Squirreling Gone Wild #32: The Vanishing $5

What would Honest Abe Say?

If you came across some money laying on the ground that wasn’t yours, but theoretically might belong to strangers in close proximity to you, what would you do? Pocket the money? Ask the strangers if the money was theirs? Ignore the money?

This is the type of situation I noticed while at a local coffee shop recently.  As you might remember from prior posts, I’ve occasionally ventured out to get some work done, with the idea that I’ll accomplish more while outside the home. While I’m generally successful doing just that, there are some times when it gets a little more interesting.

This time, I encountered someone who was kind of a squirreler. Well, except that he really wasn’t one, since he took the concept too far. You see, I think that squirreling away money is a great appoach in general, but integrity has got to be a part of it. I’m sure you’d agree. This guy went a bit too far, and took his interest in stashing money across the line. The dollar amount wasn’t big, but it was enough to be written up as another in the Squirreling Gone Wild series.

So, I was at a different coffee shop this time, sitting at a table on the left side of an aisle. There was a guy and a girl at the table in front of me, also on the left side of the aisle. Strangely, the guy kept making phone calls talking about politics. The woman, his companion, seemed to be putting up with this loudmouth. Anyway, at the tables on the right side of the aisle were seemingly innoecent people – a woman at the table direcly across the aisle from me, and a guy at the table in front of her. Each with computers.

Keep in mind that the four tables I just described, with 2 on each side of the aisle, were right in the middle of the restaurant. That aisle led from the front of the place all the way to the bathrooms and employee area in the back. The point is that the aisle had people walking back and forth periodically.

Anyway, here’s where the money issue showed up. All of a sudden, I decided that I needed a refill on the tea that I bought. Free hot water, you know:) So, I got up from my seat to go to the counter for that refill, and in the corner of my eye I saw something that made me freeze in my tracks: money!

Yes, there was a dollar bill of some type sitting on the floor, in the middle of the aisle between the 4 tables. it was just sitting there, waiting to be picked up by someone:)

As I walked by, I quickly had the thought that maybe I shouldn’t just pick it up. Just a split second decision, but I walked right by it as if it wasn’t there, but looked out of the corner of my eye at what dollar denomination it was. Lo and behold, it was a $5 bill! This got me thinking about the last time I found a $5 bill, where I took the money since nobody else was around to claim it. In this case, it was different – there were others present who might have dropped the money. So, I left it sitting there as I walked by.

After I got the refill, I made my way back to my table, once again walking right by the money just sitting there. Dang, I just wanted to pick it up.  That could pay for dinner! Oh well, I thought – maybe I’ll get it later if nobody else picks it up. I guess I just felt guilty grabbing it right away, since someone there might have dropped it.

After a while, somebody had the nerve to pick it up. It was the guy sitting across the aisle, working solo on his computer. I watched as he sheepishly picked it up, looked at it, paused, then slowly looked around to see if anyone was watching.  I was, and so was the woman across the aisle.

He then looked at us and asked if it was ours. When we both said no, he said he would hold on to it and drop it in the tip jar when he ultimately left – if nobody else was looking for it. He set the bill on the table, in plain view of anybody.

Wow. That’s cool! I felt a bit bad that I hadn’t even thought of giving the money to the employees there. Seemed like a noble gesture on his part, to think of giving it way since it wasn’t his.

Well, that’s not what he ended up doing! Later on, has he packed up his computer and papers, he quickly grabbed that same $5 bill from the table and stuffed it in his pocket. Then, he walked to the door – right by the tip jar, without even pausing. He left the place and just kept the money he found.

On the one hand, I don’t want to by hypocritical by bashing this guy’s behavior. After all, I had given thought to picking up the money if nobody else claimed it. Not that I ever did end up picking it up, but still. On the other hand, I do feel like the guy flat out lied to us about intending to drop it in the tip jar.

My take on the whole thing is that it would have been nice to just drop it in the tip jar as he had already suggested. Next best way to handle it would be to just leave it there. If all else failed, go ahead and pick it up – but be straightforward about it!

My Questions For You

What would you have done in that case?

Do you think like I do, that if he just would have been honest about pocketing the money without any pretense of being charitable, it wouldn’t have been so bad?


