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Paying in Coins

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Good luck asking him for a tip.

You go to a store, and buy your things. You check out, and you don't have more than the total. No credit cards either. Instead, you must pay in exact change, but all you got is a really huge number of coins. This is either used as a last resort without going in debt, Just For Fun, protesting the recipient, or as a metaphor of something. The clerk can either try to count all of it, or trusts the customer and accepts the coins.

In reality, we've found methods of exchanging large sums of money without actually presenting large sums of money. For instance, you get a mortgage to buy a house. You get a paycheck every week, not $300 in cash per week. You have cashier's cheques to move large sums of money from one bank account to another. And in the United States and Canada, debit cards and prepaid cards are so common for use by people who don't have credit cards that almost nobody buys travelers checks anymore.


However, if you walk into a car dealership and offer to buy a car on the spot without financing, holding fists full of $100 bills, then this trope comes into effect.

On more expensive things, such as a luxury yacht, a Briefcase Full of Money can be used instead if a Zillion-Dollar Bill isn't available. May be the result of Ridiculous Future Inflation and Ridiculous Exchange Rates. Cheap Gold Coins is a related trope. Truth in Television.



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    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In Zio Paperone e il segreto di Cuordipietra, Flintheart Glomgold abducts Huey, Dewey and Louie, takes them to an artificial island and demands a cubic hectare of money from Scrooge as ransom. Scrooge pays the ransom in coins and it does more than merely annoying Glomgold. The cubic hectare's weight is so much the island sinks with it. Scrooge already has a special submarine to reclaim the coins.

    Comic Strips 
  • Crankshaft once took his bus to a museum and paid for the kids' lunch using two full Swear Jars of pennies.
  • In the German comic strip Oskar, the family uses pennies to pay for their new car. It's The Alleged Car, but still.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • On The Coneheads, Prymaat zaps a vending machine and they use the quarters to pay for a motel room.
  • In Confessions of a Shopaholic, the title character has racked up a sizeable debt and is hounded throughout the film by an Evil Debt Collector. After he embarrasses her on national TV, she finally pays it off - by filling his office with jars of coins.
  • In The Hebrew Hammer, Mordecai finds himself in Duke's, a skinhead bar, while chasing a lead. Amusingly, the racist bartender has a bottle of the Jewish wine Mordecai requests and he repays the bartender's naked loathing with a handful of shekels dropped onto the countertop.
  • In The People vs. Larry Flynt, Flynt paid a $10,000 contempt-of-court fine by having two hookers bring a garbage bag full of one dollar bills into the courtroom.
  • Room For Rent has Joyce resort to this for a few cans of catfood after her credit card was declined, aptly showing just how bad her financial situation has gotten.

  • A man drinks a beer in a bar, is unhappy about the service and pays the 2.50 in pennies. The barkeeper can't do anything about it, since the amount isn't big enough, but secretly swears revenge. Months or years later, the man returns, has forgotten about everything, and orders a beer. This time, he pays with a 5$ (or €) note. The barkeeper uses the opportunity to give him the change in pennies. The man remembers now, but just shrugs: "I think I'll have another beer, then."

