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. Deena says:

    I once had an unused gift card for a jewelry store that the company deemed as unclaimed. They sent it to the unclaimed money division of the state that they’re home office is located in…Missouri. I live in Illinois. A store manager helped me track it down ( why would I look in a different state?). Discovered that in Missouri, they’re only required to return 50% of the funds left on the card. I was able to get all of the unspent funds back, partly since it had been recently sent to the Missouri treasurer. Just beware…your $$$ could end up in another states treasury’s unclaimed cash fund.

  2. Deena says:

    Don’t just check YOUR state… I had the remainder of a gift card for a Jewelry store turned in as ‘unclaimed’ because it hadn’t been used within their companies set time frame (who knew they had a time limit?). Turned out that since their home office was in a neighboring state, that’s the state it was sent to. BTW…the state it was given to to hold only required 1/2 of the cards value. With the help of my local stores manager, I did get reimbursed for the full amount on the card…eventually.

  3. Suzanne says:

    I have gold jewelry that is set with assorted colored gemstones. Some pieces I don’t wear anymore, some is broken and not worth the cost of repairs. Most businesses that buy gold don’t want the gemstones, and you’ll have to remove them. Some places might even deduct the cost of the labor involved in removing them from what they pay for the gold. But gold is really soft, and you could probably remove the gemstones yourself. Prongs are easily loosened because they bend. Also, unless you’re in great need of cash, wait for a bump in the price of gold to sell your junk or broken gold jewelry. You’ll get more for it.

  4. Barbara Hudson says:

    When walking and you see a coin, pick it up and look at the date(the year). It’s a wonderful conversational starter-seeing what you can remember from the past and always more fun when you are walking with someone!

  5. Norma Bialick says:

    In January of 1997, I started keeping track of the money I find. Twenty five years later, I have found almost $300. While most of it was picked up in change, I also found about $80 in bills. This doesn’t compare to the person who wrote you but it’s still a nice sum of money. When I reach an even $100 amount, I write checks to a few favorite charities. I don’t consider my found money to be mine so it’s easy to give it away.

  6. Imogene Leslie says:

    After retirement, my mother-in-law became a Store greeter. She would peruse the vending machines near her regularly, acquiring enough change to buy a computer!

  7. Linda Radosevich says:

    I once found a fifty-dollar bill a few steps from the entrance to the post office. I posted a note on a telephone pole near where I found it, with a ‘hazy’ description of what I found (‘something valuable was lost here. If you lost something, please call this number.’) never heard from anyone, so I was fifty dollars richer!

  8. Deb R. says:

    In the mid-2000s, I found my mil’s maiden name listed on a unclaimed funds site. It was listed to her address before she got married, which was in 1951. Turned out to be $600 from a forgotten-about insurance policy.

    I also found some interesting items for a deceased aunt. Esso stock, Bell telephone stock, things of that sort. However, there are two people more eligible to claim than I am, and neither of them wish to pursue it.

    My deceased grandmother’s name is also on a list. Thanks for reminding me of that one. Now that my mother and her sister have passed, I am the next one eligible to file for that, so time to move in that direction.

  9. Patricia Goff says:

    Funny true story. When we were stationed in Germany I had a friend and her father saved all his change in a military trunk. When he got orders to return to the states the military refused to ship the truck full of coins. He took it to the bank (I watched him push it over on a wagon, not sure how he got it on there) and turned it into cash. Many years later I found my girlfriend on facebook and we reconnected. I asked her about it and she said he took the money to the banks and got coins back to refill the trunk. Crazy.

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