How could you go wrong saving your pennies? It's hard to imagine, as we all should realize how important it is to sock money away for emergencies and for our future. (Get some savings tips and special interest rates.) But not all saving is equally productive.

In California recently, a story surfaced about a man named Ron England, a projectionist at Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Paramount Studios. In 1974, fully 30 years ago, England bet his brother a meal in Paris that he could collect a million pennies. In relatively short order -- just a few years -- England's garage filled with 3.6 tons of pennies -- a million of 'em. Then they sat there, until the Englands prepared to move and had to figure out how to get rid of the pennies.

As of a few weeks ago, it didn't look like the story was going to have a happy ending. For starters, England's brother didn't remember the bet, and it wasn't clear whether he would honor the deal. Worse, England discovered that he couldn't just take the pennies to a bank to have them converted to bills. (A million pennies amount to $10,000... and they weigh quite a bit.) At least not without being charged for the service. Likewise, the U.S. Mint didn't want them -- they were meant to remain in circulation. Coin collectors didn't want them, either. One article describing the situation quipped that while some pennies may be from heaven, others are from hell.

Finally, after some media attention, a happy ending was orchestrated. Supermarket giant Safeway (NYSE:SWY) stepped up and offered to give England $10,000 for his pennies and $5,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, as well. (Read about Safeway's recent earnings troubles and whether it's an attractive investment with its low P/E ratio.) It reportedly took a mover four hours and several trips to get the pennies out of England's home.

The story gets better. England's brother agreed to cough up the meal in Paris. And the Englands are planning to buy a Deere (NYSE:DE) tractor with their penny proceeds.

The ending could have been even happier, though. Had England parked that $10,000 in an investment that yielded an average of just 3% per year instead of leaving it in his garage for some 25 years, it would have grown to more than $20,000. If he'd opened a brokerage account (learn how to find a new or better brokerage) and invested in the stock market, earning perhaps an average of 10%, he'd have more than $100,000. He could have given Make-a-Wish $10,000 and still had lots more left over.

At least he'll always have Paris.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.