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There is a Smart Contract call called SSTORE (See ETH Yellow Paper page 27: https://ethereum.github.io/yellowpaper/paper.pdf).

It costs 20000 gas if a zero byte is set to a non-zero byte. It costs 5000 gas if a non-zero byte is set to another non-zero byte.

Here are 2 transactions where one does, and the other one doesn't pay 20000:

So then what if I adopt a policy that me and those people I interact with, must always keep at least 1 (in lowest units) of every of the ERC-20 tokens that are relevant to us? If I understand this correctly it would mean that nobody would ever have to pay 20000 gas anymore for the SSTORE operation.

I could keep 0.000001 USDT / USDC, and 0.000000000000000001 LINK, and then if someone would send me either of those tokens, they'd always have to pay only 5000 gas for the SSTORE operation.

Am I correct in thinking this, or am I missing something? Is this already being considered or implemented in the wild?

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Yes, you are correct, by keeping at least one wei of ERC20 tokens you can save on gas fees in the long run. This is a common tactic used by MEV bots, and you can find MEV bots in the wild that hold 1 wei of many ERC20 tokens.

Here is an MEV bot with over 3,000 ERC20 tokens. You can find more on https://eigenphi.io/.

Also, by holding one wei of all ERC20 tokens you interact with, you may be eligible for airdrops and other holder benefits in the future.

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