His name is Jim Holton, but his friends and family have taken to calling him “the coin master,” after he exchanged more than $5,000 in change in an endeavor to address the national coin shortage brought on by the coronavirus.
“I was saving my change after I’d get coffee or run errands,” Holton, a Wisconsin-based painting contractor, told NBC News. “I was hoping to save so my wife and I could do something fun after our kids graduated from high school.”
Holton, a father of four children, began saving when his eldest son, Cameron, was born. Holton had been given a Green Bay Packers piggybank to commemorate Cameron’s birth, but it didn’t take long until he filled the container and needed to scope out more.
Holton said that over the course of two decades he’d fill “any container” he could find with change, including ice cream containers, buckets and other tins. Still, he was surprised to learn that he’d accumulated $5,366.05.
“I just thought when the kids graduated, we could do something fun like go to Europe or something else that we never dreamed of doing,” Holton said. “I thought it would maybe be $1,000 or $1,500 tops.”
Holton kept the change in his basement and had not intended to touch it for a few more years — his youngest child, Holly, is currently 15 years old. Yet when he learned about the national coin shortage, he felt compelled to help. He called North Shore Bank in Wauwatosa to see if they could exchange the coins last week and by Friday, he was lugging three five-gallon buckets and other containers to the bank.
“It felt like it weighed 300 pounds,” Holton said. “I was sweating while I pushed the dolly.”
The pandemic continues to affect the economy and coin circulation is no exception. As businesses close or implement cashless policies, there’s a dearth of change. Last month, the Federal Reserve established a U.S. Coin Task Force to “mitigate the effects of low coin inventories caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
While the Federal Reserve said in a statement that it “is confident that the coin inventory issues will resolve once the economy opens more broadly,” some banks have called for customers to deposit their change because of the shortage.
Holton, for his part, has deposited his windfall into a separate account — one he still hopes to use for a special occasion.
“I won’t be saving coins for a while because of the shortage, but maybe I’ll find another creative way to set aside the money,” Holton said. “If we all do something small in our own communities and help each other, that’s what makes the world better.”
The current coin shortage parallels the “penny drought” of 1999, during which businesses had to ask customers to stop stockpiling coins.