Why I Shouldn’t Have Got Behind a Nice Lady in the Supermarket Line

I think grocery store self-check stands are both a blessing and a curse.

When multiple shoppers, loaded up with enough groceries to, say, sustain a family of four through a nuclear winter are queued up in front of a human cashier, self-check kiosks are a godsend.

On the other hand, self-check stands aren’t so hot when the guy in front of you has 57 varieties of fresh fruits & vegetables in his cart — and he’s struggling to find the produce codes for everything from tomatoes and cucumbers to arugula, kohlrabi, salsify, and bok choy.

I’m telling you this because, on a recent trip to my local grocery store, I decided to take advantage of a rare short line at a check stand occupied by a human cashier. In fact, for once in my life the grocery store gods seemed to be genuinely smiling on me because, on this particular day, the only person ahead of me was a nice lady who was watching the cashier run the last three or four items of her modest order across the scanner.

After the last item crossed the scanner, the clerk cheerfully announced the final total: $43.32.

With that, I figured the nice lady would have done what most people do nowadays: whip out her debit or credit card, swipe it through the machine, push “accept,” and then write her signature on the electronic pad. It’s easy and convenient. Best of all, it can be done in about 15 seconds. Heck, on a good day I can do it in less than ten.

But she didn’t.

Of course, the nice lady had other options. After all, she could have also given the cashier four sawbucks and a fin. She then would have been handed $1.68 in change — probably in the form of a dollar bill, two quarters, a dime, a nickel and three pennies.

That didn’t happen either.

And although it’s rather archaic, the nice lady most certainly could have pulled out a check too.


Instead, the nice lady opened up her over-sized purse and pulled out … a large Ziploc bag full of loose change.

The good news was the bag wasn’t full of obsolete pennies; it was loaded with quarters. The bad news was it still takes 174 quarters to pay a $43.32 bill.

So I got to wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Then I had to wait even longer while the cashier called the manager over to take away the loose change — so he could send it to wherever loose change normally goes when it isn’t being hoarded by the nice lady.

I wanted to tell the nice lady that there was a Coinstar machine in the store that would have quickly converted all of her quarters into a receipt that she could have used to pay for her groceries, but I bit my tongue.

In fact, if she had thought to convert her change into a gift card she could have even avoided the 9.8% fee Coinstar normally charges for its service. That’s right; Coinstar waives the fee if you choose to donate the money to charity or change your coins into an eCertificate or gift card from more than two dozen companies including Lowe’s, Starbucks, Amazon, and even iTunes.

Even so, I think the 9.8% fee is more than reasonable for people looking to convert large amounts of small change into easily spendable bills. For example, last month my daughter Nina paid $1.98 to convert $20.21 worth of pennies, nickels, and dimes into paper currency.

Considering the amount of time it would have taken to count that money up ourselves and then get it converted into a $20 bill at a bank, the $1.98 fee was a real bargain.

Unless you’re the type who enjoys carrying two pounds of quarters on your person, I don’t see how anyone could possibly disagree.

Well, unless you have a boatload of dirty laundry that’s ready for a trip to the laundromat.

Photo Credit: jswieringa


  1. 1

    Sarah says

    One time I was at a McDonalds and the guy in front of me paid in all pennies. At first the manager refused to take it but then she relented after he made a scene. I don’t know what goes through some peoples minds sometimes.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      If I was the manager I’d have told the guy if he had a problem with the store’s no-penny policy, to take it up with Mayor McCheese.

  2. 3

    AniVee says

    Wow! I love your site and usually agree with you 100% – and also find you Super Amusing – but this time I am horrified that you think almost 10% is an acceptable fee for a machine counting your coins. Your daughter, IMHO, was ripped off royally!

    A few minutes of rolling change in front of the TV some evening would have saved her almost two dollars of her hard-earned (I hope) money. My credit union credit card would charge me about that (11.9%) for lending me money *and they would give me a 25-day grace period to pay it!* – although by now you have correctly guessed that I am such a miserable cheapskate that I pay the card monthly statement in full even if I have to sell apples on street corners to do it.

