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Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 12:26 UK

See a penny, pick it up

Kath Kelly

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

In the present economic climate, the hard-pressed are counting their pennies. Teacher Kath Kelly found 117 in dropped cash on the streets of Bristol, during a year in which she lived off 1 a day. She shares her tips on spotting free money.

Dick Whittington found that the streets of London were not paved with gold after all.

He and his pussycat had their eyes set a bit higher than one and two pence pieces, but Kath Kelly can vouch for the potential riches that millions of us step over every day.

In 12 months, she found 117 lying loose on the streets of Bristol, while living off 1 a day. So how does she fare in central London?

A lot of people would not consider a penny worth bending down for, but I wouldn't pass up any coins
Kath Kelly

Surveying the busy Euston Road before starting, the 47-year-old teacher is not optimistic.

"Bristol streets are a bit grubbier, so money goes unnoticed, but these streets are cleanly swept. But people probably chuck their money around a bit more in London, so who knows."

It's perhaps the first time the streets of Kings Cross have been described as too clean, but the footpath is soon getting another sweep, this time from her eyes which discreetly skirt the paverment as she walks and talks.

"Bus stops are good, and places where people get out of taxis. They tend not to check their change too carefully, or they're a bit drunk getting out of the taxi and just drop it when they get their things together. People do that, don't they?

Kath Kelly with her penny
It takes a trained eye to spot a penny from distance

"Also places where people come and go a lot in the evening where they might not see very clearly, like outside cinemas.

"Supermarkets too - the pounds they put into machines for their trolleys, and don't always put in the money carefully."

She compares the technique to picking fruit - getting your "eye in" by imagining the colour and shape of what you're looking for. It's a method that's brought her results in the past, but after 10 minutes on the streets of London, we haven't found enough for a penny sweet.

Penny-picking shame

The prospects improve when she reaches Euston railway station - "nice and grubby", she says. Her radar begins to quiver and suddenly in mid-sentence she exclaims: "There's a penny!"

Barely discernible between the feet of a man sitting at a bench is a single copper coin. Only 116.99 to go.

After waiting patiently for the man to leave, Ms Kelly cashes in, getting a few funny looks from those nearby.

"A lot of people would not consider a penny worth bending down for, but I wouldn't pass up any coins.

"There's a bit of shame attached to it. In a way it's almost like begging or scavenging around the street, not considered the thing to do. But it's changing. People are quite proud of getting a bargain nowadays."

three bars of soap 18p
litre of shampoo 27p
loaf of bread 5p
box of mushrooms 10p

The 117 she amassed in Bristol came about quite by accident, she says, because her 1 a day regime meant she was no longer looking in shop windows. She gave her pavement pennies (and one 20 note) to charity, because she thought it cheating to supplement her strict budget.

She put herself through this 12-month ordeal to save up enough to get her brother a decent wedding present, which with her part-time salary of 10,000, she thought would otherwise not be possible.

Paying her 3,000 annual rent up front, she kept to her 365 budget for the year and was able to spend 1,300 on lifetime memberships of the National Trust for her brother and his wife, plus contribute to the cost of his wedding.

So how did she do it?

"Collecting all the bargains at the end of the day I would come out of the supermarket with an armful of shopping that only cost 50p - people looked me up and down as if I was a tramp.

Don't stay in. Having fun doesn't cost a lot
Don't be embarrassed to ask about prices or pick up bargains
Share more with others, like garden tools or chores

"But that didn't bother me. I did become quite shameless, walking into hairdressers asking if new stylists wanted hair to cut."

Free buffets were another source of sustenance and she scoured notice boards, local newspapers and the internet for events, launches and gallery openings that could provide nibbles and sometimes even a glass of wine.

"My social life improved. I was out almost every night. My friends thought I would be sitting by the TV or in a library and it would be boring."

She also walked or cycled 10 miles a day, bought clothes at jumble sales and managed without a mobile phone.

'Share more'

A pound a day is too strict a regime to be sustainable, she says - and impossible with dependents - but the experience has taught her a change in philosophy.

Months after the end of her mission, she still shops for bargains, no longer frequents coffee shops and has a smaller shoe collection.

And longer term, she believes people could spend less by sharing more of what they have, whether it's a garden mower with neighbours or babysitting duties with other parents.

