Copper coins are hard to spend, but they add up. For years I've been storing my excess in a jar, or more specifically a giant plastic Coke bottle with a slot in the cap, accumulating quite a stash. I've always meant to do something with it, speculating I might have a windfall on my hands, and yesterday was the day I finally sprung into action. Would all the effort be worth my while?
There are several options for converting a haul of coppers.
1) Spend them
Copper coins are only legal tender up to 20p, so disposing of them this way involves buying a lot of stuff. If you spread these purchases out across an entire decade it becomes a lot more manageable, but scrabbling around with lots of small change never goes down well in shops. So we invariably get given more coppers than we spend, which is why they stack up.
2) Feed a machine
My local supermarket has a Coinstar machine which swallows coins and returns a voucher in return. But it also swipes 9.9% commission at the same time, so no way was I going to take my coppers there. I understand that all Metro Banks have a Magic Money Machine that's free to use, but my nearest is three miles away.
3) Bag them up and take them to a bank
For this you need some special plastic bags, and a bank. Copper coins should be bagged up £1 at a time. 2ps and 1ps should never be mixed. Be aware that a bank or building society will generally only take bagloads of coins off your hands if you have an account with them.
I went with option three.
3a) Get some bags
Only one bank survives on Bow Road these days, and it's not mine, so I headed into Stratford instead. I had to queue at the main counter, which took a while, because several people in front of me were trying to undertake lengthy complex transactions. Meanwhile several people behind me were getting angry, and making exasperated remarks, even tutting. I started to worry that when I came back with a barrowful of coppers, the queue's ire would be targeted on me. But eventually I got my bags - a few more than I thought I'd need - and confirmed that the bank had no upper limit on how many I could bring back.
3b) Unleash your coins
Pouring all my coins out of my giant plastic bottle proved harder than I expected, and required a heck of a lot of shaking to force everything through the neck. Suddenly I had a huge pile of mixed coinage in front of me, surely numbering into the thousands. They had that dirty accumulated coin smell when handled. I decided to start by picking out as many 2ps as I could, counting as I went, rather than separating everything in advance.
3c) Count your coins
Counting is important, because each bag has to contain exactly 100 1p coins or exactly 50 2p coins. It pays to be correct because a cashier will be checking later, and you'll start looking annoyingly incompetent if proven innumerate. I double counted, because I was mortified of being shown up in public. First I separated out what I hoped were piles of £1, 2p coins first, then 1ps. This took the best part of an hour. Then (to be extra careful) I counted those piles into bags, 10 coins at a time, counting again if the numbers didn't tally. This took the best part of another hour.
3d) Bag your coins
I felt a slight sense of smugness at this point, as I saw the unruly portion of my life savings laid out under firm control. But it doesn't pay to get ahead of yourself. A very important thing to do at this stage is to make sure every bag is sealed properly, to prevent loose coins escaping later in the process, which as I later discovered is a bit embarrassing.
3e) Count your piles
I found I had thirteen piles of 2p bags, and 14 piles of 1p bags. That's twenty-seven bags altogether, making a total haul of £27. That's not to be sniffed at, although it's not as amazing as I might have expected after almost two decades of collecting. I thought it was probably no coincidence I had roughly twice as many 1ps as 2ps.
3f) Take your bags to the bank
I had thought I might be able to carry my £27 in an ordinary carrier bag, but when I lifted it up I realised I'd need to switch to a rucksack. Here's a fact about copper coins - a 1p coin weighs 3.56g and a 2p weighs 7.12g, deliberately twice as much. This means every £1 bag weighs in at 356g, and 27 bags is knocking on ten kilograms. The richer you're about to become, the heavier your burden.
3g) Queue in anticipation
This time it's serious. This time you are going to induce consternation in those behind you when they spot you unloading bags of small change onto the counter. Hold your nerve, because for all you know some of them are planning transactions that'll take even longer. I compounded the problem by turning up just before closing time on a Friday (but this actually worked out well because by the time I reached the counter they'd closed the queue to fresh joiners).
3h) Hand over your bags
To her credit, the cashier didn't sigh, at least outwardly. Instead she reached for her little balance and tested each of my bags one at a time to ensure it really did weigh 356g. Dammit, Bag One was 1p short, so I already looked a pillock... but thankfully I'd had the sense to bring a few spare coppers with me (top tip!), and handed one over, and we were back on track. Altogether I handed over three extra coppers to make up for my miscalculations, but thankfully I seemed to get the other 24 bags right, so earned my brownie points back.
3i) Take your money
I wasn't given cash in return, I had to stick my card in the terminal and the money went straight into my account. Hey presto, that pile of coins that'd been clogging up my house for years was suddenly something more useful, and could actually be spent. I now had £27 to spend on a train ticket to the coast, or a night down the pub, or a heck of a lot of penny chews, depending. I'm just trying not to think about how inflation means I'd have been better off spending my coppers at the time, rather than waiting until 2018 to cash them in.
3j) Return to your life
Impressively, my time at the counter only totalled six minutes. The woman beside me was still in the throes of a much longer transaction, trying to pay her mother's care home bill, and I felt almost virtuous for not tying up the cashiers for longer. I walked out with a receipt and an empty rucksack, and basically something for nothing. Sometimes a little bit of effort pays off, but I must try not to do it too often.