Walking Around Money

Justin Sharon

ON NEW YEAR’S DAY 2022, to shed some holiday weight and make the most of one of the world’s great strolling cities, I resolved to walk several miles each day around the streets of New York.

I’ve always had a happy knack for finding money as I wander. Ideally, I’d love to have been blessed with a more glamorous superpower. But alas, my lot in life seems to be a preternatural ability to locate lost coins at a hundred paces—the result of a thrifty Scots heritage, perhaps.

Previously, I simply pocketed street finds and sent them swiftly back into the circular economy. This time, however, I decided to put any such money in a jar, tally up the total on Dec. 31 and invest the proceeds in the stock market. Losing pounds while finding dollars struck me as a winning combination.

Ultimately, my daily constitutionals around the streets of Gotham in 2022 yielded $154.73. I also collected assorted odds and ends of jewelry that, while not exactly Art Deco Cartier, certainly has some melt value given gold’s surging start to 2023. A life-changing haul? Hardly. But for literally free money, my $154.73 is nothing to sneeze at.

These coins—and they were all coins, bar one solitary crumpled dollar bill—spanned 111 years. They ranged from a sparkling new 2022 Maya Angelou quarter to a wheat penny from, astonishingly, 1911. That was twelve months before the Titanic sank and the year when a pair of capitalist icons—Ronald Reagan and IBM (symbol: IBM)—each entered the world. More on the latter in a moment.

The antique cent was part of a mysterious hoard housed in a heavy copper pot and tossed in the trash. My best guess is it came from a newly shuttered pizza parlor nearby. It contained an eclectic mix of older and more recent low denomination U.S. coins, discontinued foreign currency and some stray New York City subway tokens from yesteryear.

I found that stash in broad daylight on a major Manhattan thoroughfare, so I undoubtedly wasn’t the first to see it. Maybe my fellow New Yorkers, being a famously blasé bunch, opted to eschew the time-consuming payoff. Others perhaps missed it by virtue of being buried in their cellphones. Still more may have decided that lifting it was not worth the potential hernia, such was its weight.

Anyway, here are my two cents’ worth from a year of profitable sidewalk pickups:

  • The areas around coffee carts, food trucks and fruit vendors are all reliable cash cows.
  • Bus stops and parking meters remain surprisingly productive spots, even in our tap-and-swipe electronic era.
  • Many of the mother lodes of yore have been lost to Father Time. Good luck these days finding any money adjacent to shoeshiners, payphones or newspaper vending machines.
  • New York is an ever-evolving metropolis, always reinventing itself. Dining sheds, that pandemic-era interloper, are often littered with coins. The entrances to cannabis dispensaries—increasingly ubiquitous—offer ample promise of lost money, since their clientele’s hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills are frequently somewhat compromised.

After concluding that a Coinstar machine’s approximately 11% commission was too rich for my blood, I chose the more laborious but free alternative of manually counting the cash, rolling up the coins and depositing the winnings at my local Chase bank branch. Above the teller was a sign saying, “Please understand that coin orders may be limited or unavailable due to the government shortage.” Redeeming my found money thus came with the added bonus of helping to juice the money supply.

Next up: What stock to buy? For a giggle, I initially toyed with the idea of purchasing either Amazon (AMZN) or Google parent Alphabet (GOOG). Remarkably—given that they began 2022 trading at about $3,400 and $2,890, respectively—I could easily afford either. This, thanks to a pair of 20-for-one stock splits and annual price plunges of 51% and 39%.

Neither pays a dividend, though, and I wanted a relatively high-yielding stock from the iconic Dow Jones Industrial Average. Based on year-end levels, among other permutations, I could afford to buy as many as five shares of Intel (INTC), four of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) or three of Verizon (VZ). Since single stocks were all the rage in 2022, however, I opted for a solitary share at a higher price point.

After seriously considering New York’s own JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as a way of giving back—its employees were so wonderfully patient counting my coins, after all—I went with another Empire State outfit, IBM. The quintessential blue chip stock, “Big Blue” ended last year comfortably in the green—no mean achievement in an annus horribilis for the overall stock market.

A “dividend aristocrat” that has increased its payout for 27 straight years, IBM’s roughly 4.5% yield is more than double that of the S&P 500. Since I’m 53—at my absolute financial zenith, allegedly—and several studies have linked daily walks with longevity, I could conceivably be making money on my found money for more than three decades. Add the $60 that HumbleDollar is paying for this article, and those humble coins really are the gift that keeps on giving.

That this publication compensates its authors solely via PayPal or Venmo does, admittedly, hint at the law of diminishing returns for street finds in an increasingly cashless society. Still, the priceless lessons I’ve already learned en route—the virtues of delayed gratification, the time value of money and the miracle of compound interest—will last a lifetime.

Justin Sharon is a freelance writer. After working at Merrill Lynch for many years, he shifted his career focus to financial journalism. Among other subjects, he also authors a monthly column devoted to British soccer.

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