Dealing With “Found” Cash: What’s Right and What’s Wrong?

Two readers wrote in yesterday with concerns about handling cash they found. First, James:

I was at the grocery store this morning and I found a $20 bill on the floor. I picked it up and pocketed it and went home. My wife told me later on that I basically stole the money and I should have told the store manager about it. If it’s obviously abandoned cash, I think it’s more of a “finders keepers” type of thing. What do you think?

And then Margaret:

I found a $100 bill on the sidewalk yesterday. I was thrilled but then I began to worry about the person who dropped it. They might have really needed it for something important. What should I do?

I’ve found money several times and have often been puzzled about what to do with it.

When I was twelve, I saved up almost $200 (mostly through selling crushed aluminum cans or returning nickel cans in Iowa) with which I intended to buy a video game console. I had ten $20 bills, which I kept in my hip pocket out of fear of losing them. My mother took me to a city about forty minutes away where I was to have a doctor’s appointment, then we were going to go buy the console.

During the doctor’s visit, the money vanished. I had the money in my pocket just before entering the doctor’s office. I didn’t have it during the elevator ride back down to the car.

We returned to the doctor’s office and searched frantically. To this day, I’m suspicious that the receptionist found and pocketed the money, because she just sat there and watched us and told us that we wouldn’t be able to find it and she was sure that it wasn’t there.

If I were on the reverse end of that stick, I couldn’t imagine not giving the money back to the child. That just seems incredibly cruel and unethical.

After more than a bit of reflection, this is how I handle all found money.

If I find money with any form of identification attached to it, I try to return it. Anything that can possibly distinguish the money I’ve found from normal money, such as a money clip or a wallet or anything like that, results in some effort to return it to its rightful owner. It doesn’t matter where I find it – if I find it with something that makes identification directly possible, I try to return it myself.

If there is no identification and I’m in a place of business or government, I inform the manager but retain the item. I usually go to the manager and simply state that I’ve found a small amount of cash and would like to return it to its rightful owner. I offer to leave my contact information there. I don’t turn over the money to the person at the counter because that money is often pocketed. I then wait and see if anyone contacts me and can identify the exact amount lost. If someone does, then I’ll happily return it to them. If I don’t hear from anyone in thirty days, I keep the money.

If there is no identification and I’m in a public place, like a sidewalk or a park, I pocket the money. There is no simple or effective way to return the money in this situation because there is no effective “lost and found” for someone to seek the item. If someone has lost cash in such a situation, I view it as irresponsibility and feel no guilt about pocketing it. Of course, if someone returns while I’m still there and is searching for the money, I’ll ask them what they’re looking for and if they tell me, then I’ll give them the money that I found. If it’s possible for me to leave a note (with sidewalk chalk or something), I’ll do so, simply stating “I found an item of some value here. If you lost it, call me and identify it!”

In other words, if there is a reasonably simple way for me to return the money, I’ll do so. If there is no clear way to make it possible for me to return the money, however, I’ll pocket the money. In the end, it’s all about putting yourself in the shoes of the person that lost it – if they put up a reasonable effort to find it, I’ll do the same.

So, if I roll back to my twelve year old self at that doctor’s office, what would I have done if I had found the money? I would have went to the receptionist, reported to her that I had found a personal item of some value that someone had left behind, and given her my contact information in case anyone showed up to claim it. I would not simply hand it over. If I didn’t hear anything after thirty days, I would have simply kept the money.

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  1. Macaroni says:

    The author is ethically right with the given situations. After all methods of returning the lost goods have been exhausted, it should get rolled into the emergency fund. If you feel funny keeping the cash you could always pay it forward to a local charity.

  2. Emily says:

    Does the same apply to gift cards? We were in the parking lot of a rather large grocery store and my husband saw a gift card laying on the ground. He figured it was empty but picked it up anyway. We he got home he looked it up and there was $80 on it. He called the store to see if anyone had lost it. Or what about when you’re at the store and someone drops an item? I was outside Sam’s club and someone droped a $30 razor set….

  3. Laura Webber says:

    I am a pretty lucky finder- I’ve actually found diamonds three times! A loose stone, a ring and an earring… The first two I left contact info for, but not the objects- and after 30 days they were mine. The earring I left with a co-worker and when I asked about it a few days later no one had ever heard about it being turned in… lesson learned!

    Great advice!

  4. marta says:

    Why is it more irresponsible to lose money on a sidewalk or a public park than at a place of business or government?

    I don’t understand.

  5. Brian says:

    I apply pretty much the same method, with one addition. If I am at church, and I can’t find the owner / they don’t contact me, then the money goes in the offering plate.

    I would say gift cards and physical objects are pretty much the same. Find the owner if you can. Give up after a reasonable time (more expensive = more time is reasonable). Keep it if I can’t find the owner.

  6. marta says:

    Also:

    “I would have went to the receptionist”

    Would have *gone*. Come on, Trent, have some pride in your work!

  7. David Galloway says:

    Trent’s view is very similar to my own. I also lost $100 when I was twelve or so, and I remember grieving over that lost money for weeks.

    Of course the transverse of this is finding money in a jacket that you had forgotten about months ago. That is like Christmas. :)

  8. lurker carl says:

    If a gift card was purchased with a credit card, the store can trace it back to the person who bought it. The same electronic trail led to a criminal conviction for Baltimore’s last mayor – she took gift cards being donated to a charity drive.

  9. Rachel says:

    My sister and I were standing in line at a grocery store one time and she spotted $10 on the floor. She picked it up and said to me, “Look someone dropped some cash.” The guy in front of us looks up and goes, “That’s mine. How much is it?” and since we weren’t really expecting a response from anyone she just blurted out “$10 bucks.” And the man goes, “Yeah that’s mine.” then snatched it out of her hand a hurried out of the store.
    I still don’t believe to this day that cash was his – but I am still amazed at what a quick thinker he was to be able to snatch that out of my sisters hand and get out the door before she even realized what happened.

