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Cheap Shot | Who Owes Ya? Hitting pay dirt with


There is a bank in my house. It is shaped like a green M&M that has a Cheshire cat grin and beady red eyes. Slowly, penny-by-penny to nickels and quarters, it’s getting filled with money. I guess that’s the idea behind a bank. You put money in it. But, this bank is for a certain kind of money—found money.

On January 1, my friend Linda Lemon gave me this bank for a contest. We wanted to see who could find the most money on the ground in one year. Find a penny, pick it up, and in one year, I might have a buck. No amount is too small, because every cent puts me closer to winning the contest.

This has caused some problems. Like, last week, I ran into an ex-girlfriend. As we were talking—and not talking—but mostly not talking about how we hadn’t talked in a long time, it was easier just to avoid making eye contact, so I stared at the ground. Here I was trying to convince her that I was doing great, and life was good, but I couldn’t help but notice there were two pennies on the ground. When you’re looking for money, two pennies is a bonanza. Forget pride and uncomfortable silences, there were 2 cents on the ground and a contest on the line. As I picked up the money, I could tell she was thinking, “You’re pathetic.” But, that’s just her 2 cents’ worth. And if she threw that on the ground, I’d pick it up, too.

Looking for money is like training for a marathon—the more you exercise, the easier it becomes. The more you look for money, the more likely it is that you’ll find it. I found $15 on the floor at the concession stand during a Jazz game and $5 at Piper Down during a free poker game. Crowds and bars, and especially crowded bars, are the easiest places to find money, but so is the gutter.

To make the ex-girlfriend thing not seem so humiliating, I consider that moment as “money athletic conditioning.” If something seems out of place, I’m conditioned to pick it up. From discarded cigarette packs to envelopes laying in the gutter, if money can be placed in it, I put it in my pocket. Worst-case scenario, I look like Woodsy Owl saying, “Give a hoot—don’t pollute.” Best-case scenario: It’s full of money. And that has happened this year. I found nearly a thousand dollars in the gutter in the snow with only a paper clip keeping it warm. This money didn’t go into my green M&M bank; it went into my credit union account.

Now, the thousand dollars I found seems like chump change. This week, I began looking for money along the Internet highway and virtually hit pay dirt. So far, I have found $2,912.67. It all began when I went to This Website lets you type in your name and then tells you if someone or some institution owes you money.

Nobody owes me nothing, but this wasn’t the case for my brother. I called him and said, “Your name is listed at” He said, “Nobody owes me nothing. And Phil, you can’t keep finding a thousand dollars in the gutter. But if you fill out the paperwork, you can have the money. Enjoy the cup of coffee.” Just like in Monopoly, there was a bank error in his favor, and true to his word, he gave me the $1,902.67. He ain’t stingy, he’s my brother.

From MySpace to my e-mail, I have mined looking for missing money owed to friends and family. Ten dollars to Seattle, $400 to Salt Lake, and $600 to Texas—the missing money is adding up. Not everyone is as generous as my brother, but they all say, “I owe you a beer,” or “Let’s go to dinner.” For what? I typed their names into a search engine. Now, that’s living cheap.

Does anyone owe you money? If you find some, I’m free on Saturday night. You’re welcome.