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Everyday Cheapskate: 7 Places to Look for Free Money

Mary Hunt on

A few years ago, I received a fun letter from a reader who 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" from the previous year.

Recently, he sent an update that shows he is now averaging nearly $50 a month. Not bad! But I couldn't help but wonder how his payoff might climb if he knew about other places that harbor free money.


Not long ago, 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. Provided what you have is at least 10-karat 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, and then go with the highest bid. Never mail your junk gold to a "gold dealer."


Start paying attention to vending machine coin return compartments. Most machines have a clear plastic coin return, which makes it easy to see what's in there. And winter is the best time to clean up 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.


If your home is like 99% of all the homes on earth, you have at least one junk drawer. Go on a gift-card hunt. It's easy to 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.


More than $27 billion worth of U.S. savings bonds have matured and are sitting unclaimed by their owners as of December 2020, reports the U.S. Treasury. The department's "Treasury hunt" search engine at lets you use your Social Security number to search for matured bonds.



Is it possible that you or someone in your family worked for a company that had a pension plan and then terminated it because the company went bankrupt or was bought out by another company? You or that loved one, even if now deceased, may be eligible to receive benefits from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is an agency of the U.S. government.

The corporation is currently holding about $400 million in unclaimed benefits for more than 80,000 people. That averages nearly $5,000 per person. To see if you might have anything coming your way, you can perform a search at "Finding a Lost Pension" on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation site.


You or someone in your family may be missing money because you lost track of a refund, 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, and then click on individual states to go to that state's unclaimed property webpage) and You should not have to pay upfront 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.


Now just might be a good time to dust off that metal detector you got for your birthday however many years ago. Ha! If you were not that fortunate, don't worry. For under $75, you can pick up a decent metal detector.

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 website. There you'll find a treasure trove of community and detecting how-tos, where to hunt, forums and just plain free-money fun.


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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