1 WWYD: The Envelope Full of Cash | The Billfold

WWYD: The Envelope Full of Cash

In this installment of “What Would You Do,” a case of found money.

Back when my ex-boyfriend and I were poor students, we were out at a bar one night and found an envelope full of money on the floor. We opened it and found $1,200.

It was cash, not a wallet, so there was no name or card we could look at to find the owner. It was unmarked with no identifying features. We felt like we couldn’t just hand it into the bartender (we didn’t trust it would make it back to the right person, and thought he might keep it). So we decided to just stay there until close and see if someone came by who seemed to be looking for something lost.

No one came back, and we treated ourselves to a weekend in Montreal, but I still feel guilty when I walk past that bar. — A.

It’s a classic question isn’t it? What would you do if you found a large sum of money in a public place? My first instinct would be to give it to the bar owner, and my second instinct would be to turn it into the police and file a report, because if the money is unclaimed after a certain time period (30 days? 90 days?), the police gives it to you, right? (This man found a bag filled with $140,000 in it, and turned it into the police. It turned out to be a bag lost by Brinks Armored truck drivers. He was given a $2,000 reward for his good deed.) I’ve found $20 and smaller bills on the street and kept those, but I couldn’t in good conscious keep what could possibly be someone’s rent money or cash deposit for something important. I know it would be crushing for me if I lost that amount of money.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments. Photo: On the white line



31 Comments / Post A Comment

Norrey (#407)

For real – that is what the Police are *for*. If I lost 1200 in cash I would go to the police to see if anyone returned it. 20 dollars is one thing, but 1200 is WAY too much money to be essentially stealing from someone.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Norrey We also have the option now to do something like post it on Craigslist and see if anyone bites. I don’t blame people who are skeptical of handing a wad of cash to the police, especially here in Chicago, sadlol.

EM (#1,012)

If I found $1200 in an unmarked envelope in a bar I would probably assume it was drug dealer money. In a bar! I would probably keep it in the envelope forever, too guilty to spend it and afraid to turn it in.

Also one time an ex-boyfriend found $600 in an unmarked envelope on the sidewalk, and I have never been so envious in my life (he kept it).

raisincookie (#2,846)

@Michelle I would totally think drug money too. And I totally wouldn’t keep it, OR turn it in anywhere. I would put it back, walk away, and pretend the whole thing never happened. (This answer is brought to you by my anxiety problem, not morality.)

msworst (#2,640)

I would probably go to the police. But, I’m not SUCH a good person. I would probably secretly hope I got a reward or something. I once found a gold ring (with some small gems in it) at a Casino. We returned it to the security desk. They had a policy that they would hold it for 6 months and then if no one returned to claim it, I could have it. Lo and behold, no one claimed it and six months later, I got it. I felt much better about it than I would have if I had just kept it in the first place.

klemay (#1,755)

I found $100 in bills on the floor of a bar once, and I turned it into the bartender. Granted, that’s a much smaller amount of cash. Plus, I’m a regular at this bar and have received much more than $100 in free drinks, so I thought even if no one claimed it I was fine with the bartender keeping it.

Megano! (#124)

That much money I would definitely take it to the police, though I would really, really want to keep it.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

If it was someplace I was a regular or in my city, maybe a sign saying “Did you lose something ? Contact with a description” to give whoever lost it a fair shot (without giving away so many details someone just guesses amounts from new email addresses until they get the right one.

I don’t think handing it to the bartender is the right choice – it’s just outsourcing the moral dilemma. And I don’t know if I would report it to the police if I lost that kind of cash either, though it’s a fine option as well. Just keeping it is awfully tempting, especially when one is a poor student. Though spending it on a weekend in MTL versus food, rent, books, loans, makes me think the student poverty might be a bit overstated, versus “don’t has as much disposable cash as I’d like”.

@swirrlygrrl Exactly what I was going to suggest.

And really, anyone who’s like “Oh hang on let me just stop by the bar on my way to deposit this huge chunk of money” is either rich enough that $1,200 is NBD or they have much bigger problems in their life. (My girlfriend is terrified of being robbed when we take her half of the rent money from her ATM to my bank three blocks away, usually at midday in downtown DC.)

NeenerNeener (#156)

I’ve been doing an envelopes-of-cash system of budgeting. So when I first get paid, I am walking around with over $400 in cash for all my nonbill expenses for the next two weeks. Does this mean that I am rich enough that $400 is NBD?

@NeenerNeener I was under the impression that you didn’t carry the envelopes around with you, though? I’ve done that before too (putting my “disposible” cash in an envelope to control spending) but the envelope sits on my night stand. I wouldn’t take $400 to a bar unless it was going to be a MASSIVE blowout — let alone $1,200!

pineapplelost (#2,820)

@swirrlygrrl That’s what I’d do. The person who lost it would be more likely to retrace their steps than to contact the cops.

Though maybe the best option is to bring it to the police station and then post signs in the bar telling people to go to the police if they lost something valuable on X date?

NeenerNeener (#156)

@stuffisthings I’ll admit that I don’t always carry it all around, but sometimes. What I do is have separate envelopes for different categories – food, gas, cigarettes (yeah…), etc. I have 6 different categories. It’s a way for me to set a budget in each category and stick to it. (Also, I would really love to find a wallet with compartments I could label for this – but then I would be carrying it everywhere all the time!)
I don’t go to bars too frequently, but I’m also not really someone who’s afraid of carrying around some cash (maybe foolishly, I don’t know).
I was really just trying to say that you never know someone’s situation.

