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Is finding money stealing?

One blogger felt guilty about finding a fiver. Would you?

By Donna_Freedman Oct 2, 2009 11:17AM

Julia Scott, aka the "Bargain Babe," was shopping at the Hollywood Farmers Market when she saw a crumpled five-dollar bill. Having spent most of the $20 she'd budgeted for fresh produce, Scott was delighted -- and torn.

"I'm not the rightful owner," she thought.

Scott wandered the market for a while longer, then swung back by the stall where she'd seen the money. Amazingly, it was still there. Since no one had picked it up, and since there was no way to find the true owner, "it might as well be mine, I reasoned."

To assuage her guilt, she used the money to buy almonds from a local grower. In a post called "Money morality -- is finding money stealing?" Scott acknowledged that she could also have given the money to the farmer in whose produce stand the money had been dropped.

During a phone conversation, the blogger said she wouldn't have hesitated to pick up a lost quarter. But a fiver seemed different. In fact, sometimes she doesn't even pick up a dropped coin, "because I assume somebody else needs it more than me."

Myself, I have no such scruples -- and all the dropped coins that I find do go to somebody who needs them more than me. Each year I pick a charity to donate the found money. This year it will be a food bank, given how many people are having trouble making ends meet.

During a visit to Seattle many years ago, my mother found a $20 bill at a farmers market. She walked around the immediate area asking, "Did you lose a $20 bill?" Bless their honest hearts, all the people she asked said "no." My sister suggested using the money on a souvenir so, like Scott, Mom plowed the money right back into the local economy.

The same day I talked with Bargain Babe, I found a wadded-up dollar bill on a city bus. No hesitation; I picked it up for my found-money stash, which now has $8 worth of paper money in addition to hundreds of coins.

Had it been a larger bill, might I have turned it in? I don't know. What's the cutoff point? Is it OK to keep a one but not a five? Or a ten but not a twenty?

Had I found a roll of bills I would of course have taken it to Metro's lost and found. Someone would have someone would almost certainly have reported losing it. Ditto a wallet or purse -- you can describe it or be identified through a driver's license or other form of ID. On campus, I've found and turned in two cell phones and three student ID cards -- again, because their owners are identifiable.

But whoever dropped that $5 bill might not have realized it until much later. Where would he or she even start to look? And some people have enough money or are absent-minded enough not to notice the loss of $5.

"I'm sure I've lost dollar bills and five-dollar bills during my lifetime," Scott said. "What goes around comes around."

How about it, readers: What's your "nope, not mine" point? Would you turn in a lost dollar? A lost fiver? At what point would you think "It's my lucky day!" vs. "I wonder who owns this?"

And for extra credit: Would the current economy have anything to do with your decision? Would that $5 help you buy groceries or pay for just enough gasoline to get you through until payday?

Related reading:

Published Oct. 2, 2009

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