Pavement pennies won't buy much, but they might make you value money differently.

Kath Kelly is author of How I Lived a Year On Just a Pound a Day

Below is a selection of your comments.

Vending machines in railway stations. Get down and have a look under there. ALWAYS a few quid there.
Gregg, Egham

I used to moan about how expensive meat has become. Now I just turn up as the market is closing. You can buy trays of the stuff for a tenner and you get to pick which tray you want so you don't even end up with the leftovers nobody wants!
D, Leeds, UK

I work at a supermarket, and the amount of people who leave money in trolleys, or on the floor is staggering. In one day I found excess of 20 in notes and coins, just lying on the ground.

Whenever we take the dog for a walk we find money, whether it's 1p or 1 we always pick it up and take it home and put it in a jar. This year we managed to save in excess of 30 which went towards the fuel for our trip to Somerset. We do find that there's less money when the children are off school, there must be a lot of holes in their school trousers!!!
E, Coventry, England

My husband never lets a penny lie in the street. He says it's bad luck to let money go to waste and good luck if you find a penny. You will always have money if you pick pennies up off the street. We have a glass jar full of pennies that he's found lying on the ground while we've been walking. Once day we may cash them in, who knows. With the credit crunch, we may have to use the penny machine at ASDA.
Sunny, Kendal, Cumbria, UK

A branch of one of the big supermarkets opened up next door but one to us a few weeks ago. I often pop in after 9pm and pick up reduced items (sandwiches for work the next day, bread, pork pies, etc). And I see plenty of people doing exactly the same thing. We have to make our money go much further at the moment, so there's no shame in it. Apart from the kids clothes and shoes I don't think I've paid full price for anything for ages.
Martin, Leeds

Well done to Kath Kelly, but isn't the description of this as "living on a pound a day" a little disingenuous? According to the article, this figure doesn't include her accommodation costs (over eight pounds per day) - and do these by any chance include the cost of energy and other utilities? The message seems to be that if you exclude your main expenses from the calculation you can live on an income that even Nick Clegg might find plausible...
Dave Pritchard, Glasgow, Scotland

In the main shopping street in Lancaster the pavements have coins set into them as a design feature- the number of times I thought I'd found a 1 coin only to be disappointed! It's quite funny to watch others do the same!
Rachel, Lancaster, England

I had a similar experience when supporting a partner who needed expensive medical treatment, medications and the like. For two years I'd pay the monthly rent and bills; then buy food for the month - all Sainsbury basics - for around 25. Our one meal a day diet was monotonous, but it kept us going. I became a bin raider at the back of supermarkets, grabbing packaged food just past its sell by date (but not meat or dairy products). I gave up the car and walked to and from work. Clothes, we realised how many we already had but seldom wore. We read many books from our library; it gave me a second education. We gave up all luxuries. It taught me that what was important was having a roof, bed and meal each day, together with having a purpose to life; we were doing this for a good reason. I'm glad to say the treatment worked and she's now right as rain. I still walk to work, eat one main meal a day and feel fitter and leaner than before. I also learnt to appreciate things for what they are, not the price tag or label.
Jay, UK

I purchased a handbag from a car boot sale. When I got home, I opened the small internal pocket and found a 20 note. The bag only cost me 20p!
Helen, Leicester

I admire her tenacity, but if just a few people start copying her then it really won't be worth looking, will it? There's just not enough lost money to go round. I can see it now, a pair of pavement penny prowlers seeing a solitary coin, and fighting over who saw it first. The only person who will make any money out of this is the author herself and the publisher.
Deano, Gt.Yarmouth, UK

While working early shifts in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I used to be walking to work through the city at around 5am and always kept my eyes peeled for stray coins, especially on Saturday & Sunday mornings when the chances were higher of finding a decent sum because people while drunk had dropped handfuls of change just a few hours earlier. A couple of times I picked up in excess of 2 a day, although mostly it was more like 10p, 20p, 50p. I only started keeping an eye out for change because it had happened several times that I'd randomly found quite a bit of change but still, it's nowt to be ashamed of.
Amanda, Nottingham

Wow, what self-control! Kath's story is refreshing in today's throwaway, consumerist society, but I doubt with two young kids I could manage quite as well. Still, there are lessons to be learned - I will be keeping my beady eye on the pavement from now on!
L Cole, West Sussex, UK

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