A passion for pennies pays off

"Find a penny, pick it up...." goes the old saying. And over the years, I have found lots of pennies. I look for them everywhere I go. You can see me, walking down the street or into the grocery store with my head down.

I'm not trying to be antisocial, I'm just trying to make a connection with Abraham Lincoln. His face pops up in many places, from sidewalks to gravel drives to fishing piers.

This love of the copper coins dates back to my childhood, when I was fascinated with my mother's coin collection. She had pennies of every year carefully labeled in coin books. Her plentiful collection also overflowed into a Ball Brothers glass jar.

I spent hours counting them out of the jar and looking at the dates and small letters embossed on the front. I also enjoyed the pennies I was given to spend.

The slender coins would transform into handfuls of brightly colored squares of chewing gum when I dropped them into a silver slot.

It amazes me how many people walk past the abandoned change without as much as a second thought. I've even seen people drop the coins and keep walking, since it was only pennies. One friend horrifies me with tales of hearing "clink, clink, clink" as she vacuums up pennies around her home.

When I find pennies, I often pitch them into the ashtray of my car or into the bottom of my purse. I gather them up periodically, and I'm always surprised at how my stash has multiplied. When I combine my hobby of hunting for pennies with my other passion of frequenting garage sales, the pennies look more like dollar bills.

I recently bought a like-new Gap shirt for my husband for a quarter, a pair of Liz Claiborne shorts for 50 cents, and a couple of cute Carter's baby outfits for a dime apiece. No sweat for me - I just cashed in my found pennies. Friends have joked that I'm able to clothe my whole family for just "pennies" a year.

I took my hobby overseas during a recent vacation to Chester, England. Instead of American pennies, I found British pence scattered everywhere. I found several in the gravel lot outside our rooms, and one on the floor of a one-hour photo shop. I even recovered some of my traveling companions' pence as they tossed them down for me to find, once they became aware of my proclivity.

In all, I found about 20 pence - just enough to haggle for a hand-knit baby outfit at a boot sale (the British equivalent of an American flea market).

The outfit looks like a million bucks on my newborn.

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