  10. Amanda says:

    Trent,

    It’s my understanding that if you find lost money (or any other item) you should take it to the local police station. You make a report of it then if no one claims it with in a certain amount of time it is legally yours to keep. I agree with, Marta. Why is it more irresponsible to loose something in a park vs. a parking lot?

  11. Brent says:

    The golden rule still applies. Finding money (reminds me that I should keep better count of exactly how much i have on hand). I’ve also had at the grocery store where I was given an item I didn’t buy. Go ahead, be the good guy. Congratulate yourself. But if you go through the trouble of trying to find a unfortunate person to give them your fortune, don’t feel guilty if you can’t find them.

  12. This is funny because just last weekend my husband and I were walking up the stairs of a public parking garage late on a Friday night and found some cash. Not much, but there was no one around and we didn’t think twice about pocketing it. However, I can’t imagine if I saw the person come looking for it that I wouldn’t immediately return it. That would be just cruel.

  13. My Freelance Road Trip says:

    The only time I found money was when I was delivering pizzas in San Diego. I saw what looked like a bill in the middle of a side street, so I stopped, and lo and behold, it was a $10 bill. There was no one around, so I couldn’t figure out any practical method of finding it’s rightful owner, so I kept it.

    Another time in San Francisco, my boyfriend lost his wallet, so we retraced our steps back to the dog park. There it was, sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk.

    In the same place, Pacific Heights, I left my nice mountain bike out to give it away, but no one would take it until I put a FREE sign on it!

  14. LeslieH says:

    I’m a firm believer in “what goes around comes around” and “no good comes of no good”. If I lost money or an item, I’d hope a kind soul would return it.

    I once lost my wedding rings and a watch (the rings were on the strap of the watch and in my purse – long story). They fell out of my purse while getting into the car. I didn’t notice them missing until hours later. Another car ran them over but someone did find them and turn them in to a store near where I lost them. I’ve always wanted to find the person who turned them in and thank them. It is kind of like paying it forward in my mind.

  15. Johanna says:

    Surely it depends how much money it is, right? I can’t imagine that most people would make any amount of effort to return, say, a $1 bill (unless you actually *see* it fall out of somebody’s pocket). The largest bill I’ve ever found has been $5, and that also seems to me to fall within the “finders keepers” realm in most cases.

  16. Jenny says:

    If I can find the owner, I use the money to pay it forward. I save the coins I find on the street, I call them ‘Pennies from Heaven” and give the money to a charity at Christmas time. It makes me feel good to know that I have helped someone.

  17. Elona_Witt says:

    I do not find it pratical to give money back to someone who lost it out of their mistake and they are nowhere to be seen. Honestly, are you really going to wait there for the next 4 hours for the person to realize their cash is gone? Any item missing, I give it back if the person dropped it in front of me and they are still there. I am not deceiving anyone to take something on the floor.

    Plus notifying the store manager, I can tell you unless it’s a wallet or something with real identification, they are going to know nothing about it.

    I worked at a Dollar Tree store where an irresponsible mother gives her daughter $10 in the store while it was crowded. She lost the money, and I assume someone else found it and left. The mother then tells my manager that we are responsible for her money.

    If notifying a local police station really helps, I am pretty sure hundreds of people would just pretend they lost money and try to claim money there; we would not know whether they are telling the truth or not.

  18. Ohio says:

    I like the idea of giving your contact information to the store personnel. I donate any “found” money to a local charity or to my church along with my donation. Pay it forward…

  19. twblues says:

    “Do unto others…”

  20. Art says:

    Your process sounds reasonable and fair. A few months ago, I found a coin purse with about $60 and around a dozen gift cards as I stepped off the bus going to work. There was no ID inside but a receipt had a customer name on it. It was not anyone I worked with but I figured there was a chance it was someone that works in the same building since the bus stop is right at the entrance. Sure enough, the phone directory had the woman’s name listed. She was so happy she cried and thanked me profusely for going through the trouble to find the rightful owner. My reward was lunch on her as a thank you and a great feeling for the rest of the day.

  21. Kate says:

    It’s funny you just posted this Trent–in Pittsburgh, the local media (now gone national) just covered a story about a local man who returned a found envelope of $3000 in CASH. He found the envelope, and, rather than keeping it, did a search to see if anyone had reported losing the money. As it turns out, it was a pair of newlyweds…the whole story is linked below, but I just thought the story was great–especially because there was no contact info in the envelope.

    http://www.wpxi.com/news/23971696/detail.html

  22. Meghan says:

    Last week my husband found 20$ while at work, early in the morning. He wrote a not on the department secretary’s whiteboard (she wasn’t in yet); the janitor saw the note, contacted my husband, told him how much money he had lost (20$), and my husband returned the bill. The janitor was nice enough to bring him lunch the next day (he works in a secure building so it’s not easy to “run” out for lunch and usually just brings a sandwich). Plus, he’s a new hire – it pays to be known for being honest (not that that’s why he returned the money).

    When I was 14 and bussing tables I found a money clip with about 2000$ (yes thousand, I didn’t mistype). I stuck it in my pocket, and ran out to the parking lot. The customer who was last at that table was just getting into his car. I asked if he lost anything, he patted his pocket, turned pale, and said yes. I asked for his initials (as it was monogrammed). He told me his, and then said the money clip says XYZ because he inherited it from his father (it matched the clip so I gave it to him). He gave me 100$ out of the clip for returning it to him! He also became a loyal customer of the restaurant and then of mine once I started serving…

  23. Michele says:

    Seriously, I guess I just don’t understand that when you find money, gift cards, things of value, that you don’t turn it in to the police and make a report. And, yes, $1 is a large amount to a child. If no one claims it within a certain amount of time, you get it anyways. It wasn’t yours to start with; why not let law enforcement make sure it’s returned to the owner? If you lost a $100 bill or $80 gift card, why wouldn’t you call the police? And if it’s drug money or part of a sting, would you really want to keep it?
    Do you also just keep the extra change when a high school kid cashier (who can’t count change) gives you the wrong amount? Or do you return that? Or do you just think, ‘screw the store or the kid- I found it”. I don’t understand that attitude at all.

