Unexpected check – but it wasn't mine to keep

By glblguy

Is your faith shipwrecked?

One of the various ways I earn income here on Gather Little by Little is through affiliate offers*. I made the decision early on before I even monetized this blog to only recommend products I use. If I don’t use or like them, you won’t see them recommended here through affiliate offers (i.e. reviews and articles).

One software package that I really like and recommend here on Gather Little by Little is You Need A Budget. YNAB not only helps me personally manage my budget, but is also one of my top performing affiliate programs.

An extra check

Last week, I received an affiliate payment check in the mail from the great folks over at You Need A Budget. Whoo-hoo! more income for me right? Opening the check and adding it into my “to be deposited” bin, I had a feeling I had already deposited a check from them this month.

Fortunately, at the beginning of this year I began tracking my blog accounting at a very detailed level.  I opened up my blog accounting software and looked at my YNAB income account. Sure enough, earlier in the month I had received a payment, but for a higher amount. Looking back in the history, I noted that I had received a payment in the same amount as the check I just received. Looks like someone made a mistake.

Two options

At this point, I had two options: 1) Deposit the check and move on, knowing that the good folks at You Need A Budget would probably never even notice or 2) Contact them and make them aware of the problem.

In reality, for me there was only one option, #2. If someone made a mistake, regardless of whether I have the money in my hand, it’s not my money and I didn’t earn it. Taking that money and depositing it into my account without earning it to me is the same as stealing, especially considering I was pretty confident it was an error.

What would you have done? Would you have seen this scenario the same way?

Contacted You Need A Budget

I sent a note to the You Need a Budget support team that read (financial data changed):

I received a check in the mail today for an affiliate payment in the amount of $xx.xx.  The check is dated 3/2/2009 and numbered 1234.

I am not always the best bookkeeper, but pretty confident I deposited a check I received from you last week in the amount of $xx.xx which was the affiliate payment I expected to receive.

I am unclear on what the most recent check is for.  Certainly not complaining, but didn’t want benefit at your expense.

Owner, Gather Little by Little

Later that day, I received the following reply from Jesse, the owner of You Need A Budget:

Hi Glblguy,
I appreciate your honesty. It looks like we doubled up on your payment! If you could please destroy that second check, I’d appreciate it. I’ll void it out in our system.

Thank you so much!


On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 6:59 PM, YNAB Support wrote:


You have to love honesty though. :)


Note, the reply actually contains two emails. One is from the support rep to Jesse and the one at the top from Jesse to me. Two key things stand out for me: “You have to love honesty” and “I appreciate your honesty.”

There are a few things my parents instilled in me at a very young age, and the key one being honesty and integrity. This world and particularly people in it can take away many many things from you, but they can’t take away your integrity.

Interesting enough, Clever Dude had a similar “ethical quandry” last week at the Washington DC metro station. Head over and read about the decision he made. I’m sure you’ve been faced with similar scenarios, I know I have: Being undercharged at restaurants, noticing that a cashier didn’t missed an item when scanning, and even contractors billing me for less money than we had agreed to initially.

1 Timothy 1:19 – “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.”

Note sure about you, but I have enough troubles in my life without having my faith shipwrecked.

What would you have done? Ever violate your conscience? What kinds of things would have gone through your mind when this occurred? Have a similar story? Share yours by adding a comment!

* Affiliate offers are purchase services or products that you can buy or subscribe to. When you click through those affiliate links on Gather Little by Little, the merchant or service providers shares a percentage of the sale with me.

20 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Unexpected check – but it wasn't mine to keep”

  1. the weakonomist Says:

    Good for you. In the end you did only have one choice. Thank you for sharing the story because sometimes people forget there are other people in the world with the decency to do the right thing.

  2. Neal Frankle Says:

    Excellent. You did yourself a huge favor.

    I believe that money has little to do with wealth. Wealth is what you do with money.

    Great example.

  3. Kristen Says:

    Good job doing the right thing. I would have told them of the error too. I would have felt so guilty if I had kep the money. Plus, I’m a firm believer that good things come to good people. Your honesty will be repaid in the future.

