Should I pick up money?

by Admin
Updated: July 21, 2018

Does every penny really count and should I pick up money I see lying in the street?

Have you ever seen money on the ground and wondered if you should pick it up? It’s common to respond to this in an emotional way and try to support the feelings with a moral &/or mathematical argument, overlooking the possibility that it could be illegal.

“Every penny counts” is a popular mantra and, by extension, if you’re serious about your wealth, you are not supposed to ignore money you see lying around. “Finders keepers” is another popular expression but not only is it untrue, it can be a fast track to a criminal record!

The law

If you see money (or anything) that appears to be lost, you can generally only take possession of it if you have the intention of returning it to its rightful owner. You must make reasonable effort to do so. Otherwise, you may be guilty of theft/larceny/stealing by finding which is a criminal offense in most jurisdictions.

On the other hand, if you drop your own money on the ground, you could be guilty of littering which is also punishable.

In both cases, the degree of seriousness rises with the quantity of money involved.

The morality

If it’s not your money and you believe you can return it to whomever it belongs to, then, as a responsible person, you probably should take charge of it. Acts of kindness paid forward & back make the world better.

If it’s not your money and you believe there’s no chance of reuniting it with its owner then you have to make the decision to keep it for yourself or leave it for someone who might benefit it from it more.

If you drop some of your own money, you might think there is some virtue in leaving it for someone less fortunate. However, it’s possible to make a case against this (on moral grounds as well as the previously mentioned legal considerations). As a general rule, if you drop something, pick it up.

In all cases, be careful how your actions appear to others.

The mathematics

If it takes 2 seconds to pick up a dime, that’s equivalent to $180 per hour. You’re not really making $180 per hour, though - it’s still only 10 cents and the difference it has made to your wealth is negligible. To someone living on the street, however, the difference could be significant.


Do you think what you’re looking at is a lot of money?

  • Yes: Try to make sure it’s returned to its rightful owner.
  • No: Leave it.

More info

“All Is Not Lost: The Law of Lost and Found” at

“California Penal Code 485 PC - Theft or Appropriation of Lost Property” at

“Finding Money On the Street - Is that Larceny or Theft?” at

“Man Ticketed for Dropping Money on the Ground” at

Internal links

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