How to Beg for Money: A Guide to Panhandling Excellence

With all the great weather sweeping through Toronto I thought I’d take advantage of it and go for a little run. So, with my running gear on (yes, those ridiculous outfits that make one look like a gay ninja) and my Mp3 player looping Eye of the Tiger over and over again, I set out to exhaust myself for no particular reason except maybe to get some use out of my gay ninja outfit (my straight ninja outfit is in the wash). Midway through my run I was stopped by an older lady waiting for the bus. She asked me for $5 because she had laryngitis. $5 for a temporary affliction? Sure, I’ll throw in a foot rub too. Bullshit. If you’re going to panhandle, do it right. This is the guide to panhandling excellence.

#1. Find a high traffic area. This increases your odds of having more people drop change in your cup, and more money is (DUH!) the goal of panhandling. Do people still say “DUH”? They did at one time though, right?

#2. If you’re going to ask for money, don’t ask for spare change. Ask for a reasonable, specific amount. Studies have shown that asking for say, 37 cents, is much more effective than asking for spare change.  Think about past situations where someone asked for a quarter, or 50 cents. I’m much more likely to help someone reach a specific goal even if I don’t exactly know what reaching that goal means to them. By the way, I’m short 78 cents for a mini bag of Zesty Doritos. Can someone do me a kindness and make a brutha’s flavored tortilla chip dream come true?

#3. Hand written signs can help if they’re witty, funny or mind blowing. If a sign makes me laugh, I’ll throw some coin in your cup. I was provided with a service, for that you should be compensated.  Some people like to mention God on their sign in some way, but you might alienate Atheists. Your choice. I once saw a sign that said, “Happiness: Only 25 cents.” I thought, what if by some bizarre cosmic magic, this was my one chance to guarantee eternal happiness? I’d be stupid to pass it up.

#4. Get a dog. I’m much more likely to give money to someone with a dog because for some reason, I’m more concerned the dog will go hungry than the homeless person. Maybe that’s because the dog doesn’t have a heroin addiction…I could be wrong, maybe Fido does love the smack.

#5. Work for it. In a big city begging is a competitive business. Hobos need something that makes people want to give them change over the other down on his luck guy sitting on the next corner. Some hold open doors, some offer free newspapers. These two are overdone and not really impressive in any way. I once saw a guy playing an upside down paint bucket like a drum. There was absolutely no rhythm and I’m not sure the man was fully conscious, but he was trying and I respected that. There’s also a girl in Kensington Market who sings Sinead O’Connor songs into a carrot. The laughter and memories she provided were well worth the $2 I gave her.

#6. High pressure sales tactics might work sometimes, but overall they’re not a good idea. You might make people take a different route to work and make your high traffic area a low traffic area. I once had a homeless guy follow me for nearly a block asking for money and being a jerk about it. Why would I want to contribute to this guy living any longer? I don’t have spare change, but I have a spare ‘knee to the groin’ if you keep asking, pal.

#7. Be sick or act sick. If you appear to be sick, people will give you money. Just ask the shaky lady in Toronto! (click here to read about her). This isn’t the most honest way to make money, it’s more for the homeless lawyers and marketing execs.

#8. Be young. Okay, you can’t make someone younger, but I’ve always been more likely to give money to younger homeless people because I’m hoping there’s still a chance for a better life for them. The 78 year old homeless woman isn’t going to turn her life around on my 12 cents.

#9. Stand out and be creative. If you stand out, people will consider you a friend and want to be a repeat contributor. I once made friends with a homeless girl near my work. She and her boyfriend were living in hostels and trying to make ends meet. She was very talkative and inspiring and would show me some of her artwork that she drew in her journal. I’d sit with her sometimes and we’d chew the fat and I even panhandled on her behalf on one occasion (I didn’t make a penny). On the average day, she claimed to make upwards of $10 an hour.  What set her apart? She was young (see #8), kind, but most importantly, she wasn’t asking for change, but handing out resumes (she got change anyway). After a few weeks, she wasn’t there anymore. I hope she and her boyfriend are doing well and aren’t sitting with Fido doing smack.

#10. Give us something to relate to. The panhandler I respected most was a man who sat on the corner of Front and John in Toronto maybe ten years ago. He would read a book while sitting on a milk crate and have a cup out for change. No sales pressure, no begging. Donate if you want, if not, that’s cool too. People loved him, brought him coffee, cigarettes, books and of course, spare change! Did reading a book make him more identifiable? Seem more intelligent?  I don’t know, but it worked.

#11. Say thank you because people don’t owe you anything. So when a passerby gives you something, even a penny, say thanks. Most people are giving away their money to feel better about themselves and the thanks they get in return goes a long way in promoting repeat business. Yes, panhandling is a business. Not the most lucrative business, but for someone with a limited skill set, it can help in buying that next meal (or bottle of malt liquor).

I know having this guide on the internet isn’t very helpful for currently homeless people, but with today’s economy, one of us could be homeless any day now. So maybe you should print this out and keep it with you at all times.

My questions to you are: who are you most likely to give money to and why? Do you have a story about a beggar you’d like to share?

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