Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

Do you find it difficult to understand how much each coin is worth when you are visiting or living in the United States.

Do you wonder how much a dime is worth or what it looks like?

What about a quarter? How much is that worth?

And do you know what a nickel looks like and what it’s value is?

If you are living in the United States and you are rushed in a store it can get confusing quickly.

If you have ever felt like you don’t understand the value or references to money, then you are not alone.

There are phrases used around currency which can add another confusing element.

We’re going to break down the value of each coin, as well as how you can use references to currency in conversation.

We have a listener question about money in the US.

The app and the show are pretty amazing! I’ve been listening it for one year and four months, and what I love the most is that you girls show us the real English. You go far beyond the outdated English of text books!

And I’m going to ask you a question, of course!

The first time I was in the US, in a drugstore, the cashier ask me for a dime and I didn’t know what it was. Then the other day I discovered it, but could you please help more people to learn about the value of money and related expressions?

Thank you so much!

Best regards,

Sheila Schwendler

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Breaking Down The Value of Coins

Start by understanding the actual value of each coin in US currency.

To add to the confusion, the value doesn’t coincide with the size of the coin.

Here are the coins so that you understand what you are working with.

  • Penny:  This is worth one cent- yet this is not the smallest coin! It is the copper one, and  pennies are also thought of  as lucky if they are found “heads up” on the ground.
  • Nickel: This is worth 5 cents. These are silver in color and are bigger than the penny.
  • Dime:  This is worth 10 cents. This is the SMALLEST coin, and it is also silver colored.
  • Quarter: This is worth 25 cents. It is the largest coin, and it is worth the most and is also silver colored.

The values are the best place to start so that you know what to use for transactions and purchases.

Using These In Conversation

People may ask you for the value or the coin name because it can happen in conversation.

Natives often assume that people know and understand the value, so you want to be ready for this interaction.

You might hear somebody just ask for something that they need, such as:

  • Hey do you have ten cents? In this case you would give them a dime.
  • Hey can I borrow a penny? Then you would give them just one cent.

Something to remember– styles of coins change frequently.

Coins change over time, so it’s best to just pay attention to the color and the size.

Don’t get distracted by the design on the coin, as this is the one variable that changes over time.

Phrases Involving Currencies 

There are some cool phrases that center around coins or their value.

Knowing what these are helps you to be aware of them when they come up in conversation.

Consider trying a couple of these out in conversation for great practice.

  • If I had a __________________ for every time ___________________, (I’d be rich).
    • “If I had a dime for every time I did the cleaning in this apartment,I’d be rich.”
  • Nickel and dime someone
    • This is about somebody being really specific or even picky with them. It’s often used when it comes to the cost of something
    • “I don’t want to nickel and dime you, but I think you owe me $11.36 from the other day.”
  • A dime a dozen
    • This means that something is not unique, and may actually be very common.
    • “Restaurants are a dime a dozen in NYC, so it’s extremely competitive.”
  • Penny wise and pound foolish
    • This means that you may be good with money, but that you don’t have much common sense.
    • “Going for cheaper gas may be penny wise and pound foolish because in the end, the cheaper model may ruin your car.”

These phrases are used often, so try practicing them and see how you can master them in conversation.


The value of coins doesn’t correlate with their size.

There are often different distinct markings, so don’t worry about what you actually see on the coin (the year, the picture, etc).

Sometimes people say the name of the coin and sometimes they say the value-so be sure you know them really well.

These words are used frequently in American idioms.

Knowing the value and how to use them in conversation can help you to make connections.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

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