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September 06, 2021

If someone gave you too much change, would you tell them?

So you're at the grocery store paying for your purchases. When you get your change and count it, however, you notice that you've been given change for a higher bill than you actually used.

Do you alert the cashier and give the money back or would you think "well, it's their fault for not being more careful" and keep it?

Does it matter whether you're shopping at Loblaws or your favourite farmers market?

Well, for many people, the answer seems to be ... it depends.

About two-thirds of respondents to a recent ING poll maintain that they would tell someone if they were given too much change. The rest admit that they'd pocket the money. Another online survey pegs the "well, that's too bad for you" number at around 25 per cent.

Either way, that seems pretty high to me. If I noticed on the spot, I'd definitely give it back, although I'm not sure I'd make a special trip back to the store though.

In his recent book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone -- Especially Ourselves, behaviorial psychologist Dan Ariely points out that that dishonesty is largely founded on our ability to rationalize.

Stealing like this has less to do with personal gain than it does self-perception, he explains. Most of us need to believe that we’re good people, and work hard to maintain that perception. But not necessarily all the time.

Sometimes, this means behaving in ways that align with our sense of what's right. Other times, it means crossing that line somehow, either by turning a blind eye to our behaviour, or rationalizing it in some way that allows us to believe it’s actually OK.

If someone clearly gave you too much change, would you tell them? If not, why not? Or does it depend on the circumstances?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money




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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...