Mary Hunt

I am not one to spend coins. I prefer to save them. In fact, I go out of my way to make sure I get plenty of change.

But I hate to carry loose change, so my husband and I routinely dump the day’s accumulation into a container to save for a trip or to buy something special. One year we saved $1,100 in coins. But I have to admit the logistics can be a royal pain.

Banks and credit unions have strict rules about loose coins. Some require them to be rolled, wrapped and labeled before deposit. Others won’t accept wrapped coins. Either way, most charge a fee these days.

I don’t know what happened to me last weekend. I guess I was suffering from a severe case of TMC (too many coins). In a fit of frustration, I dumped the jars into a big bag and drove to the supermarket. I knew it would cost me 11.9 percent, but at the time it seemed reasonable.

After a few minutes of shoveling coins into the Coinstar kiosk, out popped a voucher for $380.22. My heart sunk once I realized that I’d walked in with $431.57. The big green machine clobbered me with a $51.35 fee!

Karl Hartkopf, whose website is devoted to coin rolling techniques (, advocates cheap or free counting machines. But, he points out, it is not always possible. So, if you can’t find a bank or credit union to count your coins for free, should you pay the fee or should you wrap your own coins? Well, that all depends.

Breaking this down into hourly rates (see note below), Hartkopf says I paid Coinstar an hourly rate of $26.70 to count my quarters (89 cents per $10 roll) because he says it takes less than two minutes for the average person to wrap a $10 roll of quarters. Pennies are another story. It takes the same amount of time to roll pennies, but Coinstar charges less than 5 cents per roll or $1.36 per hour to count them. Nickels work out to $5.34 an hour, dimes $13.35.

Most of us probably value our time at much more than $1.36 an hour. However, many workers do not even get paid as much as the hourly rate Coinstar charges to count quarters. Who wouldn’t gladly earn a few extra dollars by rolling their own?

At first I scoffed at Harkopf’s suggestion of two minutes per roll. No way, and I do consider myself average. It takes me forever to roll and wrap coins. But then I read his method (look for the “Counting-Rolling-Wrapping Your Coins” section on his website). I tried it and wow, it is slick. With very little practice, I’m under two minutes per roll already.

Here’s the key: Work on a made bed. Hard surfaces make coin rolling nearly impossible. Hint: Spread an old sheet over that made bed first because money is very dirty. Then follow his detailed steps.

Look on Hartkopf’s site for an extensive list of cheap or free coin-counting machines in all 50 states, too. He’s adding new ones all the time.

I’m still kicking myself over that $51.35 fee. At the very least, I should have rolled the quarters and dimes myself and dumped only the pennies, and maybe the nickels, into the big green machine. Or opted for having the entire amount of $431.57 in an e-gift card, as that option has no fees!

Note: Hartkopf’s hourly rates are based on Coinstar’s old fee structure of 8.9 percent and have not been adjusted upward for the increase to 11.9 percent, which makes the effective hourly rate of rolling your own even higher.

Readers ask

Dear Mary: Last summer, I got a $3,000 bonus that my brother helped me invest in a couple of mutual finds. When my quarterly statements come in the mail, I’m totally confused by the pie charts and graphs and tend to toss them out.

My brother says it’s really important to track my investments. Is there an easier way to do this?

— Erin

Dear Erin: The idea behind a mutual fund is simple: Lots of small investors pool their money and hire a professional to invest and manage the fund. Reports can be confusing because you’re seeing details of everything your fund owns.

The one number you need to keep your eye on is the net asset value, or the NAV — the value of the fund’s assets on a specific date, minus liabilities and divided by the number of shares held by fund members. Compare the NAV each quarter with previous statements to see how the fund is doing.

In the meantime, start following investing-related websites like Kiplinger and MarketWatch.

Dear Mary: I did a very stupid thing. I got a robocall from the bank that issued one of my two credit cards. It said I was late on the payment (I was. Don’t ask — earlier stupid thing), and asked if I would authorize a payment from my checking account.

I blithely rattled off my checking account number, the bank routing number, a check number and the amount I authorized.

After I hung up, it hit me: An anonymous robot had called me, and I shared all the information someone would need to clean out my checking account. Before I closed my account or stopped payment on any and all drafts, I called the bank. Fortunately, the call was legitimate, and the payment was being processed. But I will NEVER be that careless again! Please warn your readers.

— Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: You just did. Thanks!

Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living. Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Load comments