Guest Post: How Pennies Changed My Life

I met DC based blogger, facilitator & coach Leslie Stein on twitter a few months ago, and then in person when she visited Vancouver in the fall. Was blown away by her amazing Penny Project and cajoled her into writing about it for you.

She’d love to hear from you so be sure to leave her a comment. Prepare to be REALLY inspired! Happy reading!


I’ve learned an incredible amount in the last 3 years.

There have been lots of reasons for this.  Classes I’ve attended, people I’ve met, the place I’ve traveled, the challenging work I pushed myself to take on.

But of all the places & all the things, I have to admit that the largest part of my learning came from a place I never expected.

What Pennises taught me about lifeMost of what I’ve learned in the last three years, I learned from pennies.

Yep, pennies.

The little 1-cent jobbers most people ignore without a second look.  You’re probably wondering, “What could you have possibly learned from a penny?!”

Believe it or not, I’ve picked up some pretty huge life lessons.

I guess it all started on December 29th, 2006 when I randomly found a $20 bill in the crosswalk on my way home from work.  I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, but this $20 bill got me thinking (after I finished my happy dance & spent it on getting a pedicure).

I mean really…were people just tossing $20’s in the street?

(I think I may have pinpointed the source of our economic woes!)

Long story short, I decided to start picking up all the change I found in 2007 to see how much I’d end up with.  So I started picking up pennies…or really any money I found on the ground, but mostly pennies.

I was pretty shocked at how much I was finding.

  • By June I had about $15 and a handful of friends also bringing me their pennies.
  • By September I’d started a blog about my found money adventures and been filmed to be in a short movie about pennies
  • By the end of the year, my little band of change collectors & I had amassed over $85 in total.

Not bad.

All the while this Penny Project was going on I was having a series of meltdowns about why my life wasn’t turning out to be a ’10.’ I wanted to be happy like everyone else.

Why couldn’t I find someone to date in DC?  Why had I been a bridesmaid 7 times and never a bride?  Why…why, why, WHY?!

I was having these meltdowns via telephone with my mom, who also happens to be one of my closest friends.  Every time I called, I kept asking her why my life wasn’t a 10.

Finally one day, she said, “Are you so sure it’s not?”

Um yeah…I think I’d know if my life was a 10.

Her theory was that I had a lot of good days.  Let’s call these days ‘7s.’

And every once in awhile, I had a REALLY good day, which we’ll call ’10s’. Mom could list off several of these days without trying too hard.. like the day a friend of mine took me to The Grammy’s. It was hard not to call that a 10 even when I was pouting on the phone with mom!

She said that for my life to be a 10, maybe all I needed was a series of 7s and a 10 every now and then.

seven makes tenHuh!? I’m a language major and not always the best with numbers… but I still didn’t know what kind of “new math” gave my mom the idea that 7+7+7=10.

I wasn’t buying what she was selling.

Then one day on my way home I found a $5 bill.  I was so excited I could barely contain myself (I’m pretty sure I screamed and completely freaked out the lady walking behind me).

(I know $5 isn’t much…but pick up grimy pennies out of the gutter for a few months and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for a fiver!)

Anyhow, I got home and added it to my spreadsheet and saw that I had broken the $20-mark for the year. I had been secretly challenging myself to see if that would happen…with months left in the year I had already bested my $20 find.

It was a nice moment.

Over the next few days on my walks to work (2+ miles each way…lots of time to think and scan the sidewalk for pennies) I compared my life to the Penny Project.

I started thinking about my mom’s comments and equated my findings to the scale we’d been talking about.

  • Finding paper money of any kind…that is definitely a 10, or what I would call a “peak experience.”  Major excitement,possibly some screaming.
  • Finding a quarter…gotta give that a 9.  That’s 25 pennies.  All at once.  Definitely a week-maker.
  • Nickels & Dimes, those are 8s.  Seeing silver definitely makes me smile.  It’s not a huge deal…but damn it’s exciting to see a shiny thing on the sidewalk and realize it’s more than 1 cent!
  • Finally, our friend the penny, comes in at a 7.  You can’t buy anything with it.  Most people get so annoyed with them they just leave them on the sidewalk if they drop one.

