Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Picking My Own Pockets: Small Changes

Like pennies from heaven, a trail of coins runs through my home. There are dimes in the desk drawer, nickels near the computer and quarters under the sofa. One day, I collected more than $15 in ''pocket money'' from the corners of my home.

That small change could add up to large savings, especially if the money is invested in the stock market or stashed away in a simple savings account. There's a lot of power in pennies.

My own parents amassed a large pile of loose change for my oldest son. Last year, in honor of his bar mitzvah, my folks filled a large coin bank for my son. He was surprised that the contents -- nickels, quarters and dimes -- held more than $250.

Those funds have additional earnings power when prudently invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds or passbook accounts.

For example, in 1978, if I had invested $150 of my baby-sitting money in Federal Express (or another blue chip stock), that investment would be worth $17,732.14 today. That's a return of nearly 12,000 percent.

Even small amounts of capital can be invested in financial markets. For instance, through dividend reinvestment plans -- known as DRIPs -- you can invest as little as $10 in individual stocks. In a DRIP plan, your dividends are automatically channeled back into additional purchases of stock. Your funds painlessly accumulate below the radar of frivolous spending.

Different publicly traded companies have a variety of options, including plans without fees.

But if you think the stock market is just another form of legalized gambling, then consider a bank or a credit union. If $250 is invested in a bank account today it would be worth an additional $26 to $178 in 10 years based on current rates, according to Mark Holmes of Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union, South Florida's largest credit union.

But the difference is especially dramatic if $250 in loose change is applied to your loan balances, Holmes says. An extra payment of $250 on a $2,500 credit card balance would save about $300, excluding the original $250 in small coins. If your spare change were applied to the $200,000 principal of a 30-year mortgage, you would save about $1,449 in interest over the life of the loan.

Fortunately, loose change -- like humidity in July -- is everywhere.

Almost everyone has a strategy for collecting pocket change. I've heard of shoppers who constantly break larger bills and hide the change in a savings account. A federal credit union in Texas urges its customers to ``empty your pockets each day and put the spare change in your home buying account.''

Other financial mavens recommend the pay-yourself luxury tax, which works like this: Make your own gourmet coffee, do your own nails or wash your own car.

Save the money that you would have spent in a jar to use for emergencies or deposit in a savings account.

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