  • In The Belgariad, This was one of Silk's scams against toll collectors. He pays a bribe with Mallorean half-pennies, lampshading this with the fact that they are currency, just a pitifully small amount. This was also a callback to an earlier scam, where he just used gravel instead of the gold pebbles and dust the miners were expecting.
  • In the Spider Robinson novel The Callahan Touch, the third of three wishes granted by a magical clurichaun is that he legitimately pay for the enormous amount of alcohol he consumed. So he pays in gold coins- LOTS of gold coins, as he had nearly cleaned out every last drop in the bar.
  • In Interesting Times, one of the Lemony Narrator's comments about Six Beneficial Winds's low-grade unpleasantness is that he keeps change in a small purse, and counts it very carefully when buying things, especially if there's a queue.
  • In The Keys of the Kingdom, one of the complaints against the poor Catholic priest being investigated by the bishop is that he pays for candles for the church in pennies. He muses, "That's how it comes to me."
  • In the Mercedes Lackey novel Tiger Burning Bright, a horse trader responds to the outrageously high hike in the business license fee by the city's new ruler by paying it in large sacks of the smallest denomination of coin he could find - sacks which had carefully weakened seams, causing them to rip open while the debt collectors were taking them away.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Gilmore Girls: Rory was short on cash at one point and paid for a coffee in change. A minor example, since the total was only around $2.50, but still in the spirit of the trope.
  • In Happy Endings, Max has to pay rent in pennies, pouring them out of a jug into the landlord's desk, because he had no job. At the end of the episode, he offers to pay for dinner after winning a lot of money, but pours out pennies from the same jug, because "pennies are the only currency I trust."
  • Invoked on iCarly. Carly, Sam and Freddie agree to promote a new sneaker on their show, and got paid $8000 a week. They were to be cut a check, but Sam then insisted on cash. Cue a bunch of ad executives digging in their pockets for $8000 in bills. When they got bought out of the contract for $30,000, Carly then insists on being paid in cash.
  • In one of Jinnai Tomonori's comedy skits, he gets fed up with his bank's crazy and uncooperative ATM, so he decides to just withdraw all his money and close his account. The ATM obliges by dispensing his 1 million yen in coins.
  • In an old episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted owes Murray a few dollars, and keeps putting him off by asking if Murray has change for a $500 bill. At the end of the show, Murray indicates he does this nickels. The bags come out from under the desk...
  • An episode of Seinfeld had Kramer collecting change to use the apartment's dryer so his clothes would be warm when he got dressed. Then, after deciding to use Jerry's oven instead, tries to pay for George's calzones with loose change, pissing off the store owner. The episode's stinger has him paying a debt by tossing a pillowcase of coins at someone, knocking them over.
  • In The Thin Blue Line, Fowler and Goody are in an slow queue at the bank, headed by a customer paying in coins, very slowly. When Fowler suddenly shouts, the customer knocks over his pile of coins, and has to start again.
  • The Young Ones: Used as a combination Brick Joke and Funny Background Event in "Summer Holiday". When Neil is giving his long moan about banks, one of the things he says is "And anyway, whichever queue we're in, the guy in front of us is bound to be from the penny arcade across the road, cashing up the whole year with millions of pennies". Later, during the actual bank robbery, the customers hit the floor and one of the people in the queue is shown to have a wheelbarrow full of coins.

  • Ska band The W's, in their song "Stupid", referenced the Urban Legend of the man arrested for stealing from vending machines, who managed to further incriminate himself when he posted bail:
    Well he swore that he was innocent
    so he paid off his bail and home he went.
    But soon back to jail our hero was sent
    because he paid off his bail with quarters and dimes.
  • The little boy in "The Christmas Shoes" is paying for the title shoes in pennies, counting them "for what seemed like years", adding to the massive amount of pathos inherent in the song's narrative.

  • In The Goon Show episode "The Canal", Bluebottle (as the accredited agent of Lloyds of London) arrives to pay out insurance of £40,000 — in pennies, counted one by one. He gets as far as 4,000,832 pennies (roughly £16,670) before Eccles drops the hat he's counting them out into, and has to start again.
  • A Running Gag in The Now Show is the little old lady who has to very carefully count out the exact change in pennies and tuppences when in front of you at the supermarket or post office.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In 1st Edition, a gold piece is worth 200 copper pieces. Many monster treasures have thousands of almost worthless copper pieces. Since moneychangers often charge a significant fee (e.g. 10%) for changing copper pieces into higher denomination coins, a PC might decide to pay for a purchase with bags full of coppers, providing they have the means to carry so much weight around.
    • A module for Edition 3.5 has an example where doing this is to your advantage. You run across some barbarian halflings who use a barter system — which means 1 gold piece (weighing about 1 third of an ounce, or 7.5 grams) is not much use to to them. However, the equivalent in copper pieces (100cp = 1 gp in this edition) means 2 pounds of metal they can melt down and use.
    • One The Order of the Stick strip in Dragon has Haley claim that copper pieces are almost entirely useless (mostly to trick Belkar into leaving them for her to stuff in a Bag of Holding). An Imagine Spot shows an adventurer with a huge heap of copper pouring off a table and pooling around his feet, attempting to buy a single potion from a very unimpressed shopkeeper.
    • While adventurers work primarily with finances involving gold, platinum and magic items, commoners count their income in coppers and maybe silvers and can be very grateful for your generosity. If you're planning to stay in the region for some time, unloading those sacks of "worthless" copper at a local farm can easily earn you lifelong friends, free room and board, somewhere safe to stash important things, and maybe even a hideaway from the law. All for a heavy sack of junk that could barely buy you a potion.
  • In the Shadowrun universe, the Great Dragon Lofwyr buys the majority of heavy industrial corporation Saeder-Krupp stocks with gold from his hoard, although it isn't specified if it's tons of gold coins or in another form.

