Everyday Living

Lending money to strangers – what would you do?

I was on the phone with my mom, rehashing some wedding tidbits and contemplating sleep when the doorbell rang. A quick glance at the phone told me it was 9:30 at night and I couldn’t help but wonder – who the heck would be ringing my doorbell at such a late hour?

Long story short – it was a new neighbor who had moved in a few doors down. Her daughter (and grandchild … we think …) were stranded up in the Twin Cities and the neighbor had to drive up and rescue them. But she didn’t have gas money to get up there. During this whole conversation, I’m still on the phone with my mother who was bristling with mom-like concern (“Don’t open your door to strangers!” So I let my husband open the door) and the only part I catch is that this lady needs money, she’s willing to give us the title to her car in exchange for cat and I can see our Evil Cat making furtive glances towards the open door.

“Honey!” I yell, reaching for my wallet. “I have this gas card.” And sure enough – when we were cleaning out one of our cupboards, we had found a $15 fuel card that the husband had received for Christmas. He had given it to me since it was for a gas station that I frequent and since we hadn’t used it in four months, I was perfectly content to give it to this stranger who was standing on our doorstep.

The situation resolved and the conversation ended with my mom (“Make sure you lock your darn doors!”), hubby and I looked at each other.

“I don’t like people ringing our doorbell in the middle of the night,” I said.
“Me neither.”
“I think we’re never going to see that money again.”
“You’re probably right.”

I’m torn about this situation. Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors” and I’m inclined to agree. I’ve had strangers from Chicago call my personal cell phone because I was idiot enough to loan it to a neighbor in Wisconsin. I’ve had other neighbors in my old neighborhood come to my door at even weirder times at night asking for $20. And I’ll be honest – I freakin’ hate it. But then I remember being 17 years old and having my car break down at 3 a.m. on a country road. My friend Gina and I hoofed it to the house where one of our classmates lived and our friend Ben’s mom was so gracious to us. Even at 3 a.m. I can’t even remember how many of my brother’s friends came to our house if they had car trouble and were in the area. My folks were always tired but gracious during those moments. Where is my graciousness? Where is my inclination to be a good neighbor?

And it isn’t the money. Like I said, I fished out a $15 gas card that I was probably going to use on a trip to my folks’ house tomorrow. But I don’t need the money. And with a houseful of wedding gifts and some wedding money to boot, the husband and I aren’t suffering from want right now either. We just want to live quietly in our neighborhood and not be bothered.

Here is what I hope: I sincerely hope that my husband and I did a good deed. I don’t care if karma chooses to grace us in the future for our kindness, but I honestly hope it doesn’t rear back to bite us in the ass and advertise to the neighborhood that free gas cards are distributed from our front door. I wish this was easier – I wish that we could just give with a smile on our faces and a warm feeling in our hearts.

What would you do?

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9 thoughts on “Lending money to strangers – what would you do?

  1. The whole “being asked for money” would make me very uneasy. Why doesn’t she have a credit card.
    I rarely have cash on me as I prefer to use my debit card. I would use the “Sorry, I don’t have any money either” excuse.

  2. I’m naturally suspicious of things like this, and I really can’t imagine asking a total stranger (new neighbor or not) for gas money. Hopefully it was legitimate. If not, you won’t miss what you weren’t using. If more people start showing up at your door, or the same neighbor reappears to beg or borrow something else, I would put an end to it REAL fast!

  3. I was setting up for a band gig one day and some guy walked up and said his wife had a baby today and he didn’t have enough gas to get home and back to a nearby town to get some things and his other son, and that he’d come back and pay is after he went home and got money. I handed him $20, and said if you come back great, if you don’t, then it’s on your conscience to pay it forward. He never came back. Whether his story was true or not…he must have needed the money more than I did.

    I do believe in karma, and treating people as I would hope to be treated if I was in need. I think you have to set the bar accordingly though – if you’re going to give someone money, give it to them, and don’t expect it in return. You’ll live a lot happier.

  4. I was going to ask the same thing as Jaime – how DID she react? You left out a very important part to this story. Extreme gratitude or indifference? Either way, you did the right thing. Good Karma, pay it forward, no regrets here.

  5. no way nobody who is decent would knock on a neighbors door asking for money. a half way decent person would ask for work cleaning or something not a hand out

    they will be back and eventualy they will hate you when you have had enough and say no

  6. The woman seemed surprised and a little confused at first by the gas card. I wasn’t actually sure how long she’d been in the US to begin with, which may explain the lack of a credit or debit card.

    Ultimately, I’m not that concerned about the $15. But what will keep nagging at me is whether or not we were scammed because of our kindness. If not, we did a good deed and I’m glad for it. I hope someone would do the same for me. And if we were… well, that’s disappointing to me for several reasons. Unfortunately, there’s really no way for us to know unless she comes back to repay us with $15 or a plate of cookies.

  7. Tough call. She isn’t completely a stranger – she’s a new neighbor. Presumably, this is someone who you may be running into regularly from now on. Also, I think the fact that she is somewhat new to the country is important to note as culture and customs are much different in other places and in lots of places, helping out others is much more ingrained than it is here in the US.

    I’d be a bit concerned if someone moved onto my block and didn’t have enough money to fill their tank. What kind of neighbor will they be if their finances are that delicate?

    I’m not sure what I would have done. I can’t see myself pulling out cash and handing it over, but at the same time, what better way to befriend a new neighbor than helping out in a crisis (assuming one actually existed).

    I would love to know how this turns out. Does she repay the money or do something else (cookies) to show her gratitude? Let us know, please.

  8. My husband and I have a large family: 7 kids, 5 kids-in-law, 9 (almost 10) grandchildren, several siblings, nieces and nephews. When we find ourselves in situations such as yours, we try to ask ourselves, “What would I want someone else to do if it were my family member in need?” We GIVE whatever we can to help the need presented and consider it a privilege to do so. We only give an amount that we can afford to GIVE AWAY, so we do not expect re-payment.

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