  24. Matt says:

    I’ve heard that picking up money from a store or other private entity is akin to stealing. Whether it’s a penny by the cashier station, or $20 in the aisle. Once it hits the floor and is forgotten, it becomes the store’s property. Obviously, nothing much can be done if you steal it anyway :) But just sayin’.

  25. liv says:

    That’s a pretty good set of rules about it. I would normally pocket it UNLESS I actually saw the person drop it, then I’d say something. But then again, this rarely happens to me anyways, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

  26. Annie Jones says:

    I agree with Trent, I’d return it if I could, I’d keep it if I couldn’t. However, if I found a sizable amount, say anything more than $20, I would donate some of it to a charity just to keep the good karma flowing.

    Also, I don’t believe Trent was saying that it’s more irresponsible if someone loses money in a park or public place. I think he was stating that if someone loses loose bills…those not securely held within a clip or wallet but instead just shoved into a pocket…then they are more likely to lose the money. Not physically securing the money is the irresponsible act, no matter where it happens. Of course, that’s not to say an entire wallet or purse can’t be lost, but at least then, there is a chance the person’s money can be returned to them.

  27. Pat Chiappa says:

    Return money to the police and file a report? let’s assume law enforcement have more important things to do than keep track of other peoples cash. Let’s all be adults and figure out how to return found money – and if you can’t figure it out for yourself, make a copy of Trent’s suggestions and keep the list in your pocket – but then not to lose the list…

  28. Jane says:

    @Marta

    “I would have went” is often used in the Midwest. My husband says it ALL the time. I’ve stopped correcting him, even though it’s jarring to me every time he does it. Yes, it’s technically wrong grammar, but it’s also colloquial.

  29. TLS says:

    I once found $10 with a post-it attached that lsited two phone numbers. I called one and found the person who lost the money (it was intended for a homeless person she had met – the other number listed was for her church). I generally keep smaller amounts of money found in public if there are no identifying features.

    I also found a diamond ring on the ground. I turned it into police, contacted the management of a nearby business (who were not helpful at all) and posted an ad on craiglist. No one claimed it, so I went through the state’s claims procedure. I then had the ring refurbished and assessed. It is a VERY nice ring that is now my wedding ring. But I would not have felt right about the situation if I had not done due diligence to find the ring’s original owner.

  30. I’m almost as nice as you are.

    I would do that same was you except for:
    If I find the money in a high traffic store, I keep it.

    But if I was in a dentist office, I would do that same as you did and leave my name and hold on to the money until I got a call.

  31. MB says:

    Just to note that “would have went” should be “would have gone.”

  32. derse says:

    My sister-in-law told me the other day that she donates any amount of untraceable found money to charity.

  33. marta says:

    Jane,

    gotcha. I guess I just don’t care for colloquialisms in cases where they can be easily mistaken for bad grammar.

  34. David C says:

    After gassing up at the local convenience store the other day, I found a lady’s debit card laying in the driveway. I took it inside and handed it to the clerk. He then opened the register and placed it inside. The clerk was not surprised that someone lost a card, but a bit that someone would willingly return it. I hope that the owner eventually came back for it.

    Do unto others…

  35. Johanna says:

    @Michele: I’m curious – what do the police say to you when you hand them a $1 bill and ask to file a report? Do you also do this when you find loose change on the sidewalk? (That penny might belong to a small child who was saving up to buy a piece of gum…)

  36. marta says:

    As for where we draw the line, I don’t think there is an easy answer for that. 5 dollars can be a fortune for a little kid, and 100 dollars can be like pocket change for some rich dude. It’s all relative.

    How much money would need to be there for you to forgo the “finders, keepers” rule?

  37. Leigh says:

    Leigh at H&R Block here…Did you all realize that finding money (or other items of value) creates taxable income for you in the eyes of the IRS? Would you claim the income if you found $1, $50 or more? We’ve been debating not only the ethics of pocketing found money, but also reporting it on a tax return. Must be hard times when so many of us are focused on windfalls.

  38. tentaculistic says:

    Trent, you had really bad luck with the money you made collecting cans as a kid! First when you were 10ish your adult cousin stole $400-$500 worth of cans and robbed you of a year’s worth of work. Then when you were 12 you lost the $200 you got from selling collected cans, and you think that the adult receptionist stole it (in this instance, it is clearly stealing, unlike with most “found” money). I would think that you would flinch away when even *looking* at cans now, after all that work went down the drain twice by adults stealing from a kid.

  39. michael bash says:

    “I would have went to the receptionist ….” Heavens! Somebody needs English lessons.

  40. rose says:

    I agree with trying to find the owners first. My daughter lost her wallet in a Walgreens and I can’t believe no one would turn in an obviously kid’s wallet with her $3.54 (yes she knew the exact amount). But – it was a good lesson for her and since then we always try and find the owner and if we can’t give it to charity or a homeless person, etc. Good karma and if it wasn’t really ours before there is no “cost” to doing good with it.

  41. brad says:

    love the visual of you scribing that message and your phone number on the sidewalk.

  42. R says:

    In response to “have went” being a colloquialism: Um, would the editor of Trent’s book allow that to be included just because it’s a so-called colloquialism? I don’t think so!

    Interesting post, by the way, Trent. You have a way of causing so much debate among your readers.

  43. Johanna says:

    @marta: I think it depends on the circumstances. If I found $5 in a place where a lot of children were spending their pocket money (like a toy store or a family-oriented festival), I like to think I’d turn it in. $1 or anything less, I’d be choosing between keeping it or leaving it there for someone else to find and keep. It may be a nontrivial amount of money for the child who lost it, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly cheap lesson in the importance of being careful with your belongings.

