why do people leave pennies on graves

Why Do People Leave Pennies On Graves?

Different people have different ways to honor their dearly departed loved ones. This varies even more from culture to culture. Some people, like in Asia, would light a candle or incense. And then would say a prayer to the grave of the dead before leaving the place. In some Western countries, they would pour the dead’s favorite drink on the grave. Some would leave beautifully-arranged flowers on the graves they visited. While others would leave pennies. But why would people leave pennies on graves?

At first, people leave pennies on military graves:

Where and how leaving pennies (or dimes and nickels) began?

If the deceased was a soldier, it is a common practice to leave a penny on the grave. Most especially if the soldier lost his life for the sake of his nation. But more than that, it’s a sign of respect, both for the deceased and for the family as well.

The coins on military graves have meanings to depict a certain situation connected to the dead soldier.

  • Pennies. This means you visited the grave and paid your respect regardless of the affiliation. You can leave pennies on the soldier’s grave even if you didn’t know them personally.
  • Nickels. Leaving nickels means that you shared a bond with the soldier like doing boot camp together specifically. Boot camps are most likely where soldiers find a buddy a soldier can treasure.
  • Dimes. When you leave a dime on in the headstones it means that you both served together. This would be either as co-soldiers, someone who is a superior, or someone who is a subordinate.  

This practice is believed to have also stemmed from Greek Mythology, Charon, and the River Styx.

According to mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who requires payment for a safe passage to cross the realm of the living and the dead. The living should be placing it either in the mouth or over the eyes of the deceased. Failure to comply with this payment would mean the dead would wander around the shores of the river for at least a hundred years. 

The Transition of People Leaving Pennies on Graves:

Coins on the graves of soldiers are a thing you would see constantly at cemeteries. Soon it transitioned to having non-military graves left with pennies too.

In Pennsylvania, where the grave of Benjamin Franklin is, the transition began. A tradition of tossing pennies on his grave while saying the phrase “a penny saved, is a penny earned” was started by people who visit the grave. Although, the phrase was attributed to Franklin, he did not originally coin them. But the tradition later becomes what people believed to give them good luck and financial stability.

The tradition then stemmed to people leaving coins on non-military graves. This is to not only show respect to the dead but also wish luck on themselves. 

What to leave at a grave — the Dos and Don’ts

If you’re thinking about what to leave at a grave, there are plenty of options to choose from.

  1. Flowers. It represents the living still remembering the bloomed life of their dearly departed.
  2. Plants or trees. If you want something that lasts. Simply ask the cemetery caretakers planting anything on the grave is fine. This way, the memory lives on as the plant does.
  3. Stones on the headstones and holiday decorations. Depending on the dead’s culture they grew up with, these can also be left on the dead’s grave.

What not to leave on the graves?

Although graves are personally owned by the family, there are also some things that you should not leave on the graves.

  • Large banners that obstruct the pathway of other mourners are a big no.
  • Fencing the grave unless you’re creating a mausoleum.

The best way to know the dos and don’ts is to simply ask your groundskeepers. They know more about the rules of the cemetery.


Some would wonder why do people put pennies on graves instead of flowers. Well, there’s no way to gauge what’s more fitting to leave on a dearly departed’s grave. While some believe flowers are enough, others would do more. It will all depend on the person visiting the grave and their way of honoring the dead.  

Mourning the dead technically never ends. For most cultures, praying is what helps the dead pass from the realm of living to the dead, where there lead to rest eternally.

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