Hunting for Change

Along with tracking my “penny wise” savings this year, another thing I vowed to do was to track where I found money. I don’t mean “finding” as in digging in my couch cushions or getting my tax refund. I mean finding money that wasn’t lost by me. Each day that I found money, I wrote down where I found it and how much. Reading over the list, I’m amazed at how much I found and where some of it appeared.

Hunting change is a habit I learned from my Dad. He was always on the hunt, walking with one eye turned toward the ground. He could never pass a pay phone or vending machine without checking the coin return slot. More often than not, he came up with some change. I’ve followed in his footsteps. I think that walking with my head down all the time has cost me something in the posture department, but I’ve made some money to compensate.

What amazes me about hunting change is how easy it is. It’s easy because most people don’t care about their change. Here’s a scenario that has happened more than once: I’m behind a woman in the grocery store check out lane. She pays with cash and, when the cashier hands her the change, she drops some of it. She doesn’t look down, doesn’t try to pick it up. I tap her on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, you dropped some change.” She says, “I know.” I look at her, thinking, “Well, if you know that, why don’t you pick it up?” She finishes her transaction and leaves the store without ever picking up the dropped change. So I pick it up and take it home to the change jar. Some people just can’t be bothered to bend over and pick up that penny.

Sometimes I’ll be walking behind someone and I’ll spy a quarter up ahead. I’ll be bummed because I figure the other person will get to it first. But, sure enough, the person in front of me almost always passes it by, either because he doesn’t see it at all or because he doesn’t care enough to pick it up. The thought seems to be, “It’s only a quarter, or a penny, it doesn’t mean much.” The thing is, when you take it home, add to it over time, then take it to the bank and earn interest on it, you can come up with a decent sum. If you need proof, read about the man who paid for a new truck with $25,000 in change.

The total I found this year was $43.06. That’s not a lot of money, but I can’t complain as it’s forty-three dollars I didn’t have before the year started and I “earned” it tax free (at least until it lands in my savings account and the interest is taxed). All I had to do to get it was go through my daily life with an eye to the ground. This was a banner year for me because I found half of this money in one fell swoop. I found a twenty-dollar bill on the floor in an empty laundry room at a hotel where I was staying. Needless to say, I was doing a happy dance that day.

My second biggest find was a five-dollar bill that I found crumpled up like trash and lying outside a dumpster. I have no idea how it ended up like that. It looked like someone had just thrown it away. My best guess is they meant to toss a receipt or grocery list away and wadded up the wrong piece of paper. I hope so, otherwise they were literally throwing money away.

I found another five dollar bill during a marathon in which I was running. I didn’t see it fall, so in a field of fifteen thousand I have no way of knowing who lost it. It might have been dropped by a spectator, or a runner lost their cab money. It’s probably not good racing form to stop in the middle of the road to pick up money, but $5 was too much to pass up.

I found one-dollar bills on three separate occasions. One was under a bench in the mall. I went to sit down and saw it through the slats in the bench. People looked at me funny when I crawled under the bench to get it, but I didn’t mind. I was on a mission. I found two other dollar bills in books I checked out of the library. I guess they were used as bookmarks and left behind when the book was turned in.

Looking back at my findings this year, most of my change was found in check out lanes at stores. That’s no surprise since this is where most people use and lose money. Check out lanes accounted for $6.34. I also found a fair amount of change in drive thru lanes. We have a shopping area nearby and we use it on Sunday mornings as a turnaround spot on our bike rides. Most of the restaurants there are closed at that hour so we cruise through the drive through lanes looking for change. We found $2.35 that way.

Where else did I find money this year? I found $1.83 on sidewalks and in parking lots in various places. Most of that was in outdoor shopping areas. I enjoy walking so I’ll often walk the same shopping areas that other people drive, picking up money along the way. I found fifty cents in a vending machine at the airport. I found forty-three cents at the school bus stops in my neighborhood (not all at once, this was throughout the year). I go out for my morning walk and discover that the kids have dropped change while waiting for the bus. I found ten cents at the bottom of the pool at the gym. Someone left a dime in a study carrel at the library. One of the strangest findings was the dime that came with an order from I opened the box and there was my order, plus a dime rattling around in the box. The remaining fourteen cents were pennies I picked up in stores (not at the checkout, but elsewhere in the store), the doctor’s office, the mechanic’s, hotel rooms, restaurants, and theaters.

