This is for all of you out there who are falling on hard times and see no reasonable way out of the situation but to collect spare change from strangers. You may have arrived at this point for a number of reasons. Perhaps you got laid off or fired. Perhaps you got kicked out of the house and your spouse legally owned everything you had. Perhaps you’ve been this way for a very long time and don’t know anything else. Maybe you can find plenty to eat but you just really need booze or drugs. Maybe you’d just rather stand with a sign in your hand earning $1.50 an hour than you would with a burger-spatula earning $8.25 an hour. Whatever the case may be, today I’m going to teach you how to beg properly in today’s competitive market. Remember, this is only for people who have some kind of need. Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy who was seen begging all day on the corner in crummy clothes only to go the parking lot around the corner and hop into a luxury sports vehicle.
There are a few things you’ll need:
1) Somewhere to Store Your Money This is pretty simple. You can dream big all you want and expect to get a pocket-full of ten dollar bills that you can fold up neatly but chances are you’re going to get more heavy change than anything. At this point, you’ll want to make sure you have something better than a flimsy pocket to carry your change in. After all, if the change doesn’t amount to much, you don’t want to ruin a good pair of pants for what only amounts to a few dollars.
Some people have buckets. This is good because it’s non-aggressive yet sends a very strong message. This way, you may increase traffic by attracting timid people who wouldn’t normally approach you and put money in your hand. I’ve seen some people even set out hand-made pottery to hold their change. That way, people see that you’re creative. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t actually make the pottery yourself—you don’t have to even tell them that. At worst, it just tells people that you have good taste. Let’s face it: pottery is ten times better looking than a used coleslaw container or an aluminum chew-bucket.
2) A Good Attitude This is so basic but you’d be surprised how many street people forget this. Face the facts: you’re going to have to deal with a LOT of rejection. Some people are nice about it and some aren’t so nice. If they’re rude, let them pass. You don’t want their money anyway.
If you get some kids trying to screw with you because they’re completely disaffected or because their parents have paid for everything in their life, walk away. You don’t want to get into a dodgy situation and they’re actually stealing time from you that you could be using to make some cash.
When people say “no,” don’t take it personally. One thing I’ve often encountered when responding to street people is that many of them simply don’t believe that I don’t have cash on me. Sadly, that’s today’s world. Debit cards have been around for years now and some people go weeks, even months, without so much as seeing Abraham Lincoln’s pale, green face. In fact, street people probably see more actual money than the rest of us.
If someone can’t/won’t give you cash, no matter their demeanor or phrasing, that is NOT the time to threaten violence. That is not the time to demand that they go to an ATM to pull out a 20 dollar bill if they don’t have the 10 cents you initially asked for. It is not the time to finger-check someone on the chest or forehead, nor is it the time to breathe in their face. All of these actions scream out “meth head.” Maybe that’s what you are, but you don’t want to ruin your chances, do you? Consistency in attitude will go a long way over time, and don’t take for granted that a lot of people do remember you. I know it’s called “begging,” but there are limits.
3) A Good Begging Spot Study the area around you. There are some very simple things street people miss and here’s a common one—Here in America, you’re allowed to turn right on a red light if there is no traffic coming. Don’t stand at the right-hand side of a street at the end of an intersection because all those cars are doing is checking the street they’re turning onto for oncoming traffic. Either they won’t look at you at all or you’ll distract them and cause a wreck. If you have to beg at an intersection, go to the left-hand side where they can’t turn, but even that is difficult because it’s hard for them to reach you and it’s unlikely that they’re going to call you over to their car for a quarter.
The outside of parks are always nice. People are out relaxing and some feel more generous in these moods.
Medians or islands with slow-traffic are good for a few hours of the day, and you might make quite a bit with a good sign (more on that below), but you’ll have to do some planning and figure out those traffic patterns. There is also a higher chance that you’ll be chased away by cops.