    But if I found *any* amount of money in a wallet or change purse, even if there was no identification, I wouldn’t take the money. I’d probably either turn it in (if there was an obvious place nearby to do so) or leave it there for the owner to find if they came back looking for it. I think the amount of money would have to be very large indeed for me to bother doing anything more complicated than that.

  44. marta says:

    @Johanna:

    Actually that sounds pretty reasonable.

    For the record, I don’t think either that turning found money in and filing a police report, *regardless* of the amount, is the answer.

    Anyway, all this is a moot point where I am concerned because I never seem to find money anywhere. Oh wait, that’s not entirely true: I found 5 cents on the sidewalk the other day. It was my birthday, so I just pocketed the coin. ;)

  45. Anna says:

    I once found a $20 bill in the booth at a restaurant. I’m pretty positive that it had fallen out of a purse when digging for money to pay but I just tipped the waitress with it. She would have found it when she bussed the table after we left, at least this way she got to enjoy it as a tip. And if someone did come back saying they lost a $20 bill she could assume it was the bill on the table.

  46. There was one week when I found a $20 bill on top of a pay phone and then a few days later, a $20 bill in the rows of the empty movie theater! man, wish that would happen more often!!

  47. Laura in Seattle says:

    I was once grocery shopping on a lazy weekend afternoon in a large supermarket. The place was practically empty (a nice day, I presume everyone was out enjoying it). As I was walking down an aisle, I noticed a crumpled piece of paper on the floor. No one else was in the aisle, so I walked to it and picked it up, thinking I’d throw it away when I got outside. It was a crumpled $50 bill. Had I seen someone who might have dropped it, I would have asked them about it, but since no one was around and there was no wallet, info, etc to identify it, I kept it and used it to pay for my groceries. And if I had been the one to lose it, I wouldn’t fault the finder for doing the same thing.

  48. Golfing Girl says:

    I found a ten dollar bill on the floor in my building’s lobby. I notified the teller (our branch was located in the lobby of our building)and the security guard at the desk by the elevators that I found a sum of money (undisclosed) and left my information. Less than a half hour later, a coworker from another floor called me to let me know she dropped a ten dollar bill so I met her on her floor to return it. I doubt that 90% of the people in my building would go to such effort to return a seemingly small sum of money, but I kept thinking, what if some child or very poor person dropped it. It would seem more like $100 to them.

  49. Laura in Seattle says:

    That being said, I don’t believe the same rules apply to plastic, be it gift cards or debit/credit cards. Since moving to Seattle I have found seven (yes, SEVEN) debit or credit cards – in the park, on the ground. left in the ATM by the person in front of me (luckily I’d gotten a look at her and I chased her down to return it) – one card even FELL OUT of an ATM as I was walking past it! I have always either returned it myself (if I saw it dropped, lost, etc) or called the number on the back, reported the find, and did whatever the customer service department said to do with it (some asked me to cut the card up, one asked me to bring it to a nearby store and they would have the owner go there to get it). Once I had to enter the cardholder’s zip code to even access the bank’s phone menu when I called the number on the back (I guessed it was the local zip code, which turned out to be correct). The first thing that happened was the recorded menu told me the available balance on the card. It was just over twelve thousand dollars. Yes, I returned it.

  50. Todd says:

    This is a great post. I like those who would give found money to charity. I try to do that when people ask me for a dollar on the street. I rarely carry cash, so I say, “Sorry, I don’t have anything,” but I always feel bad. So I try to remember to donate a dollar to a charity for homelessness for every time this happens to me. (Working downtown in a major city, I get asked quite regularly.)

  51. Gretchen says:

    Why do you assume the cashier or other person you turn the money over to is going to keep it?

  52. Rachel says:

    I would be very curious to know what a police officers take on turning in the money to the police department would be. I am prone to thinking that the whole “30 days later you get the stuff” is an old urban legend.

    For example, a few months ago someone dumped a BRAND NEW (still had a few tags) kids bike in our backyard. Not just near the house, or in the front yard, they had taken it all the way to the back side of our house in order to hide it.

    A day or two passed and nobody came. We left it exactly where we found it. Finally I called the police to see if it had been reported stolen. It was a few weeks after Christmas, and we thought maybe some big kids swiped it from a smaller kid.

    When the police showed up not was absolutely nothing mentioned about getting the bike back, but the whole time I was questioned repeatedly as if I had stolen the bike! The incident was considered ‘found evidence’ and they told me they would contact me if they needed more information or for them to call them if I saw someone looking for the bike.

    I heard nothing about the bike again after that. Which maybe it was returned – but we were never put under the assumption that we would get this ‘found evidence’ back within any amount of time.

    Anyone know if this is actually true?

  53. Jason says:

    Here is an interesting story in my neck of the woods from today:

    http://www.ocregister.com/news/martinez-254474-police-store.html

    This guy went the extra mile to return a large sum of money. I like Trent’s ideas. If it was a large sum of money (large is a relative term of course), let’s say over $200, I would probably report it to the police…anything under that is not worth the while. I would leave a note or message with businesses etc in the near vicinity too.

  54. Monica says:

    I think Trent’s guidelines are good ones to follow, though I doubt I would write my phone number on the sidewalk for all the world to see.

    Several commenters mentioned filing a police report. I’ll be perfectly honest … I couldn’t even tell you where the nearest police station is. Maybe it’s something more common in a small town? (I live in a big city. If I needed the police, I’d just call 911.)

  55. Kelly says:

    I have found money and other valuables. When I was in 9th grade, I found a really nice diamond solitaire ring in my locker bay at school. I tied it to my sneaker as I was in the middle of softball practice when I found it. Took it home and showed it to my mother. She contacted the school and gave a brief description of the ring and told the school that if anyone reported a lost ring to give them our number. No one ever claimed it and my mother had that 1.3ct diamond made into a beautiful ring with her own engagement diamond.Back in 1987 it was valued at over 6K. I now have that ring in my possession. Not sure of it’s current value as I have yet to have it appraised.

