Panhandling and begging are something most people use as a last resort. Situations and circumstances for how you end up needing cash can vary wildly, but most people see panhandlers as all the same.
One of the most effective ways to panhandle is to surprise people by setting yourself apart. People are very unlikely to give money to visible addicts, but very likely to donate some cash to family-oriented people on hard times. How you demonstrate a difference through signs, clothing, and other factors can set you up to be more effective in getting cash quickly.
A Quick Panhandling Story
When I was young we had a panhandler in our town known by everyone as “Beggar John.” He would stand on the corner of the highway exit to one of the busiest streets in the city, which also led to the mall. He was always barefoot and disheveled and never had any food or drink. Every time my family would go down this exit, someone would hand him food or money. He was very successful.
One week our local paper did a story on him that exposed how much money he was making and where he lived. He was commuting to this corner from a $250K house, and making over $60K a year panhandling. This was over 20 years ago and I’m sure his “income” took a hit from that news story since I did not see him again after the story broke. The takeaway from this short story is that you can never be quite sure of a panhandler’s situation. We can look at the successful panhandlers for tips on how to get better results for ourselves.
You may be asking yourself, why does any of this matter to me? You could have a stable job and finances, but is anything 100% stable and predictable? If you need to use this as a last-ditch effort to get some quick cash, these tips may come in handy. It seems like it is a huge chasm to cross to trade dignity for money, but you may be surprised how that gap closes when money becomes a necessity for survival. Although you may never plan on begging for money, these tips can help you at rock bottom. The bottom line is if you find yourself needing to panhandle to survive, you can easily support yourself with these panhandling tips.
1. Look the Look
Looks are one of the most important aspects of panhandling. You make thousands of instant impressions and you need to be aware of the fine line between looking needy and looking scary. Certainly, being clean and looking happy does not help people justify to themselves to give you money. But swinging too far to the disheveled and miserable appearance can be unapproachable for many.
One of the biggest turn-offs for would-be donors is if you appear to be on drugs, so avoid manic looks. Find the happy medium where you look needy but not desperate. Many panhandlers remove their shoes, wear baggy clothing, and do not shave or trim their hair.
2. Be Specific
Do you need food, shelter, a job, or cold, hard cash? Let people know what you are looking for. You will still receive offers of other items even if you are focused on one, but being specific actually increases people’s chances of giving you money and what you are looking for. People are naturally skeptical of beggars and being direct is one step to disarming this skepticism.
3. Have a Unique Message
You may be thinking, how can a panhandler read these tips to be more successful if they are out begging on the street? You may be surprised at how many have smartphones. There is even one panhandler known for taking credit cards with his smartphone! But these tips are not for them- they are living that life already. These tips are for you, and you may need these tips in a personal financial crisis or during a widespread financial collapse. This is where a unique and cohesive message is important.
If millions of beggars are taking to the street to fight over the same scraps and change, what will set you apart? You need to hone a unique message to beat the competition. Entertaining signs, patriotic flags, and other methods of presenting a unique message are all fair game. Being very relevant to a niche is more important in these cases than being relevant to all. In areas where multiple panhandlers are competing, the stronger messages and presentation win out.
4. Location is Important
High-traffic areas with long lights are best, where cars are approachable. If an area has the same traffic every day (like commuter traffic), you may get weaker results as time goes on and you may be recognized as a regular.
Setting up where a varied crowd comes through tends to work betters, such as near commercial areas. Many people visiting these areas have disposable income anyways and may have a feeling of guilt they would be willing to part with.
5. Know the Laws
You may need a permit to panhandle or reflective gear to set up near a road. In most cities where a panhandling permit is needed, you also need a government-issued ID. All the more reason to be sure an ID is in your bug out bag or everyday carry. Permit requirements can be shared by homeless shelters and local police.
Panhandling is not allowed to be outlawed anywhere in the US- it is a form of protected free speech. This doesn’t mean you can’t be trespassed from private property or be in violation of other laws though. Knowing the local rules is always key.
6. Keep at It or Improve It
If you find a unique message that resonates at a specific location, keep at it. Minor tweaks can improve your results, but it is best not to drastically change your plan if it is successful.
If you are in a residential area with the same commuters, it may not last long as people continue to see you. Switch up your timing or location if your message is working but you find your success rate going down.
7. Give the People What They Want
Whether you’ve heard this sung by the O’Jays in the 70s or the Kinks in the 80s, it is sound business advice. People give money to beggars and panhandlers to fulfill a need of their own. Religion, moral obligation, and personal connection are all major factors to why people feel compelled to give to those in need. Having your message and appearance revolve around your audience is important.
Religious signs are very successful in certain regions and veteran signs are successful in others. Remember, that as a panhandler, you are not getting money for free. You are providing an experience to the people giving, and a fulfillment to one of their needs that may be as simple as doing a good deed for the day.
The Final Word
You may find the story of Beggar John at the start of the article difficult to believe, but it happens all the time. There are tough places to panhandle, and there are some places where it is easier.
If you follow the tips above, you can make a fair amount of money at it. Another example of this is shown in this video, where a young mother obviously is doing well panhandling:
I sincerely hope you do not have to panhandle to make ends meet, but knowledge and preparedness are irreplaceable. There may come a point where you must trade some dignity for dollars.
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Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.
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