  4. DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad.com Says:

    There is a saying, “You reap what you sow”. People usually use it in a negative situation, I sometimes think of it the other way around– positively.

    You did the right thing, and it will come back to you.

  5. Grant Baldwin Says:

    Regardless of the amount of the check, I know it wasn’t worth the amount of your integrity. Good call…

  6. Miranda Says:

    Good on you! I think honesty in our dealings is always the best policy.

  7. Jodi Says:

    Good for you, glbl. I was at Target and had perused the clearance racks and found 2 sweaters at $4.57 each. When I checked out, I thought I saw something ring up wrong, but paid and walked away from the counter. Before walking out the doors, I pulled out my receipt and saw that the lady had only charged me 45 cents for one of the sweaters. I confess, I considered “taking the money and running”. My husband lost his job in December and is still out of work, and I heard my mind start rationalizing why it was OK to take the sweater at 1/10th the price. After all, the cashier had made the mistake, right? But I couldn’t do it. I’m a Christian, and God calls us to walk the right path, regardless of the mistakes of others. So I went back through the same checkout line and explained what happened to the cashier. I admit, I was a little miffed that she didn’t even thank me for my honesty, but at least my conscience is clear!

  8. castocreations Says:

    I have such a guilty conscience. I walked out of the grocery store with a pack of soda and went back immediately to pay for it. Just because they didn’t notice it doesn’t make it mine for free.

    Some people seem to have a “they owe me” mentality. It’s really sad.

  9. stewardshipjourney Says:

    Kudos for integrity. I always hope my actions line up with my words, and that is especially challenging when no one is looking or would ever find out.

  10. Liane Says:

    There is really only one choice. You can’t go wrong by being honest. And you do know that God knows all things.

    Unfortunately, I know of too many people, some of them Christians, who are dishonest. And for those people I do not have any respect for them at all and I certainly don’t trust them.

    Thank you for sharing your story and being a great example.

  11. jolyn Says:

    I have never been sorry for being honest, even at times it “cost” me. The other side to that is that it is likely that their bookkeeping would have eventually noticed their mistake and may have taken it out of a future check; they would have known you had not chosen to tell them, or at the very least would have thought that you don’t keep good records yourself.

  12. Kristy @ Master Your Card Says:

    I love stories like this because it reminds me that there are people in this world with integrity. Working in the banking industry we get all sorts, but those with integrity are sometimes rare. Most people I’ve come across, unfortunately, wouldn’t have been so honest. Kudos to you! And the best part is, that small amount of honesty will come back ten-fold.

  13. Gina Says:

    Jolyn makes a very good point.

    I agree w/the others … you did the right thing. I worry that the “bad karma” of keeping something that wasn’t mind or I didn’t earn would come back to haunt me.

  14. Patrick Says:

    You did the right thing – keeping good financial records is one of the most important things you can do as a small business owner!

    Oh, and being honest about the check was the right thing too. ;)

    I’ve done a few similar things before, one of which would have been worth a couple hundred dollars in my favor, and chances are no one would have known… except for me. And that just wasn’t worth it.

  15. Pamela @ Frugal Vet Tech (Student) Says:

    You certainly did the right thing. I would have done exactly what you did. I was at a store once and threw a 97-cent pencil sharpener in my cart. As I was unloading my cart into my car after I’d checked out, I noticed the pencil sharpener at the bottom of the cart, buried under a bag of dog food – it had never been rung up. I finished unloading my cart then took the pencil sharpener back in and gave it to the lady at the customer service counter. She seemed rather surprised that I brought it backed and then thanked me for doing so.

    Integrity and honesty are good things. Unfortunately, we don’t often hear much about people acting with either one. This was a nice change.

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  17. Funny about Money Says:

    Absolutely no choice here! What goes around comes around.

    I also have had the experience, like Pamela, of finding people surprised when I brought back something they accidentally hadn’t charged me for. ??? Maybe they don’t expect that? If enough of us keep on doing this, someday maybe everyone in the world will come to believe (with justification) that other people are honest and decent.