grocery store the device is located within. In the process, Coinstar (Nasdaq: CSTR) takes a small cut for itself, of course.

So, my petty cash breakdown (the receipt tells you how much of what you had) was as follows:

2 dollar         0
1 dollar         0
25 cents         0
10 cents         5
5 cents         130
1 cent         1270

Grand total was $19.70, of which Coinstar took $1.93, leaving me with $17.77 – not so bad for a few minutes work. And at some point in your life, you have to ask yourself: what is my time worth? If your time is worth, say, less than $1.93 an hour, then by all means roll your own coins and pocket the profit. If not, then swallow your pride, admit you are no longer a member of the proletariat, and dump all them coins into the big metal mouth that is Coinstar and let the magic begin.

The counting mechanism can only handle so many coins at once (the narrow slit where the coins enter the machine slows the rate of entry). At one point, it actually asked me to pause. Near the beginning, a little boy gave me a hand, because some coins tumbled through the big green sorting machine only to be spat out through the coin return slot. The five-year old kid even started laughing because so many pennies were being rejected. "I’m not doing so well, am I?" I said to the kid. He giggled even more.

All told, however, only a few round bits of metal didn’t make the cut. Two filthy US pennies, one US nickel, and six Canuck copper doubloons were declared currency non-grata.

Near the end of my loud adventure (imagine the sound of 1,400 coins being processed) a young woman who had paid for her groceries walked over and sneaked a peak at the on-screen tally. Who wouldn’t be curious, really? Everyone thinks about using Coinstar, but who among us is actually brave enough to try it?

And yes, I know the fact that I emptied my piggy bank is endlessly fascinating and oh-so-worthy of blogging in and of itself, but in case some readers seek a little something more here – a morsel of insight, for example – don’t worry, it’s coming in the next paragraph.

On July 16 of this year, a press release from the company announced that "its network of more than 10,000 machines in the U.S. recycled a total of 33.2 billion coins -- representing $1.7 billion -- back into the economy in 2002. The milestone represents a 13 percent increase in coins recycled and a 17 percent increase in the value of coins recycled by the company over the previous year; this out-paces the U.S. Mint's production of new coin for the second consecutive year. In 2002 14.4 billion new coins were produced by the U.S. Mint, a drop from 19.4 billion new coins in 2001."

As if those numbers weren’t eye-popping enough:

Despite the increases in coin recycling by Americans, Coinstar believes the amount of coin being recycled has not had a measurable impact in retrieving the $10.5 billion in coin that is estimated to be sitting idle in American homes. On average, that represents approximately $99 per U.S. household.

I’m proud to have done my part to stimulate the economy – I bought some whole wheat pita with my profit – leaving me with $16.08. But I couldn’t help but stare at that 8 cents in change I received with a certain amount of menace and irritation.