Dropped Money

I’ve always loved finding money ever since I was a kid (in reality, I just love to find “things” – it’s one of the reasons I’ve done well with ebay out here – I genuinely love going into old run down antique stores and rummaging through all their boxes to see if I can find a treasure among all the junk – but back to coins). My dream retirement is to live near the beach and get up every morning to go for a walk with a metal detector in hand and beach comb with a dog by my side.

I’ve always searched for coins since I can remember. I’ve had years where I have been much more focused than others, but I can safely say I pick up a minimum of $50 a year in forgotten coins and other money even when not trying hard. I was wandering around the web the other day and I found a tiny niche of writers who share my passion (and even go to more extreme lengths than myself in recording their finds):

Change Is Good
Change Race
Race of the Century

I even wrote an article for a magazine in Japan about finding money (and got paid $200 for it to boot!) which I have placed below.

A colleague’s daughter was given New Year’s money known as otoshidama from her grandfather. After receiving the money, she quizzically looked at her grandfather and asked, “Did you find the money on the ground?” Her question perplexed everyone in the room until they realized that otosu means “to drop.” She had assumed otoshidama had meant the money had been dropped and found on the ground.

Although it wasn’t the case in that particular situation, the girl could have easily been correct. In my first full year of keeping track of the money I found in Japan, I made myself 14,129 yen (94 one-yen coins, five 5-yen coins, 121 ten-yen coins, 10 fifty-yen coins, 38 one hundred-yen coins, three 500 yen coins, two 1000 yen bills and one 5000 yen bill) richer. That may not seem like an overwhelming amount, but consider you’d have to keep close to 3 million yen in your local bank account for an entire year to earn the same amount in interest (a good reason to find another place other than your local bank to invest your money). Add an additional 7920 yen found in unused prepaid cards, and it’s well worth the effort to keep a lookout wherever you go.

I only found a tiny piece of what’s really out there. Consider that in 1997, people turned in over 2.5 billion yen in lost currency to the Japanese Metropolitan Police Department’s lost and found. Of course, I’ve done my share of returning too. Not counted in my findings was 2153 yen in dropped coins returned to their rightful owners (ears become attuned to the cling of coins on hard surfaces) and 32,000 yen found in a lost wallet (which would have become mine if the money hadn’t been claimed after one year).

In addition to the cash, I’ve never had to purchase a pre-paid telephone card since arriving in Japan. That’s because I always find telephone cards which still have value on them. Usually it’s only ten to thirty yen, but sometimes the cards are almost new. You can find the cards by looking on top of, and the area surrounding, pay telephone you pass. Even if you find a card that’s completely used, it’s still worth keeping it. You can donate it to any one of a number of charities which collect used phone cards as part of their fund raising activities.

I never went out of my way to search for the money I found. All the coins I found were while carrying out my normal everyday activities. I also followed certain rules. The money I found had to be in a public place where anyone else could have found it had they been looking. Money found in places where the general public didn’t have access were not counted. Thus coins discovered at my friends’ houses, my work and all those forgotten coins in my own apartment didn’t count. Coins which were purposely placed on the ground were also not eligible; coins at shrines, near graves and in the water around fountains were strictly off limits. Basically, any coin which had been accidentally dropped or left could be counted.

Since the money is there, it’s simply a matter of knowing the best places to find it. For example, if someone informed you that you could find 1 yen in every vending machine you passed, would you bother picking it up? With the vast number of vending machines in Japan, it would make most people think twice every time they passed one. I averaged 1.16 yen for every vending machine I checked (3120 yen from 2690 vending machines checked). For those who are too embarrassed, it’s also possible to check most vending machines at normal walking pace by simply looking into their coin return slot (a method I was forced to master at threat of divorce by my wife).

For those who think they may be interested in searching for lost coins, it’s important to remember that it’s not purely about the money. The friends who hear about the amount I’ve found often decide to try finding money themselves. This usually lasts only a couple of days when they end up quitting in frustration because they haven’t found anything. This is to be expected since most days I didn’t find a single yen (273 days) and a total of three days accounted for over half of all the money I did find the entire year. Had I not been looking those days, however, I would have never spotted that money, just like the many others who passed by it before me.

One prime location where I’ve never checked is under vending machines. When I told a Japanese friend my new hobby, he informed me that there are actually special devices made and sold in Japan to search for coins lost under vending machines. This immediately piqued my interest, but thus far I’ve managed to resist. I’m sure I would find even more coins than I did this past year, but there’s also the distinct possibility that I’d end up single again.

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6 Responses to Dropped Money

  1. Chris says:

    Excellent stuff, and thanks for the plug. Sadly, the coin I found was not a Japanese 10 Yen, but my research continues. Thanks for the thoughts, though. Keep up the good work!

  2. Caitlin says:

    Great article!

  3. Pingback: Festival of Frugality #5 at Okdork.com

  4. Pingback: Personal Finance Advice - » 10 Best Places To Find Money When Walking

  5. aaron says:

    i found 8 1000Y bills on the ground last night on the way to a pub. they were all scattered in one area. i suspect whoever dropped it was probably at least a little drunk. maybe i should go walk around at night more often

  6. Tim says:

    my “Special device” for under vending machines is a thick yardstick from a hardware store. Laundromats will gladly offer to split your finds and allow you under all washers and dryers (ask them if they will sweep up behind you) Car wash Vaccuum machines are my hotspot, they let you clean them for free and you keep the rings, and coins(rubber gloves and a digging tool do the trick in easy manner.

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