    I’ve found money at the mall lying in the middle of the concourse. It was $65 Canadian money. I exchanged it at my bank and got around $55 in American dollars.

    I once found around $80 in the grass at a family function. I pocketed it and listened intently to hear if anyone lost any money as I just wasn’t gonna volunteer that I’d found this money. I didn’t hear of anyone reporting some lost cash so I kept it.

    I know I’ve lost money before..$20 here, $5 there. I’ve also had money taken out of my purse at one place of employment(I no longer bring anything over $20 to work anymore) so I don’t feel guilty about keeping found money. If I see who dropped it then I would most definitely return the money to it’s rightful owner.

  56. John S says:

    Sorry Jane, I don’t agree. The use of colloquialisms as an excuse for poor grammar only applies to the spoken word, not to writing. If Trent were writing a book, and “would have went” were part of the dialogue of one of his characters, that would be acceptable in context (though still grammatically incorrect). I also feel that a published author who purports to make a living solely from his writing should hold himself to a higher standard than you or I.

    Don’t mistake me; I’m not judging the entire blog for one grammatical error. I come here for the thought-provoking content, not to be the grammar police. What I’m saying is: let’s call a spade a spade, and not invent excuses for the man. Trent’s enough of a grown-up to admit it when he goofs.

  57. Claudia says:

    Found $20, owner should contact me at 555-1234 and provide a description.

    “Yes, I found $20, can you describe it?”

    “Yes, that’s correct, it has a “2″ and a “0″ on it and the words “twenty” — well obviously it’s yours!”

  58. SLCCOM says:

    I don’t think most people are honest myself when you turn money over to a non-police officer. Yes, the cops have time to take money you find. That is their job, and the only way you can be certain that the loser will get it back.

    The stories about lost debt cards are why I do not have or use one. In fact, the people at the bank where I set up my account don’t use one, either.

  59. Money Smarts says:

    I’m with Trent on this one – if there is an easy way to identify who dropped the money – if it’s in a wallet for example – I’ll do my best to return it. If it’s a large sum of money and I find it in a store or something – i’ll let someone at the customer service counter know that if someone lost some money, that they can call me. If I just happen to find a small amount of money out in public somewhere, i’ll pick it up and keep it. If it’s a larger sum of money I’ll turn int into the police.

  60. John S says:

    About a month ago, in the parking lot of a small grocery store that I frequent, I found a wallet with several bills visibly poking out. I didn’t count it, nor did I open the wallet to look for ID. I simply picked it up, walked it inside, and handed it to the clerk behind the counter. Despite the clerk’s suggestion to the contrary, I’d like to think that most of us would have done the same thing.

    A recent issue of Reader’s Digest contained an international poll on this subject. Australia and the United States were among the top-ranked nations in which about 90% of polled citizens claimed they would return the wallet and the cash. The lowest ranking among polled nations was Russia, where only about 49% of those polled claimed they would return the wallet and the cash. (The majority answer in Russia was “Take the cash and toss the wallet.”)

    If I had found loose cash instead of a wallet, I probably would have just pocketed it, because there’s no reasonable way to demonstrate rightful ownership of cash. But as Trent suggested in his article, my view is that any time you have a reasonable shot at identifying the rightful owner, you have a moral responsibility to attempt to do so.

  61. Gemond says:

    I’ve never really found more than coins or dollar bills out in public spaces or the street. However, I’ve lost money (several hundred dollars in a wallet in a cab, during the holidays for example, when it fell out of my bag but I did not see it on the floor at night)several times over the years. I’ve always needed the money I lost as we’ve never been in a financial position where we could just lose it and not have hardship.

    The only way I console myself is to hope that whoever found it really needed it. (Since there has been ID with all the money I lost, I know it could have easily been returned, but that was never the case.)Probably not the case, but that’s how I kept my sanity.

    I have twice found wallets with cash and credit cards and went to great lengths to return them. One person was gracious. The other suspicious. But I could never in good conscience keep somebody else’s money. Even if other people had no problem keeping mine!

  62. Andy says:

    Out of all these scenarios (including finding $1 to $5 cash on the ground in a public place), I only noticed one person saying that they would ever just leave it there…!

  63. CalifGirl says:

    I once left my purse in a shopping cart when it started raining and I got distracted. I realized what I had done after driving about a block away. Bless the person who returned my purse to the Customer Service desk of the store. Nothing was missing and the story could have ended badly. I am thankful that there are still honest people around!

  64. David says:

    I found $20 outside of a busy 7-11 earlier this spring. I felt guilty about keeping it, but wasn’t sure how I could get it back to the owner. A friend likened my guilt over benefitting by someone else’s bad fortune to survivor’s guilt.

  65. valleycat1 says:

    I used to work at a private school & occasionally had money or other items turned in to lost & found. We’d put out a generic notice (money found, watch found) asking that the item be identified in more detail by the owner. One student always came in if cash as found & said he’d lost $50 – figuring sooner or later he’d get lucky (as if the office staff weren’t onto him)!

  66. Johanna says:

    @valleycat1: That reminds me of something one of my professors said when I was in college. He mused that it would be really easy to pick up free umbrellas any time it rained – just go into random offices around campus and ask, “I lost my umbrella, has anyone turned it in?” If asked what it looked like, say, “It’s (university colors) and it says (university name) on it.” Sooner or later (probably sooner) you’d get lucky.

  67. Kai says:

    Why not just give it to the staff? Because I know that I am an honest person. I don’t know about anyone else. I once found a nice knife in a boat I rented. I turned it in to the rental place, figuring they could call the last could renters and see if it might have been left. I also left my name and number taped to it, asking to have it returned to me if they couldn’t find the owner. (I also know the staff here.) I went back a week later, and it was gone. No-one called anyone, the owner was not found, my number was ignored – someone else just decided to appropriated it.
    I’m still kicking myself for that. I should have kept it, and given them the information, so if they found the owner I could return it.
    In the future, that would be my action taken.