  1. says

    Well that’s just an a***** move. I found $80 that dropped out of somebodys purse before. I worked at a mall at the time and it was on the mall floor. I picked it up as fast as I could because I know that’s a lot of money to some people, and I know there are some crappy people out there. I held on to it for a few minutes and this little girl who couldn’t have been more than eleven came by in tears and asked me if I found any money. Just to make sure, I asked her how much she had dropped and gave it to her when she told me the right amount.

    • Squirrelers says

      Daisy – what a great story, and example of how we need to remember that there are people who might have legitimately lost the money and would really want it back. Good for you the way you handled it.

  2. says

    I’m with RB40 on this one! I would have asked around and if nobody claimed, it… I would have gave a funny laugh and said “mine all mine mauhaha”, hoping to make the others laugh.

    Now if I saw or had a good idea where it came from, then that would be a different story. But why should the employees of the store benefit from my find?

    Now if I had enough money (aka if I were rich) that a $5 bill was more like a dime to me, then I might put it in the tip jar though… but that’s currently not the case…

    • Squirrelers says

      Don – that’s a big benefit it would have been for store employees. I’m not into tip jars many times anyway, though sometimes it’s good to recognize people. In this case, at least you’re suggesting asking everyone if it’s theirs, which is cool.

  3. says

    Putting it in the tip jar was a great idea this guy had–too bad he didn’t follow-through.

    For a fun exercise, I’d propose an extension of the question: How would your behavior differ depending on the bill’s denomination? Being perfectly honest, I would probably have ignored a $1 bill. But what if it were a $20? $100? With a $100 bill, you might have witnessed fisticuffs as patrons scrambled for it! Or, maybe there would have been some sort of group discussion about what to do with the $100 and a greater effort made to identify a rightful owner.

    So, the morality of what to do should be independent of the bill’s denomination, right? But in reality, I think the likelihood is we’d each behave differently depending on how much money was at stake.


    • Squirrelers says

      Kurt – that’s actually a pretty good, insightful point you’re making. It really might make a difference how we would behave depending on the money at stake.

      • says

        I think if the denomination were larger, I’d definitely pick it up and try to find the rightful owner. Once, my mom found a wallet at walmart with $200 in it. We snatched it up so someone else wouldn’t take it and pocket it.

        We looked around for the lady, paged her and then I made sure to call the manager over and put it in the safe so that the money did not get stolen. She did end up frantically running into the store looking for it later. It was probably her week’s budget that she just took out of the bank.

        • Squirrelers says

          First Gen – that’s great for you and your mom that you handled that situtaion that way. Cool to read about the right thing being done.

  4. says

    A few years ago, I found a $20 on the ground in a pub set up at a Ren Faire. We had just finished watching one of our favorite bands perform. I held up the money and asked if it belonged to anyone around. I got lots of shaking heads. So I did take it over and give it to the band.
    They make most of their living from tips, and it was obviously dropped by someone who had been watching their show, so it just made sense to me.

  5. says

    I think it’s weird that he went out of his way to comment about how he would drop it in the tip jar if no one claimed it, but then didn’t do so.

    I would have picked it up and kept it if no one claimed it, because of the circumstances. I tend to find money quite often, and what I do with it varies depending on where I find it. For example, I found $20 blowing down the street on a busy street and kept it. But my husband and I found hundreds of dollars blowing around while on a walk, and we were able to find the owners.

  6. Squirrelers says

    Edward – true, if you lose a large amount of cash, you’re more at risk than using cards which might have a cap.

  7. says

    I must admit that the first thought that occurred to me when reading the story was just to claim the right of finders keepers. A mere five bucks isn’t going to break anyone’s bank. Twenty or fifty or a hundred dollars might have been different. And yes, putting it into the tip jar would have been a nice gesture, too bad Douchebag didn’t follow through with his stated intent.

  8. says

    I love these stories because I always feel like I am there.

    I actually have been in that situation before. I would have asked if it belonged to anyone in that little section of seats. If the answer was no, I probably would have kept it I guess. However, I don’t know that I would have thought about the tip jar. If I had been that creative, I would have put it in the jar I am sure.

  9. says

    I once found a $50 AUD lying on the floor in front of a money exchange in Vietnam. I picked it up right away, looked around for a white guy or woman, and didn’t see any. We waited around for a few minutes and looked around, and couldn’t see anyone so we ended up exchanging it. I felt bad for the guy that lost it since that was a pretty chunk of change.

  10. Amit says

    I’ve always dropped found money into the donation boxes at the supermarket.
    Hasn’t been a lot – a $20 once, a $5 once, and coins other times.

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