The $50 bill

What would you do?

Yesterday I took both girls to Target to get their babysitter a gift card for her birthday. When we pulled up, I noticed the car parked next to my chosen spot, a battered sedan in need of a paint job, at least. A young couple was getting out of the car and I waited as the tiny woman, stooped with exhaustion either recent or lifelong, and the young man, hat down low, tattoos crawling up his neck, laboriously removed a car-seat with a tiny baby inside. I parked next to them and sympathetically remembered when my babies were that little.

We got the gift card, as well as a few other items that I suddenly couldn't live without once I entered the magical land of Target. We saw the young couple again, in the diaper aisle, and the man played a brief game of peek-a-boo with E, his smile appearing like a Cheshire grin above his tattoos and below his hat.

As we were leaving, I saw a crumpled dollar bill on the floor between the two sets of automatic doors. Z saw it too and picked it up: "Mommy do I have to leave this here for the person who dropped it or can I keep it?"

I glanced around, not seeing anyone who would have obviously just dropped it, and made a quick moral decision. "You can keep it, Z. I'm pretty sure we can't figure out who dropped it, so it's your lucky day."

As she pranced back to the car, I noticed another bill on the ground, this one in the parking lot, right in the middle of a lane of traffic. It was folded crisply into fourths and I picked it up quickly to get out of the way.

Then I glanced down at it.

It was a $50 bill.

Z started exclaiming about how lucky we were and I spun around looking for someone, anyone who might have dropped it. There were no other pedestrians close by in the parking lot.

I immediately thought of the young parents we saw earlier. I should stick the bill under their windshield wipers.

No, someone might come along and steal it before they could get it.

I could go back into the store, find them and give it to them.

No, what if the person who dropped it saw them spend it and thought they stole it?

I could turn it in to the customer service desk and hope that it would find its way back to the person who dropped it.

No, the teenagers who worked there would probably pocket it.

I could donate the money to our county food bank or the local domestic violence shelter or the relief efforts in Japan.

Yes, maybe.

I could think of it as my lucky day and spend it on a treat for our family or put it in my wallet and spend it as I would any other money. Is it any different to keep this $50 bill than the $1 bill?

The girls were getting antsy, so I drove them home.

I did nothing.

I still have the $50 bill.

What would you do??


Swistle said...

Before I say what I THINK I would PROBABLY do, I'll say two things:

1. That I think there are SEVERAL equally-justifiable answers here---that it's not a "This way is right, this other way is wrong" decision, and

2. That I don't really know what I'd do; I'd have to see what I did when I was in the situation with the actual money.

But what I THINK I'd do is go to customer service, ask to speak to the manager, and leave my name and number for if anyone came looking for "an amount of money I found in the parking lot." I wouldn't say how much it was, and I'd make anyone who called me about it say how much it was. After a reasonable amount of time with no call, I'd consider it mine.

GratefulTwinMom said...

This actually did happen to us, and we did exactly what Swistle is suggesting. We found $20 in front of the library. We went back in, left our phone number, knowing (probably full well) that no one would claim it.

I stuck that twenty to the refrigerator for several months. Finally, one day, the kids asked about it again. I don't think we used it for anything special, and we probably should have donated it, but I think it just went into my wallet and then out again, the way cash does.

I don't know if I did the right thing or not. I guess it really doesn't matter. What the kids saw is that it's important to try to find the owner of something that is lost. I know that they would want to the same if they were the ones who dropped the twenty in front of the library.

Good luck. I know you'll do the right thing.

Gina said...

I like Swistle's idea. Very clever. If no one claims it I would donate it (you could have the girls pick out an animal to "buy" on Heifer.org or use it for a fun day/dinner out with the family.

Erin said...

I would have done exactly what you did, with probably an IDENTICAL thought process. I love the idea of leaving a $50 bill in the windshield, and someday I hope to be in a spot to do something like that. It reminds me of once when I was 9 months pregnant with Calum, and Brett & I went out to dinner. When we were done, the waiter said, "There's no bill tonight. Another couple who already left paid for you guys. Have a nice night." It was awesome. I think about that a lot.

Hillary said...

I think I either would have left it on the windshield or gone back and done what Swistle suggested ... but, I also might have just left it right where I found it. Saves me the trouble of making that decision.

twisterfish said...

You've got some wise friends! Swistle's idea is very clever. You'd think a $50 bill folded neatly would be something a person would try to find.
On those rare occasions that I found money (and never twice in one day!) I donated it. I've either added it to the weekly church donation or purchased food for the food bank.

Whimsy said...

Excellent ideas. None of which would have occurred to me. I probably would have stood there and spun helplessly for a while, and then eventually pocketed it, with a hefty wad of guilt.

Now that I've heard these fantastic ideas (the windshield, customer service), I'll do one of those next time.

(I can't get the image of a $20 hanging out in a refrigerator out of my head. It's awesome.)

clueless but hopeful mama said...

UPDATE: Solely because of Swistle's suggestion, I went back to Target, told the guy at customer service the story and asked to leave my name and number if anyone calls asking about the money. He looked at me like I was crazy. Then he said "Are you crazy?" shook his head and gave me a piece of paper to write it all down.

We are going to keep the $50 for a week and if no one calls to claim it, we'll decide as a family where to donate it.

But I'm still haunted by the young parents I saw. They looked... young, tired, sweet. I wanted so badly to give them the money, if only to lift their spirits a tiny bit.

Sarah said...

See, I am a very impulsive person, so what I would have done is stuck it on that couple's windshield. I am always being struck with compassion/feelings of attachment for random strangers. HOWEVER, I would not have thought about how easily someone else could come along and take that money. So I think you did the right thing and what I would have done is essentially given the money to a thieving, NON compassionate person. I guess I'd do what you're doing: wait a while, and then try to do something nice with it, either for others or for my kids.

Marie Green said...

I once was stopped at a stop light when a $10 bill came blow across the street and stopped RIGHT OUTSIDE my car door. I looked around, but it was a busy, 4 lane street, and finding the owner seemed impossible. The light was still red, so I opened my door and grabbed it. And I kept it for myself.

I love everyone's ideas of contacting the manager, donating, etc, but when actually faced with it, I'd probably MEAN to do something with it, but end up just keeping it, mostly out of laziness.

miyoko said...

if that $50 happened to me it would just go straight to japan. if japan wasn't happening probably another charity.

as far as walking up to a stranger and giving it to them, some might take it the wrong way even with the best of intentions. like "Do i look THAT down on my luck that random strangers are treating me like a charity case?" and most likely, sadly if you left it on the windshield, it would be gone in a minute. :\

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