Yeah, I pick up pennies. I’ve always loved the lure of a little lucky copper facing up at me. Place that penny in my pocket and the bounce in my step is a little more springy, my stride a little more steppy. Guess I like to believe in lady luck, even if the denomination is tiny, or now obsolete in Canada.

unclaimed money

That said, finding a fiver, a toonie, or even a loonie on the ground is waaaay better. I don’t tend to get a case of the ‘The Morality Sweats’ when finding this lost loot — it’s small change after all, and anyone who spies a buck or two on an abandoned sidewalk is likely to feel morally happy with the find.

Free money, yay! What’s not to love about that?

But things can get a little morally murky when the found cash sums up to something meaningful. That’s the conundrum Carl faced when he rang me on my iPhone the other day. Our conversation went something like this…

Carl: I have a huge problem.
Me: Are we about to have phone $ex? Where are you?

Carl: In the Future Shop parking lot.
Me: Oh, gadget $ex. Easy, don’t go into Future Shop and you won’t bring anything battery powered home.

Carl: Nooo!
Me: Yesss!

Carl: Nooo! I found a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot. It’s one of those new plastic bills. It’s shiny.
Me: Oh, those are slippery suckers. They don’t fold well, and they tend to bounce when dropped. Hate the plastic twenty dollar bills passionately.

Carl: What should I do?
Me: Easy, don’t go into Future Shop.

Carl: No seriously, Squawks. There’s no one in the parking lot.
Me: That’s ’cause they’ve all pocketed the other lost bills and they’re hitting Future Shop, hard.

Carl: I’m sweating. I feel bad for the person who lost this money. Maybe they’re a senior?
Me: OK, I’ll ask the Internet. The Internet will know what to do with one hundred plastic bucks.


So WolframAlpha, a super nerdy yet cool “computational knowledge engine”, says it takes 10,000 pennies to make one hundred dollars. Since 10,000 pennies weighs 23kg, or about 10.5 pounds, it’s way easier to pocket the plastic “C Note” than it is to bring home a bag of deprecated pennies. Pennies are boring. Plastic bills are fun to fold and beautiful to bounce.

But since Carl was sweating it out in the Future Shop parking lot, I quickly came up with a few ways to deal with found money based on my limited experience of finding money. Hint: Buying cool gadgets isn’t one of them.

Money found with identification.

This is a big case of duh, right? I once found a fat wallet while riding an OC Transpo bus around Carleton University in Ottawa. The owner’s driver’s license quickly identified the guy, and a quick lookup in the local phone book — yes, we still used phone books back then — found me the guy. He was very happy with my honesty, and I nearly landed a date with a very much older man. But rather than secure myself a sugar daddy, I instead scored twenty bucks for my trouble. If you have identification, yes return the cash. Seriously. I’ll leave the sugar daddy decision up to you. 😉

Money found in a place, no identification.

There are a lot of places on planet Earth. Businesses comprise a few places, and so do private homes. If you find cash in a private home, it’s safe to assume the homeowner owns the cash. But a business? This happened once to me in Erin Mills Town Centre — a mall in Mississauga. I found a fifty dollar bill in front of The Gap, and felt elated, yet terrible with the knowledge that someone had lost this money. So I went into The Gap, gave the manager my home number and said if someone comes in looking for “a certain denomination” then they should call me. I also left my number with the mall’s customer service desk. I felt uneasy leaving the money with these people, simply because I trusted my honesty more than some stranger. No one ever called, so I kept the unclaimed money. Go me.

Money found, zero identification, no one in sight.

Smaller denominations are a no brainer finders keepers situation for me since it’s common to find a few bucks on a sidewalk. If I found a big stash of cash, on the other hand, I’d call the police. Now defining “smaller denominations” from “a big stash of cash” is the tricky bit — so here’s where I’d like to hear from you guys.

Help! If you found $100 would you keep it? What if you found more, say $500 or $1,000? Creative answers and honesty get bonus points from me, always. 🙂