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When Should You Give Cash to Strangers?

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I was recently approached by a young man in a Wal-Mart parking lot asking for a few bucks. He had a story (doesn’t everyone?). He and some friends were traveling and were a couple hours from home when their alternator went out. They repaired the alternator, but then didn’t have enough money for gas to get home.

A hundred thoughts went through my mind in a split second. Do you have a credit card – can you charge it? Can you call a friend or family member?

Then more thoughts went through my mind. How do I know he is telling the truth? Is he just scamming me and planning to use my money for drugs or alcohol? I could offer to buy them gas instead of giving them cash. I could ask them to show me a receipt for their alternator, or just ask them how much it cost. If they hesitated when they answered, I would know they were lying.

But then I realized I was looking for reasons not to give, instead of reasons to give. And I’m not sure that is the right way to go through life. I gave him $5 and wished him well. $5 won’t buy much gas, but they had a fuel efficient car, and it might have been enough to get them half way home. Or it might have been enough to buy half a hit of whatever his drug of choice might be, if in fact that was his goal. I don’t know, and it’s not my place to judge. But I do know that my wife and I have been blessed and we can and should give to others.

Giving cash to strangers is a tough decision because you never know what they are going to do with it. You can’t research an individual like you can research a charity, making it much more difficult to avoid being scammed (more on avoiding charity scams, and a note on charity fraud from the FTC).

But you don’t always need to know everything. Sometimes you just need to give with a pure heart and leave it at that.

On a similar note, I want to introduce you to a new website that has the goal to help people through monetary gifts. The idea is to help people through very small cash gifts.

Love Drop – a new way to make an impact.

Love Drop

If you like micro-lending, the process of many people giving small loans to help entrepreneurs and others achieve their dreams, then Love Drop might be right up your alley. Love Drop is micro-lending with a twist – it is micro-giving. The idea is to give small amounts of money to help make a financial impact in someone’s life. Love Drop is brought to you by the founders of ItStartsWith.Us, Love Bomb, and Budgets Are Sexy. The project is just getting started, but look for it to make a big impact on people’s lives in the near future. You can learn more at LoveDrop.org.

Love Drop is out to make the world a better place. Give with a pure heart, and change someone’s life.


Published or updated March 1, 2011.
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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Blue Spyder

Go through any airport, someone wants you to give them something, and you end up getting some sob story about gas, blown tires or getting left on accident. The day someone just flat out says “im using this money on beer” will be the day I hand that person a 20 without hesitation, that’s honesty!

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2 EasyFinanceAdvice

I have given food to someone who asked me because they were hungry. I have turned down strangers that have asked for money.

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3 Valencia Williams

I find that when I give from a pure heart I can’t worry if the person’s intent was real or not. My intent was real! I truly reap what I sow….

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4 Evan

I don’t know if it is the New Yorker in me but I always just assume they are lying to me. Just got asked for a couple bucks last night while in Penn Station waiting to head home from the Marathon…I declined but felt like an ass.

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5 Briana @ GBR

I’m met with this pretty often too Ryan. I always consider how the individual is going to spend the money. I’m excited to be involved with LoveDrop and looking forward to all the cool things they have in store.

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6 Fred @ One Project Closer

My wife and I are on different sides of this issue. We budget money each month to give to our local church and then extra for charitable giving beyond church – to help the needy, Habitat, etc. I generally feel like these organizations do more to help people in the long run than giving a person a $5 bill on the spot, but she feels like the immediate impact of giving the person the money outweighs that.

I think conscience and motive are important here. If we don’t give someone the money because we are selfish, but we shield that selfishness by saying to ourselves, “they would’ve just bought booze with it anyway” then I think it’s wrong – because we don’t have good motives. If we don’t give it to them because we believe there is a better way to allocate our resources towards the needy, I think that is a legitimate and proper choice.

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7 Ryan

That’s a good way to look at it Fred. My wife and I primarily give to our church, but we give to other organizations from time to time. We don’t often get approached in situations like this. We don’t want to be stingy, but we also don’t want to feed someone’s habit. Having a plan, or at least thinking about it in advance, makes it easier to make the decision on whether or not to give.

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8 J$

Thx for the shout out brotha! We are SO EXCITED to finally be launching Love Drop. It’s time to do some major good ;)

Have a blessed week, sir.

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9 Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

The only time I’ve given cash to a stranger was because I feared for my safety if I didn’t give him anything.

People who need help should be looking to charitable organizations where I donate my money. I firmly believe people should only get a handout if they deserve it, and I can’t do the research on that person on the spot to make sure he does deserve it.

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10 Kristia

I say go with your gut. I’ve given money to strangers; as well as food. If it doesn’t feel right, I don’t give. If it does, I give with an openmind and keep it moving. Either way I always pray for the individual afterwards. We can always think of reasons not to give. Whatever they choose to do with the money really has nothing to do with me once I give it to them.

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11 Dan

Don’t forget about safety. A plea for money might really be a ploy to get you to pull out your wallet or purse making you vulnerable for a grab ‘n run.

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12 valleycat1

Years ago I worked for a church located near the bus station in a small town, so we regularly had people coming in asking for a little cash (for a bus ticket, presumably). The ministerial alliance determined a lot of people were just making the rounds of all the churches, & put together a program where local businesses would accept vouchers for, say, $10 of groceries & the bus company would accept a voucher for a bus ticket to a specified town. It was surprising how many of the people would just turn around & walk out when we explained that we couldn’t give them cash.

Personally, the parking lot “I’m stranded & just need a few $ for gas” line has always struck me as a scam – & have watched people approaching everyone that came out of the store with, presumably, the same story.

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13 rudy

when someone ask for money i never care about what theyre gonna do with it because it is up to them to eat or drink what ever comforts a homeless man or woman. i was once living on the streets and i never asked for money from people i sold my blood twice a week for money for meals and eventually found my way off the streets its now been 18 years. i now work at a company that pays well. life is hard sometimes but i learned that TOUGH TIMES NEVER LAST ONLY TOUGH PEOPLE DO!. god bless.

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14 Robin

As I was leaving Walmart yesterday, I was approached by a woman who asked me for money for bus fare. She had a few coins in her hand and said she didn’t have enough to make bus fare. I was honestly so out of it. My mind was on everything else I had to get done and I had a hard time bringing myself back to the situation at hand. I (probably stupidly) said I dont’ think I have any money as I was reaching into my purse and pulling out my wallet. I never carry cash so I was surprised to find $1 and I gave it to her. Later in my car, I realized that what I did might not have been safe. What if the woman had grabbed my purse or something worse. I don’t mind giving the money when I can but there is always a fear factor for me … what is this person up to? Are they carrying a gun or knife? Is it safe to give money to total strangers in a parking lot?

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15 Anthony Mandich

Regardless of what the person who is asking you for money says he is going to do with it there is obviously a need there. It is truly humbling to be that person sitting in the car at the gas station with nothing in the tank but fumes, toiling for hours and building up a ridiculously large pile of small change, depressed and forlorn, and all if a sudden the mean looking lady you almost didn’t even bother politely asking for spare change for gas but you do because rejection doesn’t hurt as much when its nearly constant and instead of handing you some sticky pennies and an insult she smiles. Widely like an angel and says sure, opens her wallet and puts a brand new crispy $100 bill in it and tells you to have a good day and God bless and you are just so grateful.

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