Quinn A@twitter (#1,008)

First instinct would be to tell the bartender that I found it and leave my contact information in case someone comes back for it. I would also call the bar regularly to see if anyone asked about the money. If I didn’t hear anything within a week, I’d probably call the police and ask if anyone reported that sum missing. If they said no, I’d put it in a savings account and feel weird about it for years. :/

probs (#296)

Give it to the police, I’d say. However, Mike- they don’t necessarily give you the money eventually. I found a hundo on the main campus walkway in college and turned it into the police; a few months later, wanting beer money, I swung by the police station, asked if it had been claimed, and could I have it. They rather pointedly told me it had not been claimed, but that I would at no point be receiving it. I don’t know what became of it or what the actual policy was, but that’s how it went down.

bluewindgirl (#1,036)

Twice, at my favorite used clothing store, I have found money in the pockets– once 20 bucks, once 35. I told the store owners both times, who were like, oh man lucky you! And then I used the money to buy the clothes that contained the pockets containing the money, as seems only fair. Free clothes!
I would take $1200 to the police station though.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@bluewindgirl This is rad, not even because of the money, but because how cool are the people who own this store? No wonder it’s your favorite.

KatNotCat (#766)

I have worked in a bar and had large amounts (never that large, but large) of money found and returned to the hostess stand, as well as other valuable items like credit cards and jewelry. I then gave them to the manager who held onto them in the safe in case someone called, and sometimes people did.
Giving them to management is the best course of action, in short.

Anne (#33)

WWID (now): Hand it off to anyone who worked @ the bar immediately.
WWID (college): Keep it. Keep it forever and ever.

I’m a grown-up now, I guess.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

Yeah I would have kept it. Bonus points for doing your due diligence and staying at the bar. But with no identifying information and your only other option being to turn it over to the cops (because there’s NO WAY anything shady might happen to $1200 in anonymous cash handed over to police officers), what else were you to do?

When I was 8, I found $32 under the candy display at Kmart. My mom took me to customer service, had me report that I found an unspecified amount of cash and leave my contact information. If someone called with the exact amount and could tell me descriptors (all in $1s, folded in half) I had to return the money. If no one called, I got to keep it.

I got to keep the money and I thought I was the luckiest person in the world. I’d have done the same thing my mom taught me in this situation.

Maladydee (#909)

@down the rabbit hole Yeah, that sounds like the way to go, to me.

@ihatesomuch (#177)

When my friends and I were in college, we found about $500 on the floor at a bar. We were pretty sure this guy who was walking around flashing hundreds and saying “drug dealer things” dropped it, so we kept it.

Looking back on that, 1) I definitely wouldn’t take money from someone I thought was a drug dealer. I mean, I’ve seen the wire/breaking bad now) 2) I wish I could remember what we thought constituted “drug dealer things.” Oh well, we had a really fun weekend with that money.

questingbeast (#2,409)

I’d definitely do what the question asker did: wait til the end of the night, and if it wasn’t claimed, keep it. Maybe give my phone number to the bar in case anyone was looking for ‘something lost’. I just find it hard to believe anyone’s carrying that much cash for a ‘I’ll see if the police have it’ sort of reason.

eraserface (#1,628)

My rule of thumb with finding money–though I don’t think I’ve ever found more than a few bucks– is that half should be given to a good cause and half is yay, money for me, to even out the karma or whatever. Then again…would probably have to rethink that if I ever found more than like 50 bucks.

aetataureate (#1,310)

This is a case where the reverse perspective is so helpful. I’ve twice left a complete wallet (debit card, license, everything) in a totally public place and been gobsmackingly grateful when someone turned it in. In one case, my wallet had like $300 in cash — an entire vacation’s worth of spending money, when I was 15 and with a student group — and I left it in an enormous public restroom in a MALL during the lunch rush in suburban Washington, DC. A legitimate miracle that it came back intact.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@aetataureate But a wallet is so different from an unmarked envelope. If the envelope had the name of a bank on it, that would even be a different story. But how do you lose $1200 in a bar?

I would do what the writer did. Wait it out and then take it home. No one carrying around money like that so carelessly is going to the police to look for it.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@josefinastrummer Dude, nah, I understand it’s different from a wallet but that was probably someone’s entire cash payday. Cash in an envelope is not careless. Falling out of someone’s purse or pocket is poor luck.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

I probably would have just called the police and told them I’d found it? Same thing with the management of the bar. Been a little ambiguous about it so that I’d be able to check that it was the right person and not just a friend of the police/bar who wanted some extra cash. Maybe post on Craigslist. And then if no one claimed it I would have put it in savings.

Cause yeah, this could have been someone’s monthly income paid under the table, or even rent! My dad is a landlord and occasionally to get rent money he’ll meet up with a tenant somewhere. Usually they pay by check, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable that someone might pay in cash (people are weird, whatever).

Annie@twitter (#1,191)

Money is a tough one. Once I found about half a pound of weed in a bar bathroom, and although I’m not one for drugs myself I was working in a restaurant at the time so it was pretty easy for me to find people to sell it to. (Super cheap, natch.) But money? Ehhh. If it was under $100 I would keep it with no guilt, but I would eavesdrop around a bit first to make sure there was no one standing nearby panicking about it. More than $100 I’d tell the bartender and give them my contact into in case someone reported it missing. But I would keep it if no one claimed it.

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