My bank manager’s advice to me as I set off to travel round Africa for a year in 1990, when traveller’s cheques were still the norm, was to take US dollars instead, and several whisky miniatures. The first was to avoid paying commission twice – when you bought the cheques and again when you cashed them – and the second was for gifts to local people if you were in a fix and needed a favour.
Today, many people use pre-paid currency cards, but what to do with that small change we come back with, which the banks won’t accept? According to British Airways, as a nation we take home £30 million in foreign coins each year, most of it ending up at the back of a drawer. And an M&S survey in 2019 found that £1bn is spent each year by UK travellers ‘using up’ currency in the departure lounge before flying home. So instead of throwing money away on that Mexican sombrero at Cancún airport, consider other options.
Banks find it too costly and time-consuming to process foreign coins, and we may think it is just shrapnel, but there are several easy ways to cash in on it. This year’s holiday plans may have crash-landed, but making every last penny count is a good lockdown task.
Make your money go further
A trawl of the internet leads to several companies offering to pay for loose change, even if obsolete, and often postage-free. They then pass it on to their customer base, or sell it as scrap metal. Numismatists (that coin collectors to you and me) will pay handsomely for examples from obscure countries or with historical value (eg Soviet era roubles); some are desirable for their imagery – Camra enthusiasts might like the 2011 Latvian coin featuring a foaming tankard of beer; others may no longer be legal tender but are sought-after by artisans. There’s even a market for pre-euro Spanish pesetas and Italian lire.
Bidwedge promises a straightforward way to exchange your currency. You simply create a free account, state the amount of currency you have, hit ‘show me the money’ and they will tell you the price they will pay for it. You then post your currency to them and the agreed amount will be paid direct into your bank account. There are no additional fees, and all transactions are insured (www.bidwedge.com).
Cash4Coins offers a ‘lightening fast and super easy’ service that enables you to donate your ‘worthless’ cash to a worthwhile cause. One option is as a fundraiser for your local school. They send you an information pack, with free collection and drop-off available. Children are adept at extracting money from their parents at the best of times, and in this case it’s win-win as you don’t feel as if you are parting with real cash. In under two weeks, your designated school will receive a lump sum. Other avenues are helping a hospital, clinic or care home (www.cash4coins.co.uk).
LeftoverCurrency.com, and its sister company Manor FX, work with charities including Unicef, the Prince’s Trust, Royal British Legion and Marie Curie. They will take your Brazilian reais, Bulgarian levas and 100 other currencies, in cash or note form, calculate their value and add an extra 5% on top to you.
Crafty ways with coins
If lockdown unlocked your creative talent, and you have spare coins you want to keep as souvenirs, you could try your hand at jewellery making – a simple necklace, earrings, cufflinks or pin. There’s plenty of inspiration on etsy.com. Danish kroner or Japanese yen, with holes in the middle, can easily be strung on a silver chain or leather thread. It might lead to a new small business – or at least a stall at the village fair. Alternatively, you can commission an Etsy crafter to design and make a one-off piece for you. Provided you do not pass off the currency as legal tender, there’s nothing to stop your wearing coin jewellery – in most cases. The exception is Singapore, who judge it an insult to their culture to “mutilate, destroy or deface” their money.
Charity begins abroad
If you have changed more money that you needed, and want to leave it in the country, an extra tip to a guide who has been particularly helpful is always welcome. Or you may have visited a school with very few books, where a donation could change lives. Many travel companies adopt a local charity as part of their CSR, and generally advise you to channel any spare cash there rather than give to individuals. It may be a tiny percentage of your travel budget, but will make a big difference in a developing country.
So instead of letting those coins clutter up a drawer, use them to line your own pocket or, better still, donate them for a warm glow that will last longer than the sun tan.
This Insight is a special and exclusive feature written for Beattie Lockton, by our client Kitty Corrigan.
Disclaimer: Beattie Lockton Family Wealth does not specifically recommend any of the above sites. Please contact us if you require individual recommendations pertinent to your own situation.