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There's free money on the streets of Austin if you just look for it

A lost penny lies waiting for me beside a discarded cigarette at a bus stop on S Congress Ave.
A lost penny lies waiting for me beside a discarded cigarette at a bus stop on S Congress Ave.
Photo by Derrick Wescott

There's really so much free money out there, just lying out on the streets of Austin.  People lose money in public places all the time, but if it's just a bit of loose change, they often don't stoop to pick up the lost money.  That's where financial Austinite wizards come into the picture, because we do pick up that discarded money.

I've recently begun a super-nerdy project that I like to call my Found Money Log, and with this project I am taking note of each time I find money that is lying around in public places.

Perhaps it was the Easter holiday that got me to start up this fund. While children were running around hunting for eggs, I was hunting for money. When I went home for Easter, my mom and I took a walk around the block, and I was amazed at how much money I found lying in the street. I’ve found lots of money in my lifetime, but I’ve never been actively picking it up and recording the moment. I actually found $1.55 during the month of April. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but invested with a 15% return over 30 years, that makes $135.69! So the way I look at it, I found well over 100 bucks last month.

There are people in this world through whose hands money slips freely. I am not one of those people. When those people are wasteful of their money, that money finds a new home in my infinitely more trustworthy hands. And it is just as grateful for being “rescued” as I am for having “adopted” it, to nurture it and watch it grow. Money and I have a little agreement: it shall fall into my path and I shall pick it up.

I also take a picture of each find; they’re like my babies! My coins range from a tarnished old penny from 1965 to a sparkling new 2010 penny. The pictures look like glimpses from the surface of the moon; they are almost always a small coin camouflaged in the rocky gravel of the Texas roads.

During April, all those coins sat in a little box in my apartment, which held all my $1.55 of my Found Money Fund. It’s great that I had it all tucked away, but money doesn’t like to be confined; that stunts its growth. No, money must be set free occasionally, like how people walk their dogs. Because money is a living, breathing entity – so beautiful, so magical. Money doesn’t buy happiness; money is happiness!

So at the end of April, I triumphantly marched on over to my local bank and put the money in a savings account.  The bank teller looked at me quizzically at first when I arrived with a little jingly box full of dirty old coins, but I explained my project to her, and she said she thought it was charming.

After counting out the money, she handed me a little deposit slip and said, "See you next month!"  Oh yes she will.

On my walk home, I occasionally took a peek at that deposit slip the cashier had handed to me.  It was so beautiful, I thought.  $1.55 deposited.  I knew then that I was taking good care of that money.  Even though it is earning only about 0.000001% in interest, it is still growing safely in an interest-earning, beneficiary-named, no-fee, FDIC-insured account!  Which is always better than sitting in a box in my apartment.

Eventually, when it reaches a decent sum, I'd like to invest it in something that might one day earn that fabled 15% interest, but for now my job is to keep finding more money out in Austin.  Although the trick is not to want it.  Just live your regular life, but make that tiny effort to pick it up when you find it.  Otherwise you might get obsessed and start trolling around parking lots all day long, searching desperately for lost money.  It shouldn't become an obsession, for money is frightened of greed and irresponsibility, and it loves to betray its owners when their greed gets the better of them.  Instead, this project should be a fun surprise each time you find new money.  I like to think of it like the Sorcerer's Stone in the book Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone.  If you remember, Professor Dumbledore said that the person who would eventually find The Stone was the one who didn't want it out of greed, but the person who would use it wisely.  Use the same principle when collecting your found money.

I'm not sure of the exact time, but the day will come when all my found money actually starts generating income; that will be a truly magical moment.  Think about it: this money came from nothing.  You didn't have to work for it; it just came to you.  And when it starts earning interest, then not only did you not have to work for it, but it is now working for you!  Am I the only one who finds that completely fascinating?  Free money that is creating more free money!  It's almost sci-fi in its magnitude of awesomeness.  It's like a supermassive black hole that is the essence of nothing, but from that black hole spews entire other universes.  I see absolutely no difference between a black hole and my Found Money Fund.

So get out there, Austinites, and claim the money that our less-financially-inclined friends have left behind for us.  The streets are paved in gold; all you have to do is pick it up.

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