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It is a beggar's pride that he is not a thief. - Japanese proverb

A panhandler is a person who depends on the spontaneous charity of strangers for their survival. In some parts of the world, begging is the only alternative to starvation, especially in the context of a poor economy or an oppressive government; in other parts of the world, panhandling is illegal because of its association with addiction and irresponsibility. You never know when you might have to ask strangers for help, whether you've been mugged in a foreign land, and need enough money to make it home; or life deals you a particularly harsh hand of cards (like abuse, disability, illness, war); or you become so dissatisfied with your existing options that begging seems like a better alternative.


  1. Swallow your pride. Most people find it difficult to quietly beg for money from friends or relatives; it’s even harder to beg from complete strangers where everybody can see you. Still, you’re going to have to suck it up and be humble. If you've already exhausted the alternatives (see Tips) and begging is your last resort, it may help to keep in mind that in many countries, begging does not hold the stigma it does in most of the Western World, and in some places asking for alms is considered an honorable profession.
    • Recognize that the first exercise in the pursuit of many spiritual paths is "begging" (Buddhism, Krishna, others), and, regardless of whether you agree with these disciplines or not, it is instructive to note why this is so.
  2. Remember what you're offering. People who give you enough money do so because it makes them feel good. A person is more likely to help you if they can identify with you, and if they feel their contribution will make a significant difference in your situation. Sometimes, people give alms for religious reasons, and other times because they feel guilty for having been born with so much more than others without having necessarily earned it. The more you learn about why people give, the better you'll be at receiving.
  3. Clean up. Before you begin, make an effort to look presentable. You certainly don’t want to be smelling of alcohol, for example, but you also should comb your hair, practice overall good hygiene, and dress in clean, but cheap clothes. If you stand out, people are more likely to give you money. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers so you don’t get too warm or cold. You want to present an image of a hard-working, normal person who is just like the people from whom you are asking for money, except that you’re a little down on your luck.
  4. File:Panhandler2 390.jpg
    Sign reads: "I've been in your place and I didn't care. Don't be like me."
    Make a sign. A simple sign on a piece of cardboard makes you more noticeable and tells your story—it’s advertising, plain and simple. Remember, you want to make people feel good for giving you money, so give them a reason: you just got laid off, you’ve got a family to feed, etc., and you need help. Tell your story concisely, and make your sign in neat, large letters. Make sure the letters are bold enough to read and it might be a good idea to purposely include some misspellings; It will help you to look more patethic or it may start a conversation with a potential customer.
  5. Find a suitable location. Location is all-important to a successful begging endeavor, and the most important facet of location is traffic. The more traffic you can get, the better. There are two general approaches to location: you can target foot traffic or automobile traffic, but usually not both.

    • Foot traffic: Find a busy sidewalk and “set up shop” so as to be noticeable and unavoidable, but unobtrusive. Street corners and public squares (places where a lot of people tend to slow down or stop) are usually good locations. Stores where people make small purchases, such as grocery, liquor, and convenience stores, are often good because people will come out with change. Experiment a bit with different locations to find the best spots. Don't hit the people up for change when they go into the store. Wait until they come out.
    • Auto traffic: Find a median or curb at a busy intersection with a long stoplight. The median should be right next to stopped cars’ windows, preferably on the driver’s side (every car has a driver). You can stand in place or, better yet, slowly walk up and down the median when cars are stopped at the light. See Warnings for safety considerations when dealing with auto traffic.
  6. File:Panhandler5 621.jpg
    Beggar in Balkans puts on a smile, despite collapse of the social system and rampant inflation that created her situation.
    Smile and greet people courteously. You'd be surprised how far a simple, unassuming smile will go. Smiles are welcoming, and put people at ease. Especially in the U.S., people generally appreciate a positive attitude. Then again, remember that you’re down on your luck, and you may want to play it a bit differently. Regardless of your approach, say “hello” or “good morning” to people and make an effort to notice them politely—they’ll be more likely to do the same to you.
  7. Ask for money directly and softly. You may assume that people know you want money, and most people do, but you’ve still got to work for it. Ask passersby nicely and in a quiet voice—they’ll have to listen more carefully and may slow down, and you’ll also appear less aggressive. Have something to put money in: a cup, a cap, a guitar case, a pan, etc. This makes it easier for people to quickly drop some change in. Empty it regularly so people—both customers and potential crooks—can't see how much you’re bringing in.
  8. Remember the regulars. If you frequent a certain location, make an effort to remember the people who give you money. You probably won’t get a chance to know them by name (although you may), but you can recognize their faces and any distinguishing characteristics—for example, a person may carry an umbrella every day, even when it’s not raining—and give them a special greeting. Maybe even give certain regulars endearing nicknames if you don’t know their real names.
  9. File:Panhandler4 471.jpg
    Grateful beggar in Shanghai, his wife in wheelchair in the background.
    Thank everybody. If someone gives you money, show your appreciation. Even when people don’t give you money, thank them (implicitly) just for listening, and wish them a good day. Doing so will make them think twice about refusing your request next time they pass you.




  • Some options to look into before depending on panhandling for survival are:

    • Local churches, non-profit organizations, soup kitchens, shelters, and related services that are designed to help you get back on your feet.

      • For example, if you are homeless or vulnerably housed, and live in the UK then you are entitled to sell The Big Issue. Most cities have a Big Issue office where you can sign up to become a vendor and sell the magazines. Each issue costs you 75 pence and can be sold for £1.50.
    • Jobs that are considered undesirable by most, mostly involving cleaning and hard manual labor. For some, becoming a nomadic hobo is preferable to panhandling.
    • Busking, or performing for money on the streets as a street musician or living statue, for example. If you can dance, play music, or tell jokes, you can cross the line from beggar to street performer, and you’ll usually enjoy more donations. But don't do this unless you are actually good at it. Also, living statues are not the most welcome buskers on the street. Most buskers call them "crate slugs," because they stand on a crate that has been decorated, and indicate that they want money for doing absolutely nothing.
  • Be a good neighbor. Your relations with nearby businesses and other panhandlers can make or break your efforts. Be courteous and cooperative to business owners and their customers. Show your appreciation for their tolerance by patronizing their shop if you can, and if you’re asked to leave or asked to stand a little further away, do so without argument. Your pleasant appearance should also help alleviate many business owners’ concerns about you. If your relationship with a business and its staff is strong enough you may even find yourself first in line to fill a newly vacated position washing dishes. Always be friendly to other beggars, as well, and avoid territorial disputes. At the very least you’ll avoid dangerous and unsightly squabbles and you may even get some good money-making tips and make some friends.
  • Are donations dwindling in a previously prime location? Maybe you’ve been relying on the kindness or “regulars” who wanted to help you get on your feet but who now think that you’re just lazy. Move on. Many long-term beggars, especially those who work vehicle traffic at intersections, move daily—some even travel from town to town cyclically.
  • If you are in an area with a lot of litter, it can help your image if you pick up and discard the litter. This demonstrates that you are a good citizen down on your luck.
  • Cyberbegging is becoming increasingly popular, and there have been some amazing success stories, but don't expect great results. While there are some sites on which you can beg just by putting up a brief ad, if you're looking to make any substantial money you'll probably have to build your own site and invest the time and money into it to make it successful.
  • Being outside of a store to take change from broken dollars can be a good idea, but some shop owners won't allow it. Always take care to make sure that you'll stay out of trouble.
  • Reciprocation makes it easier for people to help you. Some