But since starting my project, I’d grown to appreciate the little buggers and definitely got a warm fuzzy when I saw one.

It wasn’t enough to make me think finding one made a red letter day (I found one almost every day on the way to work…usually several) but each one definitely made me smile and think of the spreadsheet and my friends who were also looking for pennies (by now it was up to 30 or 40 people).

As the year came to a close I tallied up all my pennies & other money.  In 2007, I found a total of $32.76.  And with all the money my friends found & contributed, the total was up to $85.56.  Not bad for abandoned coins and the occasional paper currency.

As I looked at the totals, I thought back to my mom’s “new math” and heard her saying, “Maybe 7+7+7=10.”  Was it possible she was right?!

One dollar at a timeAfter a year of picking up these grubby, little coins, I could see that the majority of what I’d found had been pennies.

Sure there was a few quarters and dimes (and that very exciting $5 bill) in the total…but mostly I’d accumulated a whole bunch of ‘7s’

And when it was all said and done, they added up to MORE than my original $20…which I thought of as a ’10’.

Crap!  I love my mom…but I really hate having to call and tell her she was right.

So here’s what I’ve concluded from this rather ridiculous experience – Happiness is here…you just have to see it.

Figure out what the 7’s are in your life.

Most people don’t need help w/ the 10’s…marriage, birth of a child, graduation, promotion… the good stuff we celebrate with parties.  But few of us ever consider the 7s.

When I started to really pay attention to them, I found there were a lot more than I had realized.  Silly things.

Like the fact I totally love getting the mail.  Don’t know why, I just always have.  Even if it’s junk mail or the mailbox is empty.  There’s that moment of anticipation before I open the mailbox that maybe, just maybe…today’s the day I get something really, really good!

I also rate as 7’s:

  • a good cup of coffee
  • sleeping in
  • wearing my pink galoshes in the rain
  • my cat purring

I could go on and on…but the point isn’t to list all my 7s…it’s to inspire other people to think about theirs.

What are your life’s pennies? Do you take stock of them and put them in your emotional piggy bank or just overlook them as unimportant because really…what’s a penny gonna get you?

As silly as finding happiness in pennies sounds…it really has made a huge impact on my life. And in fact, it’s made an impact on some other lives as well.

Since starting this project, hundreds of people have donated found money, opened their wallets, written me checks, or just emptied their pockets and handed over the contents.

When we hit the $500 mark earlier this year, we donated the money to the first annual Young Women’s National Conference, promoting self-esteem for young girls 14-17 years old (

All those pennies paid for the financial literacy panel at the event!

Of course, I still don’t have life completely figured out.  There are still tearful calls to my mom wondering why I’ve now been a bridesmaid 9 times and am on deck for number 10.

But the tears don’t last as long because I can look around at my warm cup of coffee, the keys to my mailbox, my purring cat, and all my pennies to see that even without having EVERYTHING I want, my life really IS a 10 after all!

(For more information on The Penny Project or Leslie’s other initiatives, you can visit her website at Go ahead and leave a comment telling us what you thought of Leslie’s post and PLEASE do share your own 7’s in life – we’d be delighted to hear from you!)

Facebook comments:



  1. says

    Leslie!! You inspire me! I knew your story was going to rock but I didn’t realise it would give me such chills .. wow .. wow.. too often we want the BIG things and think that’s all that will make us happy.

    We appreciate what we have, are grateful for our blessings and yet, hold out for the big one. Way to go reminding us that the “big ones” are what we have now, already, in this moment.

    Like what I read in a book somewhere “The happiest single girl, is the happiest married girl”. That one struck like a bullet in the head, with laser beam clarity.

