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Why Is Finding a Penny Good Luck?

By Crystal Brackman
Updated May 16, 2024
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The idea that finding a penny will bring good luck comes from superstition and folklore. There isn’t usually any scientific backing for the claim, and at least from a methodical position the simple act of finding a penny cannot itself change someone’s fortunes; the hope that it could and the belief that it might has become an ingrained part of many cultural traditions, though. Children in most English-speaking regions learn variations of the rhyme “find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck” from the time they are small, and many adults find they pick up “lucky pennies” by habit, whether or not they consider themselves “superstitious” in the traditional sense. The precise origins of the belief are somewhat difficult to nail down, though explanations range from early beliefs about where metal came from to the notion that money symbolizes power.

Origins of the Superstition

Bad things can happen to good people when they least expect it. As a result, people tend to fall back on ancient rituals that seem to stave off disaster, or that they believe could. This is normally considered a form of superstition. Superstitions are things or rituals that people believe will cause certain outcomes, usually without any basis in fact or logic. Many superstitions seem to revolve around the struggle between good and evil, and these rituals were designed to swing the balance onto the side of good. Penny good luck charms usually fall into this category.

Finding a penny and picking it up is a relatively new spin on an old superstition. Ancient cultures believed that metal was a gift from the gods given to man for protection against evil, and that may have developed into the idea that metal brings good luck. This particular belief may have also influenced the widely-held notion that hanging a horseshoe over a door frame can change a family’s fortunes, as well as the practice of wearing charm bracelets and carrying “good luck” coins.

The promise of wealth and power associated with money may also be an influence. Though pennies today are relatively minor in terms of actual value, this hasn’t always been the case; and, in any event, all savings have to start small. Some people believe that the penny good luck tradition came from times when pennies were worth more, and represented a start or change to monetary solvency.

Possible Variations

Most sayings and cultural traditions vary from place to place and generation to generation, and turns and twists on the penny superstition are no different. The precise wording of the phrase is one of the first things that can differ, but the actual ritual can be different, too. Some people say that a penny is only good luck if it is heads up, and pennies that are found heads down should be either left or given to someone else. Other variations teach that luck can only be had if the found penny is passed along to a friend or stranger, often within the same day.

Some cultures, particularly those with roots in Ireland and Northern Europe, traditionally believe that found pennies belong to the leprechauns, fairies, pixies, or other tiny creatures. In these situations, finders are usually advised to spit on the coin then throw it into the bushes or nearby hedges for the small beings, who will effectively use it as payment to then bring good luck or fortune to the giver.

Related Phrases and Beliefs

There are a number of traditional beliefs and charms that center on pennies. Many brides in Western countries put a penny in one of their shoes before getting married, for instance, often as a way to bring luck or wealth to the union. The common saying “put a penny wrapped in paper, keep it to avoid your debtors" is another turn of phrase that carries something of a wide grip on superstitious people of many cultures.

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Discussion Comments
By anon353159 — On Oct 28, 2013

Thanks for making this website. I'm working on this in star reach and it helped me out a lot. It doesn't say when people started believing in this superstition. And again, thanks!

By anon257952 — On Mar 29, 2012

It doesn't say which shoe you should put the lucky penny in.

By anon220876 — On Oct 09, 2011

Good article, but there's a flaw: regardless if the penny is on heads or tails, you're still supposed to pick it up. If on heads, you keep it and good luck all day for you, and if on tails, give it to somebody else and they will have good luck all day long. And you also failed to mention something else: keeping a jar of pennies in the kitchen is good luck as I have found out!

By zenmaster — On Aug 10, 2010

In feng shui, if you leave your doorway open and uncrowded you are supposed to get more fortune and money.

This also applies to keeping gold fruits in your house, as well as goldfish.

By closerfan12 — On Aug 10, 2010

There really are a lot of money stereotypes though.

For instance, a lot of people believe that carrying three pennies around will bring you good luck.

Another superstition is that carrying a dime in your shoe can protect you from ill-wishers.

Other people say that putting money into the foundation of a building will assure success for that building's businesses.

There really are a ton -- but I never knew the reasoning behind the penny one before -- thank you!

By yournamehere — On Aug 10, 2010

I love looking at superstitions from different cultures.

For example, in China the numbers 4 and 7 are unlucky, so you'll never see people having their weddings or important events on the 7th or the 4th if they can avoid it. I don't know why 7 is bad luck, but the word for 4 sounds like the Chinese word for death, so that's why it's considered unlucky.

It is also unlucky to have things with the number 1 in your wedding, since you want the happy couple to remain a pair, and not become single again. Because of this, wedding gifts (usually money) are given in denominations that are even.

The luckiest number is 8, because it sounds like the words for wealthy and prosperous. So, for example, if you give a couple 888 RMB, then you are wishing them prosperity.

By subway11 — On Jul 15, 2010

Excellent article- I just want to add even though superstitions often have no scientific foundation to them, people nonetheless take them seriously.

An example that comes to mind is that a building typically does not have a 13th floor. Elevators don’t ever offer the 13th floor option.

There is really no other explanation for the omission of the thirteenth floor other than superstition. Some view the number thirteen as unlucky much the same way as a penny facing down it is perceived as bad luck.

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