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Picking Up Money Off the Ground

Written by Nickel - 20 Comments

Last night, after dropping off my son at piano lessons, I stopped by Target to pick up a few things. While walking through the parking lot on my way into the store, I witnessed something rather interesting…

A college-aged guy coming out of the store pointed at the ground and said something to his girlfriend. She looked, shrugged, rolled her eyes, and said “Oh, just leave it.” What were they talking about? A dollar bill.

Now, I know that a lot of people will walk past pennies, nickels, or whatever because it’s just not worth the trouble to bend down and them up. But a dollar bill? Would you walk past a dollar bill out in the middle of a parking lot? Or would you stop and pick it up?

If you wouldn’t pick it up, why not? Too much trouble? Or because it’s not rightfully yours? Or something else entirely? Last night, it was clearly the former — the woman’s body language and tone just screamed “I can’t believe you’d even consider picking up something so meaningless as a lowly dollar bill.”

Me? I’d pick it up, put it in my pocket, and continue on my merry way. While a dollar bill is definitely worth the trouble of picking up, it’s not worth the trouble of trying to find the rightful owner. But with a larger amount, well…

Long-time readers might recall the story of the day my wife and I ran across an ID-less wallet containing eleven crisp $100 bills. In that case, there was no way I’d just pocket it and walk away (though I must admit it was tempting). Instead, we helped it find its way back home.

For the record, I left the dollar bill lying on the ground just so I could see what would happen to it. Would someone pick it up? Or would it still be lying there when I came back out? As I approached the door, I saw another guy head down that aisle of the parking lot. And sure enough, as soon as he spotted the bill, he picked it up and headed to his car.

Published on December 3rd, 2012 - 20 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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20 Responses to “Picking Up Money Off the Ground”

  1. 1
    Kurt @ Money Counselor Says:

    I think I’d pick up anything more than a penny! But then I’d immediately find a place to wash my hands. :)

  2. 2
    BG Says:

    So….you didn’t pick it up either :)

    I’d pick it up, do a quick look to see if anyone was obviously chasing after it (windy day or something), and keep it otherwise.

  3. 3
    Nickel Says:

    That’s right, BG. As I explained, I wanted to see what would happen, so… I left it there in the name of investigative reporting. ;-)

    But, under any other circumstance, I would’ve picked it up and moved on.

  4. 4
    Lewis Says:

    My biggest fear in picking up the dollar is that it is part of a prank, and all the pranks I know involving dollar bills also involve… how to put this tastefully?… excrement.

  5. 5
    Lance @ Money Life and More Says:

    I’d have picked it up. I would think it was a prank too but it is worth a shot. I once found a $20 bill on the ground on my way to class. A good reward for going to class that day.

  6. 6
    Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget Says:

    I think the reluctance stems from self-consciousness. “Is anyone watching me? Will they think I’m desperate? Will my plumber’s crack show?” If I was that guy, I’d make sure that this wasn’t a sign of things to come.

    I’ve been the recipient of many a homeless dollar bill and my stomach thanks me for all the Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers because of it.

  7. 7
    Elizabeth Says:

    Yes I would have picked it up. I pick up pennies, nickles, you name it. And I shout it to the world. Last night, while walking the dog, I picked up a scratched off $20 lottery ticket. I went online to replay the ticket (the lottery gives you points for replaying losing tickets and then you put the points toward winning items – trips, MacDonald’s fries, gas cards, etc.) and when I entered the ticket number in, I got 100 points!!

  8. 8
    Jo Says:

    I pick up coin and paper money. I am not ashamed either an could honestly care less if anyone was watching.

    Interesting that this was at Target, because I work there, currently on 3rd shift just as the store is closing. Once the store is closed up for the night, we’re all walking around doing our work. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve walked past the cash registers and picked up numerous coins – mostly pennies, nickels and occasional dime. This adds up after a while.