    Seriously, Len, I think the “counting and rolling coin” fee deserves to be right up there in your article about “8 stupid fees consumers hate to pay but often do anyway.” If she had saved $210, would you have thought it was great that she forked over $20 to roll the coins? I’m guessing you would have sat down at the kitchen table with her and helped her roll.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you AniVee for the nice words. :-)

      I understand where you are coming from but, for me, if the opportunity cost of choosing to sort and roll the coins, driving to the bank, waiting in line, driving back home — not to mention the cost of the gasoline to get there is paying a 9.8 percent fee from Coinstar, I’ll pay it.

      Granted, in Nina’s case, her only investment would be the time to roll the coins and possibly accompanying me to the bank and back so it may make less sense being that she is only 11 years old and $1.98 to her is much more valuable to her than it is to me. :-)

      In the end, it’s truly a personal call that depends on how much you value your time.

    • 5

      Hannah says

      Rolling coin is obsolete actually. I work at a bank and we have a coin machine that counts the money for us, similiar to Coinstar.
      If you bring in rolled coin we’ll have to ask you to unroll it all first. We don’t charge a fee to non-customers either.
      Most any bank should be the same – don’t use Coinstar!

  3. 6


    Lucky you! The only part of your story that would bother me is she could have picked a better time where no one would be behind her. Also,she could have counted it out in $10 increments to speed it along. She should be sensitive to others who would have to wait.

    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      Usually it’s the Honeybee who is terrible at picking lines. She always picks the slowest one. Always. So if you know what’s good for you, never ever ever get behind her in line!

    • 8

      valleycat1 says

      Yes, why do people wait until after the entire order is scanned & they see the total before they start getting ready to pay? You can start writing a check or counting out your cash even while waiting in line, or scan your plastic as soon as the cashier starts on your items. Some people seem surprised that they need to get money out of their their purse or find their wallet after everything’s rung up.

      I expected the ‘nice old lady’ to have to (slowly) write a check & be one of those who engages in a long conversation with the cashier. I got behind one of those the other day & literally waited 15 minutes. And once I got behind one who was apparently shopping for all her neighbors too, and had about 5 different groups of items (which the cashier didn’t realize at first) and 5 different envelopes of cash to pay out of – I finally had to go to another line.

      • 9

        Len Penzo says

        That is a big pet peeve of mine too, valleycat. When I used to write checks, I would always have the check filled out except for the total, by the time the checker was done ringing everything up. After all, that’s common courtesy, right?

  4. 10


    I completely disagree that the money spent on the Coinstar machine was well spent. Unless you have some way of making money 24x7x365, you will have downtime where doing this will not ‘cost’ you anything. In fact, by doing this during downtime, your daughter could have ‘made’ $1.98 in the time she otherwise would have made nothing.

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      But what if I don’t want to roll coins during my downtime? Being able to avoid that scenario has real value — at least it does to me! — that can’t be so easily ignored. :-)

    • 12

      Guy says

      You are wrong. If Len wanted to make $4 an hour I am sure he could find much better things to do than roll coins. He values his downtime more than $4 an hour.

      Look, if you are making 7.50 an hour (~15k a year) then yes, you are right, that would be well worth the effort put in. Your time isn’t as valuable as money and so spending 30 minutes doing this would be worth the 2$ savings. But I’d bet that Len COULD find work if he wanted to make more money that paid much better than $4 an hour so why would he do something he doesn’t like for $4 an hour when he could be doing something else he does like for probably much more money?

  5. 13

    Ryan says

    I remember working in the cash room of a concessions stand over a holiday weekend, and we were running out of pennies and quarters with no banks open. The next day, I took a duffel bag full of pennies and quarters that my mom had collected, ran it through our company’s auto roller, and left with a few hundred dollars in my pocket.

