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It's time to get digging

Reserve Bank of New Zealand Press Release

11 September 2006

It's time to get digging

It's been over a month since the introduction of smaller, lighter coins. The Reserve Bank expects over 300 million of the old coins to be returned. Results so far are encouraging, but with the old coins ceasing to be legal tender from 1 November, it's never too early to get digging.

Most of us have got used to the lighter and smaller 10, 20 and 50 cent coins that came into circulation at the end of July, and no one seems to really be missing those heavy old coins (especially the 50s!).

But while you may not want the old coins, the Reserve Bank does. To date just over 200 million old coins have found their way back to the Bank - mainly through people using them, or banking them. The old coins are sold to an overseas company which melts them down and sells reminted blank coins all around the world.

>From 1 November, retailers need no longer accept the old coins as payment. However, the coins can always be redeemed at the Reserve Bank in Wellington. So if you don't want to be stuck with loads of old shrapnel, the time has come to rifle behind the couch cushions and do a sweep of the car glove box. You may want to put aside an afternoon - it's estimated the average household has an astonishing 185 old coins.

Since 1967 the Reserve Bank has issued more than a billion of the old 'silver' coins (which are actually a mix of copper and nickel). Based on what happened when the Euro was introduced, the Bank expects about 75 percent of coins stored at home and in purses and wallets to be returned.

To find out how many silver coins people use in their day-to-day activities, and how many silver coins are sitting in piggy banks and jam jars across New Zealand, the Reserve Bank commissioned the market research company ACNielsen to carry out some research. This helped estimate how many new coins needed to be minted and how many old coins were likely to be recovered.

After surveying more than a thousand households, the study estimated there are almost 250 million silver coins (weighing, should you be interested in the minutiae of such things, 1,584 tonnes) stored in the nation's homes. That's four times as many as we have in our purses and wallets to use each day, and 10 times as much as is held in banks. The average value of each household stash is slightly more than $26 and totals $35m nationwide.

However, it is somewhat misleading to speak of an 'average' household because it appears some of us are coin hoarders and some of us definitely are not. An informal survey of 100 people found that just two households held a third of all the silver coins amassed - 5,000 between them.

And the ACNeilsen study confirmed that 20 percent of the population have few if any coins stored, while at the other end of the scale, 20 percent have an average of 642 coins which represents almost 70 percent of the total (check out the for further research results).

The study also looked at how often people empty their store of coins and found that those of us who have only one or two coins lying around use them about once a week. However, those who had stored over 80 coins, only cleared their stash out once a year. Ten percent said they 'never' cleaned out their nest egg.

Of those who did regularly empty their stored coins, half spent them in a shop, almost 40 percent banked them, while the remainder did other things with the coins, like give them to the grandchildren or use them in vending machines, and 9 percent gave the stored coins to charity.

Then there's the case of the disappearing coins. Each year, about 25 million coins simply vanish. While we don't know for sure, the Reserve Bank suspects many of them go off-shore in the pockets and wallets of tourists.

So what do you do when you round up your old 185 silver coins? You can take them to a bank or you can use them. But remember that the Reserve Bank Act says you cannot pay completely in silver coin for anything over $5, so don't try to be clever with a bucket-load of 50c coins to pay your speeding fine.

You only have a few weeks left to locate and use those old coins - there's never been a better time to sweep behind the couch!


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