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, the main currency is the Septim, a simple Gold Coin with the profile of Tiber Septim on one side (hence the name) and the Imperial Dragon on the other (which leads to their informal name of "drakes"). As no higher integer of currency exists, making large purchases (such as high-level equipment or player houses) essentially entails dumping thousands of gold coins on the lap of the seller. Thankfully, Septims are weightless, which leads to players carrying around thousands or even millions of them (thanks to the series plentiful Money for Nothing).
  • The player can invoke this trope in Odin Sphere. You have to manually select the coins you want to pay with when buying things. The coins vary from the cheap Ragnanival Silver (worth 1G) to the rare and valuable Commemorative Coin (worth 20G). It's not only possible but recommended to buy expensive things and pay them with a truckload of Ragnan Silver, for several reasons: one, stacks of coins take up valuable inventory space, so getting rid of small change is crucial until larger backpacks become available. And two, the Pooka restaurant and cafe only accept the Valentinian coins, in specific denominations for specific recipes, requiring the player to save those coins for the restaurants rather than spend them at other stores. (In the remaster the currency system has been streamlined so that coins no longer take up inventory space and Valentinian coins are only accepted at the Pooka restaurants, so the trope ceases to apply.)

    Web Original 
  • Entry #7 in Cracked's photoplasty contest "20 Tiny Changes That Would Ruin Famous Technologies" features a cash machine from which money is withdrawn as a bucketful of pennies.
  • Darwin Awards has this unconfirmed account:
    (1996, Rhode Island) Portsmouth police charged Gregory Rosa, 25, with a string of vending machine robberies in January. He was captured when he inexplicably fled from police when they spotted him loitering around a vending machine. Suspicions were confirmed when he later tried to post $400 bail in coins.
  • This customer on Not Always Right has way too many coins in his fanny pack. "THEY'RE BREEDING!"
  • A satire site claimed that Samsung paid off its $1.05 billion fine to Apple by sending them dumptrucks full of nickels. Snopes covers it here.

    Web Videos 
  • A joke about this features in this Cracked TV episode.
  • When Strong Bad stumbles upon the Compe in a catalog, he immediately pulls out his bag of 80,000 pennies to pay for it (it crushes his mailbox).
  • Super Playify: Convictor complains about (in-game) being paid in one-dollar bills.
  • In the SuperMarioLogan episode, "Evil Chef Pee Pee!", when Bowser Junior accidentally kills Chef Pee Pee by dropping a frozen water balloon on his head, Craig the Devil comes to collect his soul. Junior makes a deal with Craig to bring him back to life, and Craig makes Junior buy a Hershey's candy bar with pennies.
  • This YouTube channel has videos of services being paid in pennies.