Other good areas are outside of food joints. Just make sure you don’t stand too close to the entrance. If you’re in a place where there’s lots of food, people will subconsciously assume that you just need food. Hey, there are lots of people that will even buy you a meal for the night. And here’s where attitude comes in again: if you ask nicely for someone to buy you a meal, eventually, someone will. Bus and train stations almost seem cliché at this point, but why get rid of a good thing? As long as you’re not aggressive, at a bus-station, people will presuppose that you need the money for something that they can immediately relate to.
4) A Good Sign You don’t need anything flashy, surreal or strange—It’s not a high-school car wash. But on the other hand, many street people don’t make their signs very visible. Brown cardboard and small, sharpie-written lettering with a novel-length text on it is just going to confuse people as they cruise by you at 25 miles an hour. Get something big and white. Write in big, bold letters. Look at how big the letters are on street signs and think about how close you’ll be standing to the cars in order to gage how big to make your letters. You might think that a more pathetic sign will make people feel sorry for you, but cardboard just isn’t readable. The writing will confuse the eye. The only time brown and black go together is on a chocolate bar. It won’t hurt you to invest in a good board, piece of paper or even a stick-sign. People won’t assume that you’re too rich to beg just because you found something white to write on.
If you need visual tips or research, there are all kinds of tools and pictures on the internet. Don’t have a computer? Libraries do and it’s free! However, lots of them do require you to have a library account, which is usually set up with a piece of mail to your house. Don’t have a house? Don’t worry. Maybe you can have mail sent to someone else’s house. In case you haven’t figured it out, the library is not exactly the IRS; they’re not gonna audit you over something like that.
5) A Good Story When I say the word “good,” I DON’T mean “elaborate.” Think of a “good” story in terms of a “good” resume. What’s a good resume look like? It’s not bloated with details and it’s not four pages long. It’s two, maybe three pages long. Think of your story as your resume. It can be quite simple. People tend to prefer the story where they have just arrived at some trouble and just need one thing for the night. This is the classic story and it may not win trust, but it’s probably the more honest approach.
Don’t load it with too much tragedy or no one will take you seriously. Anything too elaborate reeks of “conman.” And for goodness sakes, don’t make up an unbelievable number of children in your care—If people don’t see the children they’re not going to believe you. Don’t come off as the representative of some made-up-sounding organization who is also sort of begging. Don’t go making up organizations if you aren’t prepared to create paperwork for tax write-offs on your nonexistent computer and printer.
Make sure your story is appropriate to your situation. If you plan on doing the same thing in the same spot on a daily basis, don’t keep telling people you just need money to get on a bus and into a hostel on the other side of town. People aren’t stupid. They’re going to know you just want a set amount of money every day and that you’re lying to get it. Even if your intentions are harmless, it’s a known fact that people don’t trust liars. Sometimes your story can simply be that you’re hungry and that you don’t have money.
With a good story, you’re not selling people entertainment but sympathy. Sympathy isn’t about the volume of tragedy involved in your story, but the relate-ability. We’ve all had our cars break down at some point or (for those of you born before 1990) we all needed to use a payphone at some point. We can remember what it’s like to be in need. If you’re begging, just remember that a little simplicity goes a long way.
6) Perseverance Finally, perseverance. Like I said before, you’re going to get a lot of rejection. Just realize that it’s part of the job. No one feels they owe you anything, and at the end of the day, they don’t, really. A sense of entitlement won’t get you far. In some people’s minds, they don’t understand why you can’t just get a job. If you really resent rejection or feel that people owe you something, at that point, you may want to think about looking for real work. That way the people you work for actually do owe you something and you don’t have to wonder at the end of the day whether you’ll have enough for that burger or bottle of vodka. But for those of you willing to go the distance, perseverance is necessary. It’s important to learn because you’ll need it anywhere you go in life anyway. Not only will you need it while begging, but you’ll probably need it more.
I hope all of this helped. Happy begging in 2013! I hope to see some smiles out there on the streets and lots of shiny coins in the buckets.
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