    I would only make a police report of a large amount of loose money. Any identification, I would definitely try to return it.

    I once found a drug packet on the bus. I called the number of the pharmacy, told them that one of their customers had lost their month of pills, and could they please call the guy and let him know he could pick it up at the city lost and found?

  68. par717 says:

    I think people may be over thinking this. If it is loose cash less than $100 it is mine if I pick it up. There isn’t a reasonable and simple way to ID it and you’re bound to be scammed if you try.

    If there is any ID or a way to ID, then of course try to return it, but if you find cash, keep it. Consider it a “stupid” tax on the person for dropping it and a lesson learned for them.

    Trent – I bet you were much more careful with your money after that incident, weren’t you? (Heck, look how careful you are with it now!)

  69. Jane says:

    “In response to “have went” being a colloquialism: Um, would the editor of Trent’s book allow that to be included just because it’s a so-called colloquialism? I don’t think so!”

    I find it amusing that you would expect the same standard of writing in a daily blog post on the internet that you would expect in a published and edited book. Blogs are by nature more conversational and therefore allowed to be more colloquial.

    So you all who so strongly object to “I would have went” never write a colloquialism? Ever? I find that hard to believe.

    Look, I don’t particularly like the phrase “would have went” and have never used it myself, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a regional phrase.

    I just don’t happen to enjoy the regular and very harsh attacks of the online grammar police. Critique his content all you want, but I personally get tired of the nitpicking.

  70. Anna09 says:

    Our local paper ran a story about a man who found cash blowing in the wind; the people who lost the money were able to get it back from the man.

    It’s another option; publish in the newspaper or online.

    I lost a $20 at a Relay for Life event. I can only hope that whoever found it donated it, since that was what I was planning to do with it anyway.

  71. Iowa Stater says:

    “Have went”- I had never have heard that this was a colloquialism. To me “have gone” sounds more incorrect and jarring to the ear as not many people in this area say “have gone.”

    What a bunch of nit-picky people.

  72. SLCCOM says:

    Trent is trying to be a professional writer. His grammar has greatly improved as a result of the “grammar police.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I make comments on grammar, it is to help Trent be a better writer so that he can be a professional. I believe that it the motivation of most of the “grammar police.”

    Personally, when someone corrects me I appreciate it that they care enough about me to help me improve.

  73. LeviTate says:

    My son (8) has swimming lessons once a week after school at another local school. After one lesson, he found $50 on the path leading from the carpark to the pool entrance. It wasn’t appropriate to return to the pool and ask those parents if they had lost it as the were people coming and going constantly.

    I happen to work at the school in an unrelated area, so the next day I contact the receptionist and asked her to contact me if someone enquired about it.

    I told my son it wasn’t ours to keep until after at least 7 days, by which time the person would’ve returned to the school for their weekly lesson.

    As this was a large find, we decided that money found in this way by any member of our family would be shared equally between all members, as it was due to luck. After 10 or so days, we assigned 10% for donating and gave each of our 3 children $9.

    The lesson we wanted to teach our children is that if you put in an investment (time or money) and get money in return, the money is yours, but if there is no effort given, we share.

    I think we decided that any coins found could be kept by the finder without having to try to find the owner. (In Australia we have $1 & $2 coins)

  74. SimplySara says:

    Once, when I was about 10, I was swimming in the Pacific Ocean and a $20 bill floated past me and I grabbed it. I have no idea how I would have gone about returning it. My dad let me keep it but I had to donate half to our church.

    I live in a very large city (3 million people) and I don’t think the police would want me to bother them. Living in a neighborhood near a street that has a lot of bars, restaurants and shops, I have twice had things show up on my doorstep (presumably by someone who stopped to rest). The first was a purse that had a cell phone and a wallet in it. I looked at the phone and called the number for “mom” and it turned out that the purse belonged to a 14-year-old girl who was very happy to have her things back. Another time a very nice bicycle was left in my yard. I called the police thinking it was either stolen and ditched or perhaps registered and the police just laughed. I did post signs and no one ever claimed it. Since the bike was worth at least $500, and they weren’t willing to do anything about it, I am sure they wouldn’t help me if I found $20.

  75. Donna says:

    Okay, I’m getting on the soapbox here, but it really bothers me when people jump all over a writer over a single grammar error in what is otherwise a very well-written piece. It’s not a big deal, folks. It’s not the kind of error that obscures meaning, and it’s not as if the post were littered with errors.

    High standards are great, but no writer is perfect. Writing well is hard work, and I imagine it can be very frustrating putting a lot of time and effort into writing thought-provoking ideas, only to have people pick apart the words you used and how you constructed the sentence. It kind of sends the message that you didn’t read what they actually wrote, and you only cared about waiting for an opportunity to criticize.

    If you have to point out a mistake, at least be nice about it. No need to try to make yourself look smarter than someone else because you happened to catch a grammatical error. (Ever meet a math teacher who made occassional mistakes in arithmetic? I know I have! Did that mean he wasn’t any good at math? Of course not.)

    Sometimes, even when we KNOW the “correct” way to say/write something, we revert to a colloquialism. Why? Sometimes we forget. Also, colloquialisms are often part of a writer’s voice. Sometimes proper English can sound too “stuffy”, depending on the audience/context (even in books). And of course, languages change over time.

    So point out the mistakes guys, but give Trent a break. I doubt most professional writers get it right 100% of the time.

  76. Claudia says:

    One of the posters who took Trent to task for writing “I would have went” then wrote “gotcha” in her post. Is “gotcha” proper English? or—-a colloquialism?

  77. Leah says:

    I have to say that I appreciate people who give back wallets or something identifying. I once dropped my wallet while hiking (fell out of my camera case). We realized it 10 minutes away, drove back, and were happily greeted by a few guys in their car sitting at the trailhead. It was a short hike, and we’d passed them coming in as we were headed out. I’m so glad they held on to it and gave it back.