    Western Animation 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force:
    • In "Super Computer", Carl tried to pay for a hooker's services with a giant jar of pennies, and is offended she wouldn't accept it. He gets knocked out a moment later by the Phlebotinum of the episode. The hooker leaves, dragging the jar of pennies with her.
    • In the penultimate episode, Carl gives Shake $20 in Susan B. Anthony coins to pay a hooker with, because he loves the irony of paying for a sex act with a feminist icon.
  • A Christmas Episode of Arthur had the title character paying for his mom's present out of a coin jar. The cashier fell asleep waiting for him to count it all out.
  • Dexter's Laboratory:
  • Done in an episode of Family Guy where Stewie is held up in line in a supermarket due to Bruce, after done quibbling over having one item over the 10 Items Or Less limit, asks to pay for it all in pennies.
  • Gravity Falls: In "The Stanchurian Candidate", when Stan is at the grocery shop, Robbie expects him to pay in pennies because he's old.
  • In an episode of Johnny Bravo, a demon tries to get Johnny do some evil deeds, including going into an 10 items or less line at a grocery store with 11 items and then paying in Canadian pennies. This plan backfires though as one of the pennies is a rare coin that the cashier has been trying to find her whole life.
  • A Looney Tunes cartoon called "Wild Wife" details all of the annoyances a typical 1950s housewife has to go through in her day. One of them was going to the bank and having an old woman deposit a large amount of money in pennies. The housewife switches to another line when it clears up, only to be cut off by another old lady doing the same thing.
  • In the The Powerpuff Girls episode, "Moral Decay", Bubbles recieves a Sacagawea dollar from the Tooth Fairy after Buttercup accidentally knocks one of her teeth out. Buttercup then proceeds to knock the teeth out of numerous villains and starts hoarding the money she recieves, eventually going too far and continuing to punch the teeth out of the villains when they're minding their own business. When the villains knock Buttercup's teeth out as retribution, the Professor uses Buttercup's bag of Sacagawea dollars to pay off her dental bills.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer once tried to pay a $900 gas bill by sending a water-cooler bottle full of pennies in the mail. When he puts it down next to the mailbox, it falls into the earth.
      Hello? China? A little help?
    • Offscreen, in "Bart the Lover", the family pays for a doghouse from the change inside a Swear Jar.
    • Bart pays for his fat camp in "The Heartbroken Kid" with two bags of change robbed from the vending machines he got fat eating from.
    • When Homer starts getting fed up with Marge's nervous penny-pinching in "Mobile Homer", he takes her savings jar and uses it for the down payment of a motor home.
  • In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Sponge-Cano", a customer try to pay for his Krabby Patty with pennies. Squidward doesn't let him. (He was in a real bad mood)
    • In another episode, "Cent of Money", Mr. Krabs' hospital bill was paid entirely in the coins he stole throughout the episode. A case of Laser-Guided Karma, as those coins caused him to go to the hospital in the first place.
  • Wander over Yonder. In the episode "The Nice Guy," Wander is in a convenience store, buying a drink for Sylvia, and tries to pay for it with hundreds of pennies that he kept in his shoes.

    Real Life 
  • Some places only accept coins, like arcades and laundromats. Usually, if they want you to do this trope, it's in quarters. They should have a change machine too.
    • Coinstar will accept this trope. It turns your coins into bills, so you can avoid this trope. Of course, it does this at a rather hefty fee...
      • Unless you accept the amount placed on one of a variety of gift cards.
      • Some banks have machines like this which also turn coins into bills but for free if you have an account there.
      • There are also machines that combine coins into rolls so that they're easier to carry and you don't have to manually count them out - a roll of 50 pennies is still worth 50 cents, but it's a lot easier to work with than the same amount in loose change.
      • As of late, there has been increasing aversion in both arcades and laundromats: Both types of sites have since introduced special plastic cards that you can preload with money at a machine (or in person in some cases), either as cash or from a debit or credit card, which is then used at the location. Devices to read these cards have been made to retrofit onto existing older machines, which has become the norm for some of the more technologically advanced places, like Tokyo and Orange County. Some can even read debit and credit cards directly and will deduct the price of a load or game once started (though some, such as the PayRange system, were designed with vending machines in mind but can be fitted onto arcade games, washers, and dryers).