      • 15

        TLSF says

        He brought his mother’s duffel bag (presumably from his own home) and created an abundance of change for the concession stand over a holiday weekend – something that they probably needed very much. He came away with cash money in exchange for the coinage. The only possible theft is if he did not give his mother the money. Even then, the theft would not have been from the company for which he worked, it would have been a theft from his mother. Of course, I am sure that Ryan was a good son and brought his mothers money right to her, right Ryan? :-)

  6. 16


    I normally agree with you on most occasion, Len. But this one, I completely disagree. 10% for a simple task is NOT a good deal. As AniVee said you daughter could have easily spent a few minutes rolling that change. Time vs money is something we all have to think about before spending a lot of money to save time or spending a lot of time to save money. But spending a lot of money to save time only make sense for people who use that money to earn more. Yes it is convenient, but 10% is a big chunk to give away.

    • 17

      Len Penzo says

      You’re right, Suba; in Nina’s case, the half-hour it would take her to sort and roll those pennies, nickels and dimes may not be worth $1.98 to her — although I bet she would think it was if I made her ride her bike to the bank! 😉 LOL

      I have to disagree with you about spending a lot of money to save time only makes sense for people who use that money to earn more (money). In my not so humble opinion, that’s only true if you assume your time is essentially worthless. But how can time be worthless when a) it is undeniably valuable to all of us in one way or another; and b) it is a finite resource (we all only have so much time available to us)?

      My free time to do with as I please has real value to me — regardless of whether I use it to try and make more money, or just relax on the patio.

      • 18


        I said that the wrong way. What I meant was, if you need that money (which your kid probably did), it will make sense to spend money only if her time was used otherwise.

        And even for other people, I should have said – spending a lot of money to save time only make sense for people who use that time to “do something valuable to them”. If you have enough money and relax on that patio, great! But a lot of people just rant about how they don’t have enough money when they spent 10% to save them some time and NOT use their time well.

        Again, what is a good use of time will be a whole another argument :)

  7. 19


    Our bank has a free coin counting machine. I would hate to pay 10% to coinstar…
    I would switch line as soon as I see the big bag of coin. Yes, I switched and ended up in a slower line before, but sometime it feels better to move a bit.

    • 20

      Len Penzo says

      Wow, I guess I’m really in the minority on this one, huh? Okay, who’s next in line to tell me how crazy I am to want to pay Coinstar 9.8 percent to sort and count my change for me? LOL

  8. 23

    DC says

    9.8% just to count coins? I’m horrified. If the fee was around 2% — the same cost as traveler’s checks most places — I would consider it. But nearly 10% is too much. I imagine you would be outraged if the bank tried to charge you a 9.8% fee just to deposit your paycheck.

    Our Credit Union gives out those paper coin tubes for free so you can roll your own. I would have my son sort through his coins and stuff rolls, which can then either be deposited or exchanged for bills. Then you are free to spend the money anywhere you want, not just businesses affiliated with Coinstar.

    • 24

      Len Penzo says

      Just to be clear, you can spend the money from Coinstar wherever you want, DC.

      I would be outraged if my bank tried to charge me 10% to deposit my paycheck, but that’s really apples and oranges.

      I pay a gardener $60 per month to keep my lawn up, even though I could do it myself for the cost of some gasoline and trimmer line, but it saves me about 8 hours per month in free time. For me, that precious free time is worth a lot more than $7.50 per hour! :-)

      • 25

        Juliana says

        Please don’t tell me you pay someone to keep up your lawn and then pay for a gym membership as well. It’s like paying twice for the same outcome.

        Also, if a person uses cash to pay for things, then take a few seconds to count out the exact amount (or a little over depending on the coins you have) when paying for something. It’s just laziness to only pay with bills and then complain about having too much change.

        • 26

          Len Penzo says

          “It’s like paying twice for the same outcome.”

          Well … yes; but the factors one must endure to reach that outcome are vastly different.

  9. 27

    DC says

    Addendum. My credit union has a branch on the ground floor of the office tower where I work, so I’m not burning any extra gas to drop by during lunch.

    It would be silly to burn $4 of gas to save a couple of bucks on rolling coins. :)

  10. 28

    trixie says

    I guess i don’t get this. Why not use the change as it accumulates? Then you’re not losing 10% or “burdened” by all this extra cash. Some people have too much money!