    On the other hand, if I had dropped $20 (or more) out of my camera case . . . I would have been happy to get it back when I returned but not have expected it. Like Trent says, that’s much harder to trace.

    Also, I have never heard of turning plain cash over to the police. Items, wallets, etc — yes. Do they really just take cash? What do you do — provide a description of exactly where you found it? I just think that’s so hard to trace. Like others have said here, when I find cash on the ground, I keep it but listen around to see if someone lost it. If I would hear someone saying they lost the exact amount in the area, I would totally give it back (can’t believe the receptionist in Trent’s story!). But otherwise . . . ? Meh.

  78. I agree completely–if there is a fairly easy way to return the money and I am fairly confident that it is going back to its rightful owner, I think one is obligated to return it.

    Otherwise, I think its yours to keep

  79. Michelle68 says:

    My daughter recently lost her purse and wallet, containing her drivers license, social security card and debit card. She lost it on a Saturday and early Monday morning, it was anonymously left on our front porch with everything intact. We were so grateful for that honest person who left it there. I really can’t see the practicality of turning over very small amounts of money (change or dollar bills) to the police, but I would definitely turn over larger amounts or debit or credit cards. Or I would try to contact the rightful owner, if possible.

  80. Mary says:

    If I find cash and it’s not immediately obvious whose it is, I donate it to charity. Recently I’ve found a $5 and a $20 on the street. Usually I place it in the poor box at my church, but you could just as easily pocket it and then write a check, or hand it to a homeless person on the street. Seems like the best thing to do with a little windfall, especially since I don’t really need the extra money.

  81. SZCZEBRZESZYN says:

    Old midwest joke: Farmer Joe was driving by and farmer Mike waved, but Joe did not wave back. Later in the coffee shop Mike mentioned it. Joe said “If I would of knowed it was you, I would of retch out and wove.”

  82. Maya says:

    I think the context of the found money also has bearing. My biggest problem is at the farmer’s market, especially on windy days. I have lost bills of all denominations up to 20 and I have found bills of all denominations up to 20. I know from experience that sometimes even loosing a couple bucks out of my pocket means that I’m short and won’t be able to get all of my planned purchases. I’ve had people return money that they noticed I had dropped, and vendors call it to my attention as well. On one occasion I backtracked and asked a vendor if he had seen the missing money and someone had in fact given it to him, so he passed it back to me. As a result, we always ask people nearby if they have lost money and if no one responds we give it to the nearest vendor, telling them that it was found nearby. I figure that if no one comes looking for the lost money it will do the most good in the cash box of one of the vendors.

  83. marta says:

    @ Claudia:

    Of course it’s a colloquialism. What is your point? I don’t have a problem with colloquialisms in general.

    But bad grammar is still bad grammar, even under the disguise of colloquial speech.

  84. Katie says:

    But bad grammar is still bad grammar, even under the disguise of colloquial speech.

    That’s only true if you think of language as some sort of unchanging institution with rules handed down from on high. That’s not really how it works. Colloquial forms of English are no less complex or internally consistent than formal English. Yes, there are situations where formal English is the appropriate form to use, but it makes me laugh that people are so convinced that a blog post is one of them.

  85. Wendy says:

    I had $280.00 deposited into my checking account, one that I was planning to close within a month. I knew that I did NOT deposit any money into my account and there it was. I told the bank teller about it and she was reluctant to do anything about it. She assumed I just forgot that I deposited the money. I insisted that I didn’t deposit that money. I asked for records of that deposit and after talking to a manager, I was able to get the records. The information on the paper copy they gave me was barely readable. I could read part of the person’s name who deposited it and the city/state where it was deposited. I did a google search and a switchboard.com search and I found someone who was probably a match. I called them, talked to his Mom. He was a college student and his bank account number was so close to my account number. The teller made a mistake and deposited his money into my account. I told the bank and they corrected the problem and he got his money back.

    It wasn’t easy, but I was able to find out who the money belonged to and got it back to who it belonged to. I had this worry that it was somebody’s weekly paycheck and that it was really important to them to get their money back.

    I’m glad I did that because it was the right thing to do. It would have been easier to do nothing though.

  86. Kevin says:

    Regarding the idea that you should go out of your way to return small amounts of money in areas where it’s possible it belonged to a small child:

    I would keep it. I see it as an opportunity to teach a child a valuable lesson – take care of your stuff. By bending over backwards to return $5 to a kid, you’re teaching them that they don’t have to be careful, because the rest of society will take care of them. You’re breeding an attitude of dependency that will NOT serve them well throughout life. A few tears will drive home a valuable lesson – that nobody cares more about their money than themselves, and that if you’re not careful, the world will bite you.

    Double your good karma and donate the $5 to an animal shelter. The kid learns a lesson, some homeless pets get some food, you get to feel good about yourself – everybody wins.

  87. marta says:

    @Katie,

    I am aware that language is constantly evolving, and I am fine with that. But this doesn’t mean it’s okay to say things like “irregardless”, right? Or write in netspeak outside text messages and IM conversations?

    Trent is always saying he is (or wants to be) a professional writer, so I think (and I am not the only one) he should be held to higher standards. Just because most of his writing is done through blog posts it doesn’t mean he can ignore grammar and spelling. You can be informal without making such mistakes.

    People who call him out on such issues generally do so because they care and think he can do better. That’s certainly my case.

  88. Johanna says:

    Kevin, you have a very strange notion of what constitutes “breeding an attitude of dependency.” I think I’ll leave it at that.

  89. littlepitcher says:

    Some years back, I lost a bundle of 15-$100 bills returning from a job site. A week later, after searching everywhere else, I returned to WalMart and asked them if they had found any such thing. The cashier had, indeed, turned it in. The chain’s policy will not allow employees to accept rewards but will accept donations to the store’s chosen charitable recipient, St. Jude’s in this case.

    I’ve only found street money over the years, $20 twice. Debit cards get turned in at the stores.

