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Building A Great Collection With No "Money"

Tom Becker

I've written hundreds of articles about coin collecting. This is one of the strangest.

I began as a collector of little means. Perhaps no means, other than a meager allowance supplemented by misused lunch money is closer to the truth. By remaining frugal and sometimes hungry I was able to feed my collecting appetite. This early experience has never left me. I also have the privilege of knowing great collectors who have acquired wonderful coins using this same “nickel and dime” approach.

If you are willing to make a serious attempt, there are many ways to reduce your daily cost of living so you can spend the newfound discretionary funds on coins. Instead of driving to work is it possible to use public transportation? If the car is used less for commuting, would this result in lower insurance premiums? How much could be saved by keeping the car another year instead of buying a new one? How much a month would you save by taking lunch to work instead of eating at a restaurant or deli? Do you really need a new suit, dress or shirt? I won't even bother to mention the small fortune one could accumulate by giving up things like cigarettes or other indulgences.

I hope I'm making the point that most of us waste lots of money on unnecessary purchases and these funds could be better spent on coins we will appreciate and enjoy for many years. When it tells me it needs something, I'm not sure my stomach cares if I respond with a peanut butter sandwich or a trendy club on rye.

A recent conversation with a great collector prompted me to write about sensible frugality. This elderly gentleman had come to my office to sell me some coins. The group consisted of less than 100 pieces. As he pocketed my check for $44,000, he smiled and stated that during his entire working life he had never made more than $10 per hour. Beginning as a boy, he had always worked in fruit orchards. From September through November there was plenty of overtime, but work slacked off after winter pruning.

“From the get-go, I figured I could afford to put aside a hour's worth of wages to spend on my collection,” he said. “It's funny how it adds up. Course being a born horse trader didn't hurt any.”

After the seventy-eight year old customer and his wife left for home, I couldn't resist again using my calculator. Let's see, $10 a week times 52 weeks equals $520. $520 multiplied by 40 years comes to nearly $21000! Factoring in a bit of “horse trading” and that he'd made some very wise purchases and trades, it was entirely possible that this numismatist had managed to build a lovely collection from a pittance. And oh yes, I should mention this; he promised to give me the first opportunity to buy his “best” coins when he decided to part with them! I'm not kidding!

If you are ever tempted to use lack of funds as an excuse for not being a great collector, send me an email. I'll gladly provide further evidence to prove what can be accomplished with “no money”. I will acknowledge that we live in the age of instant gratification. Maybe only collectors still understand the importance of patience and perseverance?


Tom Becker is a regular contributor to the Canadian Coin Reference Site, you can direct your questions directly to Tom easily by or visit Tom's website @


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