The Diary of a Budgeter – Day 3

Bobbi Olson Articles, The Diary of a Budgeter

The virtual change jar

As I laid out the plan to reach my goals for 2021 yesterday, I mentioned the virtual change jar and it really got me thinking about spare change and how it gets used.

When I was a kid, I lived near a grocery store, which had a row of pay phones. I visited often, to check the coin return for each one, and some days, it was a gold mine! Vending machines and arcade games were also great places to find abandoned coins.

My grandma was inspiring in her quest for spare change. She went for walks early in the morning and there was a Dairy Queen near her home, which didn’t open until later in the day. The drive-thru of that Dairy Queen was a daily stop on her walk – I don’t think she ever came home empty handed!

But these days, our society uses so little cash, it’s way harder to find any left behind – although Scott’s daily walks around the neighborhood garner a few cents every once in a while! We don’t use cash much either. We still have a change jar, but it doesn’t fill up nearly as fast as it used to. We used to turn it in every year and use it for extra Christmas money. In 2019, we got a couple hundred bucks out of it. This past December, we didn’t even bother to take it in. We may have $20 in there – if we’re lucky!

But even though it’s mostly electronic now, I still enjoy watching spare change grow into dollars, so I love my virtual change jar!

We have a weekly grocery budget, so once our trip to the store is complete, we know if there’s any money left. If there is, it goes into the virtual change jar. Same with all our other bills & expenses. I’m not a big bargain shopper, so I don’t usually feel like I saved money by buying things on sale, but on the rare occasion it does happen, I throw the difference into my virtual change jar.

I used to pillage it a lot, for an extra dinner out, etc. Not anymore! First of all, I learned the hard way that, despite my best efforts, sometimes the budgeted amount for bills & expenses is not enough. If I would have kept my hands off that left over couple of bucks from one expense, it would have covered the amount we were overbudget on the other. Kind of like the old “give a penny, take a penny” idea. Second, the virtual change jar is a powerful way to speed up my financial goals. At the end of the month, the “jar” gets “emptied” into whatever savings category we’re focused on.

I’m seeing a lot of apps pop up that offer to help find and save spare change. Some will round up your purchases and throw the difference into your savings account – others will decide when you don’t need a few bucks and transfer it to your savings – I’m still trying to figure out how that works!

Most of these apps charge for the service – and, for me, it’s not worth paying someone else for what I can easily do myself. Thanks to my budget, I have a firm grasp on how much “extra” money can be moved out of my account. I have a specific time of month I want it done, not whenever the app feels like doing it. And I don’t want to use my virtual change to pay someone else to fill my virtual change jar!

I can imagine it might be good for people who are not yet following a budget – at least they’re saving a little, without even realizing it. But if you’re not paying attention to your money, you’re far more likely to be overdrawn in your bank account, or not have enough to pay a bill, so you’re going to pull that money out of the savings account to cover for it. That defeats the purpose of paying for an app to help you save money.

I would highly encourage anyone who is thinking of using one of these apps to carefully read the fine print and understand the fees, before deciding to use them. I believe there are benefits to pretty much every product or service on the market – but that doesn’t mean they will all benefit me. I have to evaluate them for myself, given my own situation. We’re all different. We focus on different things and have different priorities. Is this app right for you? Only you can decide.