When we are talking about money, is there any difference between "small change" and "loose change"? It seems that both mean "coins of little value."

These are examples from Oxford Dictionaries:

I didn't have any small change (= coins of low value) to leave as a tip.

He puts his loose change in a money box for the children.


"Small change" can refer to coins of low value, or to paper money of low value, or metaphorically to anything of low relative worth; a couple of $50 bills is "small change" to someone looking for a $200,000 payment, for example.

"Loose change" specifically refers to all of the coins that you happen to have in your pockets or purse that are not rolled or bundled up; if you got two quarters back from a purchase and just dropped them into your front pocket, for example, that's loose change. If you put the quarters into a sleeve for making a "roll of quarters", then they aren't loose anymore. (In a coin purse or a wallet pouch, they're probably still able to rattle about and make noise, which is a key element of being considered "loose", I think.)

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  • I don't completely agree with this definition of "loose change." I don't think it's literally change that is loose. I think it's just the little spare change that people carry around with them on a day to day basis. You could have loose change in your coin purse or in the coin pocket of your wallet. – Daniel May 9 '13 at 20:50
  • I agree with @Daniel. It definitely isn't loose change if you put them in a roll-sleeve-thing, but I think it's still loose change if it's in your wallet/coin flap. That's perhaps not where the term originated, but I think it's what it has come to mean now. Regardless, this is a very useful answer, so +1 :) – WendiKidd May 9 '13 at 22:19
  • @Daniel and Wendikidd, Yeah, I think I have to agree with you after all. Updated to try to explain looseness better. – Hellion May 10 '13 at 3:30
  • It doesn't have anything to do with its ability to rattle around. It's all about being easily accessible. If you have a cup of coins at your house, but you don't carry it around with you, that is not loose change even if the coins can rattle around in the cup. – Daniel May 10 '13 at 4:30
  • On that I think we are going to have to disagree; a couple of coins in a cup qualifies as "loose change" to me. (a cup filled with coins, on the other hand, is not.) – Hellion May 10 '13 at 4:53

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