        Currently played straight with pinball, however—some machines have these devices installed onto them, but unlike arcade video games and redemption machines, they are the minority, and currently, only one pinball game has been released (Full Throttle) with the option to have card readers pre-installed. as a result, pinball is one of the hobbies in which "BYOQ"—Bring Your Own Quarters—is still given out as a heads-up in regards to locations without change machines.
    • Many modern chain arcades, such as Round 1, Dave & Buster's, and Timezone will use cards that you store your credits on, so that you don't have to fish around for coins in your pocket. In Japan, arcades may accept BitCash.
  • Averted in real life for the most part. Most countries have laws that allow retailers to reject payments if they involve too large a volume of small denominations. Should someone do this, it is illegal. For example, up until they were removed from circulation in 2013, Canada only required a payee to accept up to 50 cents in pennies (all purchases since 2013 are rounded to the nearest multiple of 5 cents).
  • Averted in general in the United States. There is no law says it is illegal to use small denominations in large quantities, but neither is there is a federal law that requires merchants to accept any and all denominations (some states do, though). This means people, businesses, and organizations (including government entities) can refuse payment in a legal transaction using legal tender as a matter of policy (toll booths not accepting pennies, convenience stores not accepting bills larger than $20, etc). This also means, for example, it is legal for someone to only accept gold or even Beanie Babies as payment if you want to buy something from him - you cannot make him accept your pennies or $20 bills.
    • Paul Brant of Indiana paid for a new truck with jars of change accumulated over the course of his life; the dealer couldn't be compelled to accept the coins, but chose to do so, on the grounds that the publicity would be worth the inconvenience.
  • On the other hand, this trope can be played straight (at least in the US) for a debt that has already been incurred (this is the significance of the Legal Tender status of currency—as quoted on all bills: "This bill is Legal Tender for all debts, public and private."). If you already owe someone money and he doesn't accept your legal tender, he risks having the whole debt cancelled. For example, restaurants that don't collect payment until after you finish your meal cannot refuse your offer to pay cash and insist you pay in, say, gold - if they did, you could bring them to court and the judge would have the debt dismissed because your valid payment offer was refused. This is why you hear stories of disgruntled taxpayers paying their bills in coins - it is a perfectly valid form of payment to a debt-holder (in this case, the IRS) because the debt existed a priori.
    • There is a case of a man in Utah who paid a disputed $25 bill with a clinic entirely in pennies. He was cited by the police for disorderly conduct, but only because he intentionally spilled them all over the counter and on the floor, scaring the crap out of everyone - the actual payment of the bill in pennies was perfectly legal.
      • There's a story on FMyLife about a man who tried something similar with a $35 parking ticket, trying to pay it with a bucket of pennies. They tried to fine him $147 for this stunt, but according to the Follow Up, the court ruled mostly in his favor—he was using legal US tender so they couldn't refuse it and the additional fine was dropped, but he had to either count them all himself or have them rolled by the bank in order to pay the parking ticket this way. He chose to have them rolled.
    • There was another case in which a man paid a $137 traffic ticket with 137 origami pigs - for bonus points, he delivered them in a donut case, though he had to unfold the origami before the clerk would accept them.
    • This works in reverse as well: if a good cashier is being put upon by an absolutely terrible customer, the cashier can take vengeance by administering what's known in the United States as "the penny treatment", which is giving the customer his exact change — entirely in the lowest possible money denomination, typically counted out individually. The change legally counts as debt owed by the store to the customer, so the store via the cashier is legally allowed to settle the debt this way. However, unless the customer was being excessively abrasive (at which point a store could simply refuse to close the sale and eject the customer, meaning no money changes hands), it's considered bad form to do so since the customer could refuse to return and start up a social media storm about the incident.
  • This is inverted in Mexico: Almost all business other than banks or financial institutions refuses to accept high-denomination bills like 500 or 1000 pesos bills (the highest denomination bills available for public use in Mexico) for paying, since it's too difficult to give change when using such kind of bill, especially for small business. This also caused the 1000 pesos bill to be almost worthless outside banking, especially if you don't have a credit or debit card.