    Interestingly, no one else picks up the coins, perhaps they’re afraid they will get in trouble because these are around the checkout area and could be perceived as stealing. My rule of thumb is if the coin is inside the checkout counter, I leave it alone. But if it’s in the aisle section, as if dropped by a paying guest, then I pick it up.

    Yes, I also do find my share of coins out in the parking lot. All these coins are certainly adding up. I see it as unreported interest on a *forgotten* savings account with a few bucks in it.

  9. 9
    Tony T Says:

    This is a good way of “Paying it forward” i.e. it only costs a dollar to make somebody’s day a bit better

  10. 10
    Osborne Cox Says:

    Oh the indignation and inconvenience of actually breaking stride to pick up a dollar bill. What if a stranger happened to witness this desparate act? Could I survive his judgment? Could I ever hold my head up again?

  11. 11
    ratnerstar Says:

    They were probably economists.

    For those confused, see: http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/.....-sidewalk/

  12. 12
    Dorothy Says:

    So what if it’s dirty? You can wash US paper money! It’s printed on paper made from 25% linen and 75% cotton and will easily stand a trip through the washer, let alone hand-washing!

    As for me? I’m an eminently reasonable, logical, sensible woman. But you bet your boots I’ll pick up a penny. It is one of my few superstitions. If I’m too “good” to pick up a penny, the Universe will think I don’t need money and I’ll have some sort of financial bad luck!

  13. 13
    mike Says:

    I pick up even pennies. In fact, picked one up yesterday. It all adds up and every bit helps in the long run.

  14. 14
    Lau Says:

    In Catalonia there is a joke that goes like this: “What does a catalan do when he finds a penny on the ground? He drops a dollar to make the effort worthwhile.” xD

  15. 15
    gary Says:

    I would have picked up the dollar… and dumped the girl.

  16. 16
    Chris Says:

    Out grocery shopping one day, I found a wad of money, a bit over $300. I asked around and no one was missing money. At the checkout I asked the cashier what would happen to the money and she told me they would put it in a safe place and if no one claimed it they would keep it. That didn’t seem right to me so I stood at the front of the store for awhile and watched the people go in and out. Pretty soon a young lady rushed by me to go out to the parking lot. She returned shortly with a worried look on her face. I stopped her and asked her if she was alright. She told me she had lost her “rent” money. I asked her how much it was and she told me the exact amount I had found. She was so grateful to get the money back, I’m sure she thought it was gone forever and I was so happy to have been able to help.

  17. 17
    BG Says:

    Good job Chris! Always nice to hear that decent people are still among us.

  18. 18
    Ty Says:

    When I was a teenager I went on a trip with my grandfather to Las Vegas for a week. While there I picked up a few things at one of the major attractions. While in line I was trying to dig out my money, which included twenty-dollar bills, while holding these items so that I wouldn’t have to count it out at the register.

    Well, at some point (it was a long line, which turned out to be fortunate for me) someone asked if anyone dropped some money. I looked at my own and quickly came to realize that I had been very careless, as I was missing some bills. So I claimed it, then other people started asking if I had dropped more. Talk about embarassing…One individual even commented that had nothing been said they would have kept it. I guess being young, and getting some laughs out of my “this is unbelievable!” comment, people gave me a break. All it took was one person speaking up. I actually got all that I had dropped back. I definitely changed how I handled cash after that experience. And I got a little boost in my faith in humanity.

  19. 19
    Jake Says:

    I would pick it up even if it was a penny! But any money I get this way I’ll donate it.

  20. 20
    getagrip Says:

    To me her action was a form of snobery, because it seemed that not only was getting the dollar beneath her but that she would find it distasteful for her companion to get it as well, essentially quelling his inclination to grab it. I would have picked it up, told my pal to grab it, or pointed it out to someone who might have needed it more than me if they were nearby. I don’t do what the ultimate cheapskate does and search out loose coins, but I’ll grab them if I come across them.

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