    Of COURSE!! If we’re not happy NOW, we will NOT be happy THEN, wherever and whatever our individual thens are. If I’m not a happy camper now, I’ll never be a happy camper later unless I change my attitude.

    I’m still in awe at this story and the implications for daily life. Life is not made up of 10’s. It’s a series of 7’s + 7’s + 7’s. Thanks so much for a brilliant post, you are a rockstar! xo

  2. says


    Glad you were inspired! It’s easy to lose sight of what I now like to call “life’s pennies” when you’re looking for a bigger payout. The following Abraham quote states it beautifully and I’ve been quoting it tirelessly since it landed in my inbox a few weeks ago:

    “A happy life is just a string of happy moments. But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they’re so busy trying to get a happy life.”

    I hope everyone reading your blog allows a fantastic string of happy moments today! 🙂


  3. says

    I forgot to say – pink galoshes!? Adorable!! I’m in love with that 😀

    And some of my 7’s include hot chocolate cafe catchups with my best friends, DVD nights, reading by a bay window watching the pouring rain outside, sleep ins on a cold day, concerts in the park with friends and fun .. so many joyful 7’s which are actually 10’s in my world!

    Love the happy life quote so much, going to tweet it now. Thanks!

  4. Janette says

    Ooh, thank you Leslie for a wonderful post, and Tia for hosting the partay! (I think it is NO COINCIDENCE that Tia’s third most popular post right now is SEVEN (count ’em, SEVEN) fun ways to manage your vibe…

    So here are the 7’s I’ve had so far today (it’s 2.30pm my time):
    pot of coffee
    not having to shower until about 11 am
    gorgeous spring weather
    mostly quiet neighbourhood (the next-door rooster was on his best behaviour)

    And I’ve had a couple of 9s too – getting my 3000 word count for the day before 11 am, and thinking only 20 minutes had passed instead of 3 hours; and listening to an awesome Martha Beck interview.

    Now I reckon that gives me an 11 for the day. I love the new math!

  5. says

    Trust you to notice that Janette! 7’s ARE the new 11’s! Who need’s 10’s when we can have 7-11’s? Ok now this math is getting too kooky for me.. LOL. Thanks for partying up in number central with us. Love ya

  6. Shashi Kamate says

    Really nice post! Its so easy to not see the small things around you that can make one happy. Thanks for this inspiring blog!

  7. says

    I think that’s one of the biggest challenges we have, Shashi – being happy on a daily, consistent basis. I mean, we all know it’s the little things in life that matter, yada yada, and yet, we forget so easily. Thank goodness for people sharing their stories and inspiring us daily, ay. Thanks for dropping by, I appreciate you!

  8. Anna says

    Go Leslie! And Leslie’s Mom!
    Thank you for 7 + 7 + 7 = 10! New Math … I love it!

    Your post reminds me of the She-Bang Theory – that in order to truly enjoy The Big She-Bang when it comes, one must be in practice.

    This means one must learn to recognize the perceived small things for what they really are – small thrills. Marianne Faithful established that A Thrill’s a Thrill. Ergo, small thrills equal big thrills. Ergo, the more accomplished one can be at enjoying a thrill, regardless of its size, the closer one is to experiencing The Big She-Bang.

    Sooner or later, those little She-Bangs begin to feel like the Big She-Bang – so ultimately, life becomes one Big She-Bang after another. And way better than fending off that inside tickle of joy for the one and only Big She-Bang…

    Because, what if that Big She-Bang never comes?
    Or worse – what if it comes but isn’t recognized because it didn’t look the way we thought?

    A risk I am not willing to take. Besides, pennies get me the best things in life – your thoughts, good luck for the rest of the day, and delight from my boy … That’s heaven to me!

  9. says

    Heck Anna, She-bang!? Hahahah that ticked my funny bone summin fierce 😀

    Thanks for reinforcing WHY it makes sense to enjoy the little thrills – what if the BIG one never came and if they did, they weren’t the thrill we thought they would be? Never heard a better reason to love those daily thrills.