    • This trope is also played straight in Mexico regarding paying many services and products: All service bills (Electricity, water, phone, internet, etc), taxes, phone cards and pre-paid cards must be paid with cash.
  • Supposedly, there have been people who paid their taxes in pennies.
    • A French example from 2012, a man protested against a tax rise by paying his taxes with 50kg of 1, 2 and 5 cent coins. He was apparently helped gather the coins by the other inhabitants of his town, "amused" by the prospect.
  • King Ludwig II of Bavaria was a big fan of Richard Wagner. His subjects, even the ministers, didn't share his love. When the king ordered that Wagner should receive a great sum of money for support, the responsible man paid him in silver coins. Several sacks of them. Wagner was enraged and demanded that the whole cabinet would step down.
  • In Germany, there's the custom that a bride will pay for her shoes in pennies. note  The problem with this: When this custom developed, this would amount to some hundred pennies. Nowadays, with the inflation, ten thousands aren't impossible.
  • British regional councils got so fed up with people making points, or paying disputed bills or local tax money under protest, by bringing a wheelbarrow full of small coin to the tax office, that they are now exerting their common-law right to refuse the method of payment. If the citizen then retorts that he has offered payment and it's not his fault, the council refused to accept it, test cases have been brought to court and established that the citizen is still guilty of non-payment or late payment, and fines have been imposed.
    • The legal tender law in the UK (as of 2013) states that the following payment for a debt that has already been incurred must be accepted:
      English banknotes - £50, £20, £10, and £5 - in any quantity. Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes are not legal tender, but may be accepted at the creditor's discretion. note 
      Coins valued at £5, £2, and £1 in any quantity.note 
      50p and 20p coins up to £10-worth of each.
      10p and 5p coins up to £5-worth of each.
      2p and 1p coins up to 20p-worth of each.
      Bullion coins may also be legal tender, but will be accepted at their face value, not on the actual value of their precious metal content.
    • The fact that the debt must have already been incurred is important. Attempting to pay for a £1.50 bus journey in 5p coins or with a £50 note can see either refused. note 
  • America's Dumbest Criminals relates a story in which the girlfriend of an accused vending machine thief comes to the station to pay his bail... entirely in quarters.
  • Before 2010 (with the introduction of the 50,000 Won bill): The South Korean Won is at approximately 1,000 Won = $1 US. Unfortunately, the largest size bill available to the general public is 10,000 Won, which with the varying exchange rates tends to be about an $8~$11 bill at most. Now Korean landlords, instead of monthly rents, prefer rentors to give them a large interest-free loan up front, in cash...So every year to two years, a number of Americans are seen with large brown paper bags full of 10,000 Won bills.
  • When Rupert Murdoch bought John D. Rockefeller's mansion for 44 million USD in 2005, he paid in cash, thereby cementing his status as the closest thng to a James Bond villain we'll ever get in real life.
  • James Herriot recalls that on his first date when he was fourteen, he had to do this at the cinema because he'd done the reversed trope on the tram; he'd paid with an excessively large denomination and the bus driver got revenge by giving him his change entirely in halfpennies.
  • Up to this very moment, most bus systems in Japan only ever accept the coins or the city specific prepaid cards, with the readers clearly bolted-on the coin box in the older buses. They also always have the change machines nearby, so that the people could get exact change to put it there.
  • Ditto for Russia, only with the card readers and change machines making the appearance only in the largest and most affluent cities. Elsewhere its just the driver and his coinbox nearby. Most bus drivers in Russia can give you the exact change so fast it's frightening… especially when they're actually driving.
  • When a country takes certain denominations out of circulation, there can be a rush for people to get rid of their small change before it's too late. To avoid wasting too much time, stores will sometimes refuse small change payments above a certain amount.
  • One father in Virginia decided to be a total Jerkass and rent a trailer to dump 80,000 pennies on his ex-wife's lawn for his daughter's final child-support payment. Mother and daughter shoveled them up, toted them to the bank, and donated the deposit to a charity supporting domestic-abuse victims.


Video Example(s):


Arthur - Buying a Glass Bird

In "Arthur's Perfect Christmas," Arthur Read buys a glass bird as a present for his mother and takes a long time counting out coins to pay for it. So long, in fact, that the cashier falls asleep. Good thing he at least remembers to thank her and wish her a happy holidays.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / PayingInCoins

Media sources:

Main / PayingInCoins