Why Would You Pick up a Penny?

Recently I spotted a penny on the ground. In a nanosecond, the following discussion played out in my mind:

“Pick it up, it’s free money!”

“It’s only a penny, it’s not worth the effort.”

“But it’s still a penny, to walk on by would be wasteful!”

“Spending time pondering whether to pick it up is even more wasteful. Leave it.”

“That thought is a bit painful.”

“Besides, if you pick it up you’ll have to put it somewhere in the car, and you don’t even have a place to put change. Keep moving.”

I left the penny. Decades ago, I would have picked it up. Today, I won’t bother with any coin smaller than a quarter.

What about you? What denomination of coin will you spend two seconds to pick up?

What money scripts might be running in the background when you see money on the ground? “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “Don’t waste money.” “Leave it for someone who really needs it.” “Don’t take it, it’s not yours, it would be stealing.”

What emotions and thoughts do you notice? Some of them may be:

  • Excitement and joy. Finding even a small amount can trigger a little rush of happiness. It could be like winning a mini lottery.
  • Indifference or amusement. A small coin may not even register as meaningful or worth your time to consider.
  • Relief and gratitude. If you’re facing financial difficulties, finding even a few cents or a few dollars can feel like a small blessing.
  • Pride or contentment. Bending down to pick up money can trigger a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, like doing a good deed or getting something free.
  • Guilt and anxiety. You may view this money as not yours to take. You may think about the potential consequences of keeping it.
  • Distrust, anxiety, and suspicion. You might wonder if the money was left on purpose as part of a fraud or trap, so you avoid potential trouble by leaving it.
  • Shame and embarrassment. There’s a common social stigma associated with picking up money on the ground, especially larger amounts. You might feel others will judge you as greedy if they see you do it.
  • Sadness and compassion. You may feel empathy and understanding for the potential distress of the person who actually lost it.

What might your response to whether to pick up the money or leave it say about your money script categories? 

Money Avoidance: You might fear negativity or bad luck associated with finding it, so you walk on by to avoid any potential karmic debt or negative consequences.

Money Worship: You might see the money as a lucky omen or unexpected bounty, a sign of your own financial destiny. You are likely to pick it up, viewing it as a blessing or reward for your positive beliefs around abundance and attracting wealth.

Money Status: The value of the money might not register significantly compared to your existing wealth or perception of yourself. You would probably walk past a small coin, but might pick up a large enough amount.

Money Vigilance: You might question the source of the money, worry about potential swindles or traps, or check if anyone nearby seems to be looking for it. You might report it to lost and found or authorities. If you do pick it up, you probably won’t tell anyone you did so.

The question of whether to pick up a stray coin can be an interesting starting point for exploring your money scripts. But you might not want to overthink the decision—especially if the coin is lying in the middle of a busy street.

Related: Rate Your Financial Wellbeing: Part Two