    You know what I love about you, Anna? That awesome way you have with words and how relatable your examples are. Thanks!

  10. Tiffany says

    Leslie, i loved this post sooooo much! It corresponds perfectly with a recent epiphany I had. It’s nice to take just a second to think about all the 7s in my life. Everything from the deep rumbling of a boiling kettle to when my dog plops himself in my lap like he was born to be there.

    Thanks for the extra special reminder!

  11. Janette says

    A second bite, because I am loving this numbers game! I’ve just been reminded that 11s are generally made up of 1s.

    If you follow all those great 10s and 11s backwards in time, step by step, to how they arrived in your life…. there is generally a 1 at the beginning. You know, the disaster that felt like the worst thing EVAH at the time?

    For example, many years ago I got sacked from a professional theatre production during rehearsals, by a director who had miscast me in the first place. It was humiliating beyond belief, and I spent the first 24 hours alternating between towering rage and deep depression. Now that was some pity party!!

    Yet a few days later it turned out to be a HUGE 11 – because a wonderful mentor found out I was now available and put me up for my first ever TV gig. That led to a 20 year career full of good numbers – not to mention, the show I’d been sacked from was one I hated, LOL!

    Try it yourself, bet you find a 1 or 2 lurking behind the big 10s 😀

  12. says

    Love those epiphanies, Tiffany. I almost read dog poops instead of plops and thought – MAN, that’s a girl who loves a lot! LOL >: ) People, can I tell you how amazing this young lady is? Still a teenager and miles ahead of where we were at that age. Such a pleasure to have you around!

    J – you.are.a.rockstar. Like Leslie and you, I too turned entrepreneur after being laid off for the 1st and last time ever in Aug 08. I am SO grateful that happened (also, I kinda manifested it, hehe) I LOVE how your story turned out, you TV star, you! 20 years hey, wow.

    Again, great reminder that whatever happens, is a blessing in disguise. Esp right now when stuffs going on that I don’t quite have a handle on. If I could bottle up hindsight and sell it when things were happening, I’d be a gazillionaire!

  13. says

    Thanks everyone for your nice comments! I’m glad my mom & I could help remind everyone that even if you’re not noticing it…your life IS full of little thrills & she-bangs all over the place!

    And Janette…GREAT reminder that 1s & 2s often become 10s later on. Getting laid off from my job last year gave me the chance to start my own company. And here I am, a year later, calling my own shots!! And since I’m the boss of me…I’m taking Thanksgiving to New Years off. How’s that for a 1 turned 10!

    Tia, thanks again for the opportunity to share my penny story. You’ve inspired me so much, so it’s nice I can return the favor to others. What a great community of readers on your page. Rock on!

  14. says

    I love … love … no, really, really LOVE this, Tia! What a fabulous guest-post-finder you are! 🙂 Beautiful, Leslie! Fun writing style and inspirational information, it doesn’t get much better ‘n that! I’m going to share the concept of sevens with everyone (of course giving you TOTAL credit 😉 )

    Vowing to be on the lookout for my sevens tomorrow …

    Big hugs,

  15. says

    Col! How fabulous to see you back here – I owe Leslie for this gift! I want you here all the time so I can look at that gorgeous avatar with the cutest smile ever and be filled with joy 🙂 🙂 You and @Debsoul just BEAM!

    Happy 7’s baby, let us know if some of them surprised you and have FUN xo

  16. says

    You are so precious Tia! Actually *YOU* are what inspired me to come here and accidentally discover *LESLIE*! I came specifically to see what my Tia was up to and surprise! Here’s this fun sevens thing!

    I will let you know what transpires!

    Big hugs,

  17. says


    Yay!! I love inspiring people to look for their 7s! 🙂 And you know what the best part is, when you start seeing them they feel better & better. It’s like, “Oh my gosh…I thought of another one. I’m surrounded by 7s!” And then suddenly they start to feel bigger and more enjoyable than they felt before. Ah, the joy of the little things and realizing they’re not so little!

