The Cashier Gave Me Too Much Change: What Should I Do?

If a cashier handed you too much change, would you keep it? Does the amount of the mistake matter? For instance, would you keep an extra $5 but return an additional $100? 

The Cashier Gave Me an Extra Ten Dollars with My Change

ABC News Primetime ran an experiment to determine what people would do when faced with this ethical dilemma. For two days, they watched as a cashier handed out $10 to $20 in extra change to 46 different people. 

In Primetime’s study, 18 subjects immediately returned the money, while 26 put the money in their wallets and walked away. 

After the initial experiment, Primetime ran a second study. This time the cashier handed out an extra $100, and 16 of the 25 people returned the money.

Karma was the main reason people returned the money, believing that stealing was a sin. Most importantly, restaurant-goers didn’t want the cashier to be financially responsible for this mistake.

But what about those who walked away with the money? Why didn’t they feel guilty for taking money that didn’t belong to them? 

Most customers said they didn’t realize the cashier had made a mistake. Others said they didn’t take the money on purpose. It’s not like they stole it, they reasoned. The cashier accidentally handed it to them.

Is it Illegal to Keep Too Much Change?

Accepting too much change is not a crime if you don’t realize the cashier’s error. If you recognize the mistake, it might be unlawful, but I can’t imagine being charged for a crime of this nature. How would the courts prove that you knew about the mistake and intentionally kept the money anyway?

Can you get in trouble if the cashier gives you too much money? Unless it was a significant amount of money, I can’t imagine a scenario where a customer would be held liable.

The question is not one of legality but rather one of morality. If you know a cashier gave you too much change, do you alert them? Some stores will dock a cashier’s pay for these errors. If you don’t warn them of the error, they may lose wages to pay for their mistake.

Does knowing that change your decision? Would you give the money back if you knew the cashier was responsible for paying back the money, rather than thinking the company would take the loss?

The Cashier Gave Me Too Much Change

A few months ago, I faced a similar ethical and financial dilemma. I bought a bike from a local bicycle shop for over $400. I ordered a black bike, but when I arrived at the store, one of the employees brought out the identical bike in every way except color. 

The bikes were the same price, and I decided I liked the blue one better, so we paid for some additional accessories like bike helmets and water bottles and went on our way. 

The business changed hands shortly after this transaction, and I received a phone call from the bike shop a few months later. The shop owner said my new bike was ready, and I needed to come to the store to pick it up. 

Had I been dishonest, I could have taken the bike and walked away with an additional $400 bike for free. Instead, I let the shop owner know that my husband and I had picked up a blue bike instead of the black one.

When my husband mentioned this story to a coworker, he said he wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the black bike home. “It’s not my fault they got things mixed up at the store,” he said.

If a Cashier Gives You Too Much Change, What Do You Do?

So what do you think? If a cashier gives you too much change, what do you do? It’s not unusual to receive extra change after buying something. Would you return the excess or keep it?

6 thoughts on “The Cashier Gave Me Too Much Change: What Should I Do?”

  1. Wow, That is a huge huge huge mistake on the shop owner’s part. Three points:

    1. That shop won’t be around long unless they figure out proverbially ‘who is running the store’.

    2. I hope that you got some gift certificate etc for being kind and not taking the bike. There should be some sort of small reward for your honesty. That would be my strategy if I owned the shop; reward people for being honest since they saved you 400 bucks.

    3. I think that the issue with this is all about the degrees. So I am glad that primetime did two different amounts. 400 is way too much to take in my opinion. If it was a buck or two bucks, then I probably wouldn’t really think twice.

    I disagree with the idea that you don’t want to hold the cashier responsible. There NEEDS to be personal responsibility. I’ve worked as a cashier before and I’ve had mistakes on my register (shared register) but I have still had to take the blame. That is part of doing that job. If they don’t like it, they should do something else. A small amount (under 5 bucks) is really no big deal, I think. But more than that and it becomes obvious that the money wasn’t yours. It shouldn’t matter much in the end because stores give too much change and take too much money all day every day. And it usually balances out in the end.

  2. It would also be interesting to find out if people are more willing to keep the change from a ‘super store’ cashier than a clerk at a ‘mom and pop’ shop. If the local bike shop had been a walmart or kmart would I have been less willing to let them know that a mistake had been made?

  3. Hmmm … I don’t think it should matter. I would return 5c just as soon as I would return $500 if I was given it incorrectly in change.

    The only time that I would take the amount of money into consideration is if it took a while for me to notice the problem and how much effort would be required to return it.

    For example, if I didn’t realise until I got home that I got a few cents or a couple of dollars extra in change, I would probably not bother going back there to return it. As I said before, if I notice instantly then I would return it no matter the value.

    I could also never knowingly accept something that I knew I had already received – no matter the value.

    Does this make me old fashioned or ultra straight? Maybe but ultimately this is how I would like people to treat me so I don’t see why I should do any less for others.

  4. The way I look at it, honesty is never about “them” – its about me, and about how I treat others.

    So the amount doesn’t matter. And the size of the establishment (corner drug store or WalMart) doesn’t matter either.

    So I always return the money.

    Stella Baskomb

  5. Very good point Stella. It’s really not about whether the store catches you or not. It’s more about your own decisions; will you choose the righteous path or choose the path of dishonesty.

  6. I am a bit disturbed by easychange’s comments but it seems to be a commentary on the state of much of society nowadays. I agree with the 1st point of knowing who’s running the store. The clerk clearly made a large error. However, points 2 & 3 bother me. It would have been nice to have been given something from the shop owner for making the honest choice but isn’t it reward enough to know that you didn’t cheat someone out of $400 when the opportunity was there to do so? And, $400 is more money than a few dollars but isn’t it still cheating regardless of the amount? I think making the right choices leads to more right choices. And, now this shopowner has some insurance that they are honest customers out there.



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