Is a dime worth picking up?

Updated: December 13, 2010

You have all been there; the tough dilemma between greed, humility and some honest logic. You see a dime lying on the ground, unseen yet by other people around you. Should you exercise your anatomy, bend down and pick the odd coin? Should you feel satisfied with the catch? Was the dime worth the hassle?

I will try to answer this philosophical and material question in this article. Nothing grand, just some simple mathematics and a bit of prosaic connerie. This will show you whether the good ole idiom "be worth a dime" applies here. Or something. After me, dear readers!


Definition - very simple, it's a coin worth 10 cents.


Effort worth a dime

Whether you should bother to pick a dime depends on two factors 1) what you're doing at that moment 2) how much money you earn.

Are you rich?

Let's begin with the second item. Let's say you earn 60 dollars an hour. This means you earn USD1/minute. If we break down this even further, your salary is 1.67 cents a second. In other words, a dime is worth approx. six seconds of your time. Therefore, if you see a dime and collect it in a less than six seconds, you will have justified the action. However, if it takes you longer than that, you will be wasting your time.

If your salary revolves around, say 30 dollars/hour, then you have approx. 12 seconds to justify the finding. On the other hand, if you're a high roller earning more than a hundred bucks every hour, your worth time shortens to about only three seconds or less.


Let's not forget the local currency, as well as different types of coins. Penny and nickel give you virtually no time. On the other hand, a quarter or half a dollar start to sound reasonable, even for people who earn decent money.

What are you doing right now?

The second factor is more interesting. If you happen to be working at the moment you spot a coin, you should pick it, no matter what. This is because you are already being paid for whatever it is that you do, so the extra dime is a clear win. On the other hand, outside work hours, the first factor takes precedence, which is when you should exercise mathematics before instinct.

One could always claim that more money is more money, no matter what, but this is simply not true. In theory, extra three seconds are hardly worth the bother. But think about the following scenario:

A trail of dimes, stretching all the way from your work place to your home. You could walk the trail and start picking the coins, one after another. Then, when you arrive home, you could divide your fresh booty with the time it took you to earn it, and see whether it paid out. You may realize that the overtime you spent collecting coins paid less than staying an extra hour at the office, browsing the Internet. This is the equivalent of the salami tactics in economy. And politics. And war.


Actual benefit

The third, unwritten factor, is that of actual benefit, time and current status notwithstanding. For someone with only one dollar worth of income, a dime represents a handsome 10% increase in equity. On the other hand, for someone with a thousand dollars, a dime translates into one hundredth of one percent increase. For even higher sums, the dime becomes negligible, a statistical noise.

The cruel reality dictates that people with a million dollars in their pocket really need not look down, except maybe to avoid potholes, open sewage or an annoying child. It's simply not worth their effort, and it won't make any difference in the long run.

End result

The habit of picking loose change comes from old, hard times when people scraped for living and any disdain of this hardship was perceived as mockery and insult. People were sort of judged by their perceived humility, which translates into automatic instinct to turn down any help, no matter how small. Religion probably plays a part, too.

The reality is different. Picking a dime is a task and you should ask yourselves whether this is a cost-effective task. If your income is such that spending even as little as five seconds on hunting coins does not justify the effort, then you should definitely not be doing it. Furthermore, it's the right thing to do, no matter how haughty it may seem. Because you will be leaving the coin for someone else, with less income, for whom it may be justifiable and for whom the extra money will make a difference. By not picking a dime, you won't be judging your own worth, you will let someone else judge theirs. It's a noble and logically efficient thing to do.


There you go. Not my longest article, definitely without a trace of cynicism, but you can't ignore the pure brilliance of it. I've prowled the Web for similar content and found nothing, which proves how much of a genius I am. And let's not forget the mathematical aspect of this beautiful essay.

The next time you see a bit of metal glittering, beckoning you, do the quick math and think twice. Someone else may need the dime more than you do. It won't do you any good and you will be wasting your precious time. That would be all, folks!


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