  90. 8sml says:

    @#59 Kevin:
    Next time I find money that belongs to a small child, I will return it. I see it as an opportunity to teach a small child a valuable lesson – the world is full of people who are more compassionate than Kevin makes himself out to be.

  91. Crystal says:

    If I had a good chance at finding the owner, I would. If not, I’d keep it.

    After college, I found an envelope laying on the ground next to a car I parked by. It had $480 in it (our $400 rent was due soon, so that was probably it plus some walk around money). I knocked on 7 doors before finding the owner of the car and explaining I found some money near it…he quickly went back inside to check if he was missing anything. Then I asked him what bank he had used and how much he had missing (since the bank was on the envelope). He quickly answered (like immediately…$480 from BOA in 2 seconds). I got the envelope out of my car and handed it back. I think he would have kissed me if it didn’t seem inappropriate. :-)

  92. My best friend was traveling to New York City for a few days, and on her first day there, lost her wallet in Grand Central Station. Someone found it, used her ID to contact her parents in Ohio, and made arrangements to return it to her hotel in NYC–with everything in it. My friend felt like she had an angel on her shoulder!

    I work at a bank and on windy days we have these crazy people who wander around our parking lot, looking for money that might have blown out of the drive-thru teller drawer… :-)

  93. deRuiter says:

    It’s not a colloquilism, it’s bad grammar and bad or non existant editing. Have to agree with #26 that Trent’s got a history of not hanging on to money through bad management. First of all not taking the cans to the scrapper as a load built up, and banking the money, then bragging on the huge load of cans indiscriminately to those whole stole them, and then carrying around a large sum of money carelessly instead of putting it in a safe place or banking it. Glad you’ve reformed Trent!

  94. Peter says:

    I once lost $40 at the grocery store and didn’t realize it until I got to the car. I asked the lady at customer service if anyone had found it and turned it in. She gave me a surprised look and answered “not in this economy”. A security guard came up to me and gave me $40 someone had found near the self checkout. I’m not sure why he had not told customer service about it, but I was glad to have the next week’s grocery money back.

  95. Claudia says:

    Marta-
    My point is why criticize someone for using bad grammar and then use it yourself?

  96. I’ve just spent another evening enjoying Mark Twain. I’m exceedingly glad he didn’t encounter Marta, deRuiter, and their ilk when he was a beginner. Or if he did, he ignored them!

    It’s a good thing that Jane Austen, too, was spared their attention. How *could* she have become a published author when she was circulating ghastly errors like “Love and Freindship” among her family (the early equivalent of blogging!)

    People who publish colloquialisms, slang, and even (oh horrors!) typos can become mighty, immortal writers. Keeping the typos out is what copy editors and proofreaders get paid for!

  97. marta says:

    If you can’t see any difference at all between “gotcha” (colloquialism) and “would have went” (bad grammar), I can’t really help you.

  98. Kirsten says:

    I used to work at a supermarket, and we had a policy regarding found money – it gets logged in a book along with the finder’s name and number, goes into a separate envelope in the store safe, and we wait 30 days. Once that 30 days is up, if the finder comes back to the store they can claim the money, and after 45 days the money goes to the store – We had a special PLU number for this. I would like to think that most larger stores (anything bigger than a mom & pop) would have similar policies.

  99. Claudia says:

    Sorry, gotcha, ain’t and such colloquialisms are bad grammar too.

  100. Luke G. says:

    My wife and I found a whole wallet with $400 cash in it once alongside a road. Had a guy’s name, but no address info in it. I hit up Intellius(sp?), paid a few bucks to look the guy’s phone # and address up. He was quite appreciative!

    We started to take it to the police initially, but with the cash in it I was concerned that it might come up missing…

  101. Becky says:

    ‘Gotcha’ isn’t the same as “have went”. But I’ll admit…I skimmed right over the grammar mistake in the original post…

    To the guy who says that money lying in the aisle of a store belongs to the store. Why do you say that? What happens if money falls out of your pocket and is lying in the aisle of the store–suddenly it belongs to the store because it is lying in their aisle? Who says?

    Once my toddler-in-potty-training had to go the bathroom in a steakhouse. He found almost $100 and pointed it out to my husband.

    We told the manager of the steakhouse that we had found some money in the bathroom and if someone reports it missing, to have them call us. We waited a couple of weeks, or whatever they told us to wait. No one called, and so we used the money to go a rodeo in Cody, WY.

    :0 I considered it a blessing and it provided some badly needed “family fun”.

    I would not turn in $1-$100 to the police. Nor would I expect anyone else to–this would be the kind of thing that is a waste of the police’s time. I’d rather they work on catching criminals than finding the owner of that $1 or $50…

    As far as a child losing $1…What child thinks $1 is a lot these days?

  102. Brittany says:

    Marta, if you can’t see the frequent grammar/punctuation errors in your rants against other people’s writing, you should probably get off your grammar high horse, because you don’t deserve to be up on it.

  103. Steve in W MA says:

    @ rachel “The guy in front of us looks up and goes, “That’s mine. How much is it?” and since we weren’t really expecting a response from anyone she just blurted out “$10 bucks.” And the man goes, “Yeah that’s mine.” then snatched it out of her hand a hurried out of the store.
    I still don’t believe to this day that cash was his – but I am still amazed at what a quick thinker he was to be able to snatch that out of my sisters hand and get out the door before she even realized what happened.”

    He wasn’t a quick thinker. He was an opportunistic scumbag who had been rehearsing for situations like that for years. So he got the jump on you and your sister.

  104. rolo says:

    Yesterday I was on the subway just came home from a long day of skating .I was flat broke because I gave the rest of my money away to my friends for food…long story short I was hungry n now I wanted to eat and I was wishing I had some money…as I’m thinking this someones debit card lands directly infront of me I kinda freaked out I picked it up but I felt awkward for doing so I just pocketed it but i definatly didn’t use it (too paranoid) I’m gonna chop it up

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