What Would You Have Done? Cash and Credit Cards in a Garage Sale Coat

aaron_image1You may have heard about the college kids who bought an old $20 couch at a nearby thrift store, only to find out later that it contained envelopes of cash totaling over $40,000 inside it! While the kids pondered what they might do with their new-found cash – their consciences got the better of them and they sought out its rightful owner. When they found her – the older woman rewarded the thoughtful students with a $1,000. 


I also recently encountered a similar situation – albeit for less cash – and (a small detail) it was in a dream.

Here's what happened:

One of my good friends and I were shopping garage sales when we happened upon an older house that had been converted into a nursing home (in my dream, the house was played by my childhood home).

Outside this home, there were racks of clothes and quite a few older jackets lined along the driveway.

We got out of the car and I headed straight to the jackets, while the friend approached a table full of vinyl records.

“Hm. Maybe these coats have some money in them?” I thought to myself.

I grabbed one coat and after digging through the first pocket, I stumbled upon what felt like a business card. Only, harder. And, thicker.

I pulled it out of the pocket.

“Oh – a credit card!”

I went back into the pocket and pulled out 3 more cards.

“Holy cow.”

I checked another pocket and found even more treasures: some cash cards and twenty dollar bills.

“Whoa – sweet!” I shouted.

“What did you find?!” my friend asked.

“Look for yourself!”

“Oh, you can't keep these. They probably belong to someone here.”

“Well, I could at least keep the cash, right?” I asked.

My friend shrugged and we approached a middle-aged woman, tending the cash box.

“Ma'am, we found some credit cards inside this coat. I'm sure they're all canceled by now – but at least the owner can rest easy knowing they have been found.”

“Oh – well, thank you very much.”

I gave her the credit cards and we turned around and continued shopping..

What would you have done?

Looking back at my dream, I have to say that I'm a little appalled at my behavior. Well, I'm glad I returned the credit cards – but I should have returned everything in the coat pockets to the lady managing the sale.

But, it does make you think about certain scenarios – and if these would make keeping the cash any different.

For instance, what if I bought the coat at the garage sale, took it home and found the cash cards months later. Would it be okay to keep it all because I had purchased the jacket?

Finally, does the amount of cash found in an item warrant your returning it? Is it a “duty” to try and find the rightful owner(s) if you find:

  • $40,000 (like the students found in the couch)?
  • $10,000?
  • $1,000?
  • $100?

I'm curious, at what amount of money do you just keep your findings and don't say a word?

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  1. Aget 19 I worked at a Drive in theatre. I was lot attending one night and saw a pay envelope on the ground, opened it and found $135.00 in cash. It was more then what i made. When I got home I looked for the person in the phone book. It was not there so I called a person with the same last name and asked if she knew this person on the envelope. Yes it was her daughter. I drove it into town 5 miles away and gave it to her mom., got a thank you and away I went. I’m 60 now and still know it was the right thing to do.

    • God saw that David. ;)

  2. I used to work in retail, and one day there was a $20 on the floor in one of the aisles. I gave it to the manager on duty and went back to work. A short time later, I noticed a mom and two daughters frantically looking for something. Turns out that one of the daughters had lost $20. After getting it from the MOD and giving it back, the mom was surprised that I didn’t keep it for myself. I don’t know why, it didn’t belong to me, and that’s what I told her. Of course, it’s easy to say that because I was working full-time and made enough to pay my bills. The ethics get harder if you need the cash.

  3. While walking toward Wal-Mart’s door, we noticed a young man who appeared to be searching his car for something. Just as I walked into the crosswalk, I noticed a plastic card on the ground. Picking it up & turning it over, it was a charge card or debit card. My friend commented, “I bet that is what that guy is looking for”. We walked back to the car & I asked him his name. It matched the name on the card. I thought he was going to hug me for a minute. He was so relieved & ran into the store. Bet he had a cart of groceries to pay for. Made me feel good. I could never have kept or used the card. I’m just glad to have help him.

  4. My Ex and I found a woman’s coin purse in the shopping cart at a local store. My Ex wanted to keep it(That’s why he’s my Ex..lol) I argued until I was almost blind but did manage to talk him into taking me to the police station to return it intact and complete. Inside it contained Silver Dollars and 400 cash..You never know who would be hurting with the painful loss of their items. Can you imagine how awful we would feel if it was us that had lost our paychecks?? Kudos to the students who returned the money!

    • Great point – helps to put yourself in their shoes.

  5. I figure if the amount is so small that someone will not have reported it missing (like a 20$ bill or less) then there is no point searching (unless it’s pretty obvious who it might belong to). I once found 200$ worth of 20$ bills laying on the sidewalk near a busy bus stop. No wallet or anything. I reported that I had found it to the local lost and found but no one came forward to claim it so I kept it with a clean conscious.

    • Hi Elizabeth! Wow – kudos for trying to find rightful owner!

  6. Funny!! Dreams are so weird, aren’t they?? I couldn’t have kept it, my conscience would’ve gotten the better of me. :-) But if I find a $20 laying on the street, it’s all mine, baby.

    • I’ve been having some odd ones of late.

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