    Thanks for the comments and letting me know you were inspired. I think inspiring others actually rates an 8 or 9 for me…so I do appreciate your positive thoughts!

    Tia, again…you have the most wonderful readers! Thanks for letting me be a part of this!


    PS–Found a quarter yesterday (literally) and then had pie with a dear friend to celebrate her birthday. Does life get any better?!

  18. says

    You are right on…I believe that we must look for the good in life…. and think that happiness is an inside job. Your made me think back upon my life …I remember as a child I used to throw pennies away…but of course as an adult I am a lot I wonder how many people do this same thing today? An awesome post! So glad that I had the opportunity to read it.

    Bobbi Henderson

  19. says


    Loved your words! Aren’t we all so much smarter now than when we were kids?! Or at least we hope so!

    Glad you enjoyed the post and love your line about happiness being an inside job. How true!!! The pennies have definitely taught me that. There are infinite external things that could (or could not) bring me happiness…but ultimately its my job (internally) to decide whether I want to be happy or not. I didn’t used to care that much about finding a penny. But now, it’s an event! I smile, do a little happy dance, and thank the universe for the sing of abundance. Same pennies, new outlook. All from within!

    Today I choose to be happy about the rainy weather because now watering the plants on my patio is taken care of!

    There’s always a choice. May we all choose happiness!


  20. Carol says

    This post and all of the comments are inspiring on so many levels. Thank you to all of you! I had to get my found coins out and count them up . . . $9.03 (over a few years). I am always so tickled to find them . . . and when I do, I always say, “Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck!”

    I’ve only found a paper dollar once. At lunch time one day I found two pennies on the sidewalk, and thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be cool to find a dollar bill?” That was the first time I’d ever thought that. Four hours later, walking my friend’s dog, I found a dollar bill in the ditch. How’s that for law of attraction in action?

    And Janette, your observation “If you follow all those great 10s and 11s backwards in time, step by step, to how they arrived in your life…. there is generally a 1 at the beginning. You know, the disaster that felt like the worst thing EVAH at the time?” went into my “Book of Wisdom.” Truly a profound observation!

    Thank you for hosting such a wonderful community, Tia!

  21. says

    Ooooh again, perfect timing for me to re-read this part “If you follow all those great 10s and 11s backwards in time, step by step, to how they arrived in your life…. there is generally a 1 at the beginning. You know, the disaster that felt like the worst thing EVAH at the time?”

    Thanks for highlighting this again for me Carol! And J for writing it 🙂 Love the dollar bill example, the ease with which is manifested. That`s the key to it all – asking and being unattached, asking and letting it go.

    You are inspiring me to loosen my grip on the drama of wondering whether my NZ visa will be approved so I am now rewording it as `wouldn`t it be so cool for NZ immigration to approve my visa asap and send me my passport by Nov 25 so I can go to NZ this year as already planned?`

    Here`s an Afformation thrown in for good measure `Why did my visa get approved so easily and quickly?` `Why do amazing things always happen to me?` `Why am I sitting on a plane to Queenstown on Dec 6th, 09?` and `Why am I so, so happy it all turned out so perfectly?`

    Thank YOU for being what makes this community, it wouldn`t be anything without you all and I am SO grateful for your presence. Thank you!

  22. says

    Thought I’d report that after writing this blog post, I was so inspired by your feedback that I went and wrote a whole book!!!

    My mom helped a guy write a book & self-publish a few years ago. When I asked her how long it took him, I was surprised to hear it was only 35 days. Huh?!

    I took that as a challenge and decided to write mine in 34 days…which I did! Now I’m in publisher search-mode. If that doesn’t work, I found an amazing place to self-publish! SO…I will have a book of penny stories by year’s end. Can’t wait!!

    Thanks to everyone for your comments, feedback and INSPIRATION!!! Love you all for it!



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