Sorting Your Penny Jar

For most banks, cashing in your penny jar is something they do only reluctantly. You have to manually sort the coins into single denominations. You must manually bag them into precise quantities. Even though they have the high-tech, industry-precision, scales to do it automatically.

There are some machines in supermarkets which will process your pennies automatically... for a 10% fee. This, to me, is as bad as cash machines which charge you �2 for access to your own money. So I always sort and bag my own penny jar.

This Instructable details some ideas, tricks, and tips, on how to this quickly, efficiently, and accurately. For example, I recently sorted 3650 coins into money bags totaling �242, in an hour and a half... without miscounting a single penny!

Step 1: Prepare Your Area

This is fairly simple, but has some common-sense rules:

  • Find a flat surface - this ensures each pile is equal in height, making it easy to spot missed coins. Carpets are generally not good for this. Kitchen lino is good, and large enough.
  • Tip the coins from the jar/bag/whisky bottle onto the surface, and make it fairly flat - this ensures maximum visibility.
  • Put on a good LP. Don't use an MP3 player! An LP forces you to get up, and change posture, every 20 minutes giving you body and mind a quick break.
  • Plan additional areas for:
    • shiny new coins you want to keep/display
    • foreign coins (there will always be some)
    • stacks of sorted coins
    • empty bags (usually behind you)
    • full bags (these don't need to be close, as they can be thrown)
    • large denomination coins. There's not usually enough in a penny jar to make up a full bag, so don't waste time sorting these out until the end.
    • one empty bag, with the coin legend visible. i.e.. �1 of 1p or 2p
    • Sit in the middle of these areas, with each section in easy reach.

Step 2: Sorting the Coins

This is actually more fun than it sounds. It's game, remember. How quickly can you sort then? How many coins have you coin? Can you guestimate the total value?

Some tips for the process itself:

  • Take single coins, one in each hand.
  • Look for the next pair of same denomination coins as you pick up each pair.
  • Take 10 coins in each hand, but count the coins individually. i.e. up to 20. You can then either stack them in piles of 10 (as 10x10p = �) or 20 (as 20x5p = �) without changing your workflow for each denomination.
  • If you can't immediately seen more coins, look elsewhere in the pile. Don't waste time tying to uncover coins in any specific area.
  • Switch denominations periodically, whenever you notice a large number of a particular coin. This will happen automatically over time as all the copper disappears, and you're left with lots of silver.
  • Place the coins in stacks, and let the stacks run over your fingers. This helps you feel for coins that are slightly larger, or smaller, than they should be. Tip your hand slightly as you place the stacks down to make this easier.
  • Do everything in pairs. i.e. Place stacks together, so you can compare the heights against each other to make sure you're accurate.
  • Keep the stacks into groups of 5 or 10. When you notice your unsorted coins are dwindling, this'll give you a clue as to whether it's worth looking for more, or if there aren't enough coins left to make up a full bag.
  • Don't try and create running totals, it'll just divert you.
  • Do switch position: kneel, cross legged, etc periodically.

Step 3: Bagging the Coins

Do it whenever you're running low on stacking space, or need a break.

This is an easy and obvious thing - just take care to not spill coins. You can use kitchen scales to get an approximate weight test, which is good if you can't remember if you added 9 or 10 piles of coins to a bag.

With practice you can gather two side-by-side piles of coins at once by pushing them together into a v-shape.

Step 4: Now Wash Your Hands!

Then lug the whole lot down to the bank before they shut. Take a route that avoids beggars. Not that they're likely to be able to run with the weight of all these coins - but when carrying your penny jar to the bank, it's impossible to hide a smirk when you hear the phrase "got any spare change" ;)

Make your own notes of how many coins, of each denomination, you have as the bank teller is likely to make a mistake or two.

Take a separate bag of pennies, just in case you miss a coin here or there. You don't want to lug this sort of weight any distance.

FWIW, my penny jar also had:

  • 15 ptas
  • 2 euro 71 cents
  • 5 Irish pence
  • 20 Francs (from pre-Euro France, obviously)
  • A US quarter



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    14 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Years ago I had a Bible club for the children of the suburb and they gave small change for the collections which I used to buy some extras and treats. I did not have the time to sort this out and later the pile of coins was substantial and weighted about three kilograms. I had only Saturdays to do banking and I did sort them out and made bags of each value. I went in to the bank when the big crowd were gone Getting to the teller I gave her the money and ask her for pardon but I waited till she wasn't busy. She asked "Why do you only come now? We ran out of change money!" and there and then phoned three shop managers to come and fetch the coins


    7 years ago on Introduction

    has no one seen the zoom episode where they sorted change? took them 10 minutes to build something and 5 minutes to sort. you should take a leaf from their book.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Many of the PNC Banks in my area have a coin counting machine like the ones you see in grocery stores, but free for use by account holders.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    My credit union has a sorting machine we can use for no fee. Also, our food market has a machine which doesn't charge if you get a gift card for that store. Be careful though, some coin sorting machines charge a hefty fee. Read the small print.

    My dad uses a 5 gallon water jug, and the only time he's had it counted was when he had nearly two of them full.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    One small step, that may aid in foreign/collectible currency sorting... Grab a HDD magnet, and pass it over the pile of loose change. It should pick up steel us pennies, Canadian currency, and probably a few others i don't know about. Thos sorting machines, and even some vending machines, use a magnet(or magnetic coil) for exactly that purpose. Any currency with iron content is rejected(or in your case, picked out for preservation/sale)

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    UK "copper" is currently a mix of copper and plated-steel, depending upon when they were minted. That's about the only use for a magnet here, which I do use 'co I'm collecting copper while it's still in circulation. L


    9 years ago on Introduction

    . Good job and I really like the LP tip. . . It's been a few years, but I took a 5-gallon water jug, about ¾ full of assorted change, to my bank and they took them as-is (after I poured them into some canvas bags they had) and charged me a small fee to sort/count/wrap them (they have a machine that will do it). I just dropped them off and they credited my checking acct a couple of days later. . I can't remember how much they charged, but I remember thinking "That's not too bad."


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I just went through something like this myself. I just dumped them out on a table and took all the pennies out first (easiest to sort by color). Then I did all the silver by taking out the quarters (largest) and dimes (smallest), and brushing aside the remaining nickels. On a large flat surface it's easy to get five of a single value on each and (five fingers, for most people!) and slide them into a corresponding pile. The counting comes later, but again, is easy to do by the fives-method.