Please email or share this article!

Making Change – How to Use Money

In this article, we will use the U.S. Dollar currency. The following is a brief explanation of how to add coins and bills.

Knowing how to add coins and bills is essential to learning how to subtract them, in other words, to make change. So first, let’s review how to add coins and bills.


 Using Addition

Counting Coins: The U.S. currency has coins with a value of 1 (penny), 5 (nickel), 10 (dime), 25 (quarter), and 50 cents.

Problem: 5 pennies, 3 nickels, 2 dimes, 3 quarters, one 50-cent piece. Add 5 + 15 + 20 +75 + 50 = 165. We know that 100 pennies = $1, so the total is $1 and 65 cents or $1.65.

Counting Bills (paper money):  

The U.S. uses paper money with the values of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1000, and some others with higher values.

Problem: 3 x $1, 2 x $5, 1x $20, 2 x $50, 3 x $100. Add 3 + 10 + 20 + 100 + 300 = $433 which is read as four hundred and thirty-three dollars.

math tips for kids

Counting Bills and Coins:

Problem: 5 pennies, 3 nickels, 2 dimes, 3 quarters, one 50-cent piece AND 3 x $1, 2 x $5, 1x $20, 2 x $50, 3 x $100.

This is calculated in three steps: Add the coins, add the bills, then, add the coins and bills together.

Step 1: Add 5 + 15 + 20 +75 + 50 = 165 or $1.65

Step 2: Add 3 + 10 + 20 + 100 + 300 = $433

Step 3: Add $1.65 + $433 = $434.65

The three examples are determining the value of coins and paper money by using addition. Making change involves subtraction.

math can be confusing

Initially, children learn to make change using just coins. They first learn the values of nickels, dimes, quarters, and 50-cent pieces. 

Then they learn to subtract whole numbers, such as 25 – 10 = 15.  

Next they have to learn what coins will total the amount of change: 15 cents is one dime and one nickel OR three nickels OR one dime and 5 pennies, etc.

Jefferson nickel

Using Subtraction

Everyone needs to learn how to make change and to recognize when they are given the WRONG change.

You can’t assume that everyone knows how to add and subtract without a calculator, so it is up to you to make sure the change you receive is correct.

math help

Computerized Tills

Today, we most often make purchases that are calculated in a computerized machine by entering a code on the item into the computerized till at the checkout.

After you provide the right amount of cash to the teller (without using a debit or credit card) the change is automatically calculated by the computer.


Using Cash

However, not every purchase you make is calculated by a machine. Sometimes, especially in small stores or kiosks, the purchase and the change are calculated by a human.

For example, if you buy 3 ice cream cones from a small vendor, he will calculate the total in his head: 3 times 75 cents = $1.50.

ice cream

If you give the vendor $5, you have to calculate in your head the change you should receive. You most likely will not have a calculator in your pocket.

So, you perform a subtraction in your head and know how to use decimals: $5.00 – $1.50 = $2.50.

As a double check, add the change to the purchase, and that should equal the amount you gave to the vendor: $2.50 + $1.50 = $5.00.

Time for a Quiz – Test Your Knowledge!



Using U.S. currency, what is the value of 6 pennies, 3 nickels, 4 dime, and 2 quarters?

Using U.S. currency, what is the value of 6 pennies, 3 nickels, 4 dime, 2 quarters, 3 one-dollar bills, and 3 five-dollar bills?

What change would you get if you gave the clerk 2 twenty dollar bills to pay for something that costs $14.53?


Why should everyone know how to calculate change without a computer?

Do you have to calculate your change when you use a credit or debit card?



The answer is: 111 cents or $1.11.

The answer is: $19.11

The answer is: $40.00 – $14.53 = $25.47


Not everyone, even a clerk, knows how to add and subtract correctly in their heads and they could calculate your change incorrectly.

The amount of your purchase is entered directly from your credit card and no change is required to give you.

Money & Finance


Leave a Comment