US coins and bills

7 Places to Look for Free Money

It’s been several years now since I got a super fun letter from a reader who has developed a hobby of looking for money in gutters, parking lots, streets, sidewalks, and other public places. And he keeps a running tab. He included a copy of his free money journal for the previous year.

US coins and bills

It was amazing to see how his finds often exceed $50 in a single month, available to him just for the taking. Not bad! But I couldn’t help but wonder how his payoff might climb if he knew about other places that harbor free money.

Jewelry Box

Recently, I toured my jewelry box. What a hoot! I found one gold chain now in pieces, a bracelet, and several orphaned earrings—all of it gold from the ‘80s that I don’t wear anymore. Something tells me you might find something similar if you go through your drawers and old jewelry boxes.

Not sure if it’s real gold? Follow these simple steps to find out.

Provided what you have is at least 10k gold (but not gold-plated), it’s like cash—free money. Go in person to three jewelry stores or local coin shops to see what they’ll pay you for it, then go with the highest bid. Never mail your junk gold to a “gold dealer.”

Vending Machines

Start paying attention to vending machine coin return compartments. Luckily, most of them are clear plastic, so you can see into them without getting down and reaching to feel around. Winter is the best time to clean up on coins as people are often wearing gloves and don’t feel the coins they leave behind. Because there is no way to find that unfortunate person, it’s finders keepers—free money. The same goes for ATMs.

Pension Funds

Suppose you or a family member worked for a company with a pension plan and were terminated because the company went bankrupt or was bought out by another company. In that case, you or your relative (or his or her estate if deceased) may be eligible to receive benefits from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is a U.S. Government Agency.

The PBGS is currently holding about $200 million in unclaimed benefits for more than 36,000 people. That averages nearly $5,500 per person. To see if you might have anything coming your way, you can perform a search at Finding a Lost Pension.

The PBGC helps locate people owed pension money and help them get it back. They do this with the Missing Participant Program, which finds people owed benefits from fully funded, PBGC insured defined benefit plans that have ended.

Junk Drawer Purge

If yours is like 99% of all the homes on earth, you have at least one junk drawer. Go through it on a gift card hunt. Call the number on the back of the card to find out how much value remains. That’s free money being held hostage in plastic. Use it, or you may lose it.

Matured Bonds

More than $15 billion worth of U.S. Savings Bonds have matured and are sitting unclaimed by their owners, according to the U.S. Treasury. The department’s Treasury Hunt search engine allows you to search for matured bonds using your Social Security number.

Unclaimed Assets

You or someone in your family may be missing money because you lost track of a refund, a rebate, security deposit, insurance dividend, or proceeds from a class action suit. It happens. To search online, check out this U.S. government site as well as (scroll down to find the U.S. map, then click on individual states to go to that state’s unclaimed property web page) and You should not have to pay any fees to reclaim assets, so should you click on an ad that requires payment, don’t let that tempt you. You can do this search on your own without paying others in the process.



Treasure Hunting

Now might be a good time to dust off that metal detector you got for your Birthday (how many years ago? Ha!). If you were not that fortunate, don’t worry. You can pick up a decent metal detector for a reasonable price if you keep your eyes open.



Metal detecting is a fun hobby where the more you participate, the luckier you’ll get. Want to get serious about it? Join a club. Find other enthusiasts. And make sure you keep a journal of your successes. Check out the Kellyco Detectors site. There, you’ll find a treasure trove of community and detecting how-tos, where to hunt, forums, and just plain free-money fun for metal detectors. Make sure you don’t miss 25 Best Metal Detecting Sites.

Question: What is the most significant amount of “free money” you’ve ever found if any? What were the circumstances? We’d love for you to share in the comments below.

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  1. Elaine says:

    You wouldn’t be finding any spare cash at the ATM’s in the UK as if it’s not removed after a certain time the machine automatically takes it back inside. It’s a nightmare as it shows as having being removed from the bank account and the poor person has to wait until the next day until they count the cash in the machine before they will put the balance back up again, I’m surprised you have such a blasé attitude as finders keepers with people forgetting to remove their cash at the ATM. All sorts of things happen to distract people at these terminals that’s why measures like this have been introduced,

  2. linda says:

    After reading this article, I found unclaimed money for my 89 year old dad! He thought I was crazy but he just received the check for $82.89. Fun to “find” money!

  3. Sharon Harris says:

    A friend of mine picked up a man’s belt at a rummage sale. It tuned out to be a money belt…with a $100 bill tucked away.

  4. Don says:

    A lot of people drop coins at drive thru windows, and don’t bother to pick them up. For safety’s sake, you’d have to check them out when they’re closed, so it will probably be dark. Be careful!

  5. Pat C says:

    Canada phased out the penny in 2013. We haven’t used pennies since then. That means that amounts are rounded to the nearest nickel. And of course, I haven’t used cash for nearly a year (COVID-19). So why do I keep cleaning the pennies out of my wallet and the next time I look, i have more. They must breed in the dark! Why can’t $20 bills multiply when I’m not looking!

  6. Cally Ross says:

    the shelf above our washer often has loose change on it from what i find left in pockets. It used to add up faster when our 4 boys were still at home. 😉

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I’m afraid the value of your pieces may be more sentimental than valuable. A good way to find out: Go to and search for items that are like what you have. And remember the asking price is not nearly as meaningful than the sold price! You may find your best option is to give these pieces to the people in your life you have admired or mentioned their fondness for them.

  7. Karla says:

    This is such a fun topic! It reminds me of the days when I would go to the county fair (small rural town) and go early in the mornings, before things opened up and scavenge the grounds, particularly around the food and beverage vendors. This has been more than 50 years ago and I still recall the excitement of finding a quarter or even a handful of change that missed somebody’s pocket. Sometimes I would come away with several dollars worth of change. Today, my grandchildren love scavenging the fence line and ditches around our small town golf course (just at our back door ) for golf balls. The they carry a basket similar to gathering Easter eggs and sometimes they find perfect condition high-grade golf balls that they can sell to grandpa and his friends. 🙂

  8. Denise says:

    What about jewelry that’s not gold? Inherited a bunch and not sure what to do with it. Goes back to turquoise faze and lots of pretty pins. Any help would be great. Thanks!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I’m afraid the value of your pieces may be more sentimental than valuable. A good way to find out: Go to and search for items that are like what you have. And remember the asking price is not nearly as meaningful as the sold price. Sellers can ask any amount they wish. You may find your best option is to give these pieces to the people in your life you have admired or mentioned their fondness for them.

      • Susan Odom says:

        Thanks to a previous Everyday Cheapskate article I received a check for $84 from Unclaimed Money in the state of NC – (, It was an overpaid insurance premium from 20 years ago.

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