Sometimes people ask me if I think that finding and keeping money is ethical. Their reasoning goes that the money isn’t mine, so it’s wrong to keep it. These people say that I should turn it in at the lost and found where I find it and let the rightful owner claim it. I don’t think this is true. First of all, in the cases where I see who dropped the money, I always point it out to them or offer it to them. If they choose not to pick it up or take it, I figure it’s fair game. If there’s ID with the money, I do turn it in to lost and found. One Christmas I found a wad of twenties in a store. The money was wrapped around a driver’s license. I knew it had to be someone’s Christmas money, so I turned it and the license into lost and found. It would have been easy to take the cash and just turn in the license, but that’s not right. I only hope the girl working lost and found was similarly minded. Second, if I turn in a penny to lost and found, they’re going to think I’m crazy because no one is going to come to lost and found looking for a penny (or a quarter for that matter). If I turn in a twenty that has no ID with it, the person behind the counter is most likely going to keep it because cash can’t be traced. As far as I’m concerned, if I don’t see it dropped and there’s no way to identify who lost the money, it’s finder’s keepers.

The moral of this story is that money can be found just about anywhere and in any amount for those who are willing to look. People are very careless with their money and their carelessness can be your windfall. Keep your eyes on the ground and see what you can come up with. If nothing else, it makes for a fun game.

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11 Responses to Hunting for Change

  1. dawn says:

    “People looked at me funny when I crawled under the bench to get it”

    I think the above comment is one reason why people don’t stoop over to pick up money, they quarter isn’t worth the funny looks

  2. mom-from-missouri says:

    I found a lot of cash and some gift cards in a pink purse with no ID. I didn’t trust the store with it. So, I put an ad in the paper to call, describe and claim. I got a call-it belonged to a 8 year old girl. It was money she had saved up and lost in the store. She was so happy to get it back she baked me a cake.

  3. Aleta says:

    My son dated this girl that would put her change into her car, but if it was pennies, she would kick them out of the car and would say how worthless they were. My son started telling her how I saved pennies in piggy banks, rolled them into the coin wrappers and took them to the bank and bought savings bonds with them. I paid $206.25 and in Oct of 2007 had a value of $1,005.60. We just cashed in 2 of them that matured for $500 and bought his daughter (my granddaughter) a $1,000.00 bond paying $500. for it. He wanted to pass it down. By the way, he didn’t marry the girl who kicked the pennies out of the door of her car.

    Like you, i have found money inside the slots of self-pay where people have forgotten to take their change. You can’t turn that in. It has no ID unless it had something with it to identify it. Like you said it is free money.

  4. anonymous says:

    I bike with a guy who picks up change. I have seen him stop, in the middle of the road, to pick up a penny or two. The absolute best case for this guy is that he finds a few dollars per year. The worst case is he gets whacked by a car.

    Penny-wise, pound-foolish.

  5. moneybags says:

    My favorite change finding spot was the toll booth. I picked change up every time through. Now that I have the IPass, I drive through the fast lanes. I miss the change, but it isn’t worth the time.

  6. ben says:

    Never understood why people wouldn’t pick up coins. Money is money.

  7. counterpoint says:

    Is it really worth the effort to pick up a penny? There is the time involved and then the chance of injuring yourself doing so. While getting injured isn’t likely, a reward of 1 penny isn’t much. When you begin looking at it like this, it may not be so smart to pick it up.

  8. dan says:

    @ counterpoint

    I don’t think it is so much about the money as an attitude overall. Yes, a single penny might not work out to be the best use of time for the money, but the attitude that coins aren’t worth picking up probably costs you in many other ways.

  9. Help Me Friend says:

    “Is it really worth the effort to pick up a penny? There is the time involved and then the chance of injuring yourself doing so. While getting injured isn

  10. bleason says:

    As a retiree in my sixties, I walk one hour each day. I walk fast, but with head down and eyes focused looking for money. This morning was a good walk money wise. I found four quarters, three dimes, two nickles and forty pennies. I have been taking money walks for about two months. What follows are a few observations and safety tips. I walk streets at curb level. I do limited scanning, eyes mostly focused in a two to three foot area. If a coin is spotted, I look for clusters as coins are often lost in bunches. Recently I found seven quarters in a cluster outside of a bar. When walking streets, I detour onto parking lots and walk the stripped areas. This technique resulted in my largest find to date, a ten dollar bill. I also walk parking lots of appartment complexes. My largest multiple coin find was 35 pennies in an appartment parking lot. Finding money is dependable in all socio-economic neighborhoods. For safety, I wear a reflecting vest and an orange sun visor cap. I am always aware of the sound of autos, bicyles, and other pedestrians. I place all of my findings into plastic jars, wash the coins, and then when my granddaughters visit, we take the coins to the machines that convert coins into larger denominations. We spend the money on granddaughter treats.

  11. Lynne says:

    I find a lot of money also! I have found 40.00, 20.00 many times 10.00
    and a lifetime of change. Sometimes
    finding change just lifts you up, right?
    I love photography, and avidly look
    at flicker. One day I started a group
    pool for pictures of found money.
    Its more fun when you get to tell someone!

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