    • 29

      Len Penzo says

      Good question, trixie! In a word, I think it boils down to laziness — or maybe disorganization? (Okay, I guess that was actually ten words.) :-)

  11. 32


    I would have been ticked off if the person in front of me decided to pay a bill larger than $5 with change. But I would never give 10% to Coinstar either. My bank also has free coin cointing, but closer to home, my husband actually enjoys rolling change – he thinks it is relaxing…I know, to each their own. As for Nina, $2 for 20-30 minutes of coin rolling may have been a good hourly wage for her, right?

    Why the heck did no one tell the nice lady that she could use the Coinstar to get a grocery store gift card with no fee?! If I was the cashier, that would have been the first words out of my mouth when I saw the bag leave her purse…

    Sorry you were stuck behind that!

    • 33

      Len Penzo says

      You too, Crystal? With so many people refusing to use their service, I’m beginning to wonder how the heck Coinstar stays in business! LOL 😉

      By the time the nice lady had her groceries checked out, it was really too late. I think if the cashier had told the lady to use the Coinstar machine, the wait would have probably been just as long while she walked to the machine (which was probably 100 feet away), had the coins counted, and then walked back.

      • 34

        Charlie says

        I’ll tell you how CoinStar makes money. They get 10% from little 11 year olds counting change that people are too lazy to do. Not trying to be mean, but 10% is a highway robbery. Rolling change is easier than tying shoes! Have a great day.

  12. 35


    Len, it looks like I’m the only one who’s gonna take your side on this one. I completely agree with you on the coinstar thing. Yes, 9.8% is a bit high for something as simple as counting coins. But, my time has value to me. Counting and rolling coins isn’t something I want to do, so I’ll gladly pay a small fee to avoid it. I’d probably take the amazon e-cert and avoid the fee anyways. I should note, however, that if it were something I did regularly, I might look into the cost of one of those little desktop coin counting machines. Might be a good gift for your daughter too!

  13. 37

    DC says

    Actually, the whole Coinstar vs home rolling is a moot point for me. I do what Trixie does — use change as it collects. I see people do things like hand over a $20 bill for a $10.03 total. It happens all the time.

    Not me. I either hand over $20.03 for $10 change, or if I don’t have pennies handy, $20.05 or $20.10. Whatever minimizes the coins returned. No change accumulates as a result.

    I think part of the problem is most people were never taught how to make change, which is a different skill than plain subtraction. Tricks like, if someone hands you the cashier $20.03 for a $10.53 total, to mentally subtract 3 cents from both numbers before counting up from $10.50.

    • 38

      Len Penzo says

      I try to minimize my change to whenever I pay for stuff with cash, DC. Like you said thought, sometimes it really confuses the math-challenged teens who work the counters at fast-food joints. It’s kind of comical on its face, but in reality I find it to be rather sad.

      • 39


        It’s certainly not just the teens who can’t count change that way. I worked at a grocery store for a few years in college and was blown away when my coworkers (of all ages) couldn’t do the math to give someone change without looking and/or waiting for the register to tell them what to do. It’s pitiful, really.

        For the record, I will never pay Coinstar fees to count my change. I use their service occasionally but always convert my change into a fee-free gift card to iTunes, which is a fun way to get “free” music, becuase I wouldn’t have used the coins otherwise.

  14. 41

    Someone says

    When I have loose change, I take it to my credit union which has a free coin machine. I deposit the sum into my account and save, invest, or spend it. That’s what this lady should have done. It is unnecessary to use Coinstar (especially giving up a percentage of the money) when there are free alternatives at banks and credit unions. Keep more of your money.

  15. 44

    Aimee says

    Geez…an (old?) woman in this economy pays with coins…and doesn’t give ~10% of it away as seems to be the overriding concern here…and she deserves your ridicule?…get over yourself…

    • 45

      Len Penzo says

      Heh. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. (Actually, she was a rather young woman. Why would you assume she was old?)

  16. 47

    Allyn says

    Len, I agree with you. I love Coinstar and I am more than happy to pay the 9.8% fee. I do *NOT* want to spend my downtime counting and rolling coins. Here is my I’m-in-love-with-Coinstar story:

    My bank has a free coin-counting service and I took a bucket of mixed coins — mostly pennies — there to have them counted. The bucket was the accumulation of years of emptying pockets at the end of the day. The woman at the bank looked in the bucket and refused to put them in the machine because she said they were dirty. Huh? Dirty? Okay, so I took the bucket of change home and washed all the coins. Yes, I washed them. I dumped the change into a big sieve and sloshed the coins around with some soap. I then dumped them onto a big terry-cloth towel and dried them. I had to wash them in batches because there were so many coins. Once all washed and dried, I took the change back to the bank. Another woman at the bank looked in the bucket and refused to put them in the counting machine because she said some of the coins were corroded. I could not see any coins that were corroded, but she refused and I took the change home. So much for the free coin counting service.

    I bought some coin papers and tried rolling the change myself. It was an exercise in frustration and, looking at the giant bucket of coins to be rolled, it was a bit overwhelming.

    I took the bucket to Coinstar at one of the local grocery stores, and for about half an hour, it sounded like I was at a casino. The coins jingled through the machine as I poured handful after handful of change into the chute. The end result? I had $153.28 after deducting the 9.8% fee. I was more than happy to pay the fee. In my mind, that $150 was found money because it wasn’t doing me any good sitting in the bucket. I would have gladly paid someone $20 to count and roll those coins for me so the Coinstar was a bargain.

    I understand that the 9.8% fee appalls some folks; but honestly, it’s an individual choice. I do not want to spend my downtime rolling coins so the Coinstar fee is something I’m willing to pay so I can spend my downtime doing other things.

      • 49

        Allyn says

        Bully for you. :) I wouldn’t have rolled $300 in pennies and nickels when I could have dumped them in a chute for half an hour and spent my down-time doing something I enjoyed.

        • 50

          JW says

          Well to each his own. I admit I don’t really understand down-time. So many people are bored they pay others to amuse them. Often loaning at interest from credit card companies to do it.

  17. 51

    Guy says

    A few thoughts:
    1) I prefer one line where you go to the next open register than having multiple lines, like at the bank. My local Best Buy does this and even though your average waiting time is exactly the same, it helps shrink the curve at the extremes (no more being able to jump into an empty line or waiting behind Grandma). Much nicer.
    2) Take your change to the self-checkout. Then you just feed the coins into the machine and use it to pay for whatever. No need to have a human count it and no 10% either. Not as easy as just dumping it into the machine but still worthwhile in my opinion.

  18. 52

    Mary says

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but my bank has a coin sorter that costs nothing to use. You get a paper printout and take it to the teller who hands you paper money. Very easy. And as far as I know you do not have to be a customer of the bank…not totally sure on that. But in any case, it’s free.

  19. 53

    Josh says

    I’m lucky. My friendly local bank has a coin sorter. I save it up, dump it in and take the little receipt up to the teller and they give me cash. No fee involved.

  20. 54

    Sassy Mamaw says

    I’m not touching the Coinstar issue! lol I have used it before, but only because I live in a small town and my credit union is 25 mins away. I think arguments can be made for each side of that argument.

    I was just happy to hear that someone else (Honeybee) ALWAYS chooses the wrong line at the grocery. I have actually warned people in line behind me about it! You just learn to allow extra time for it.

  21. 55

    Frugal Pediatrician says

    The only time I have disagreed. My parents used to have a few coin laundry machines in their rental apartments. We learned the value for money by rolling coins during our school breaks. My hourly wage is much more now but I teach my kid frugality and money management and math while we roll up their father’s loose change. Coins tar is running a racket! We roll up our coins a few times a year and take th kids to th bank with us.

  22. 56


    I just ask my bank for some empty coin bags and sort my own coins – it only takes a few minutes and I actually enjoy counting it all out. Some of the banks here have free sorting machines, but it’s crazy to give up nearly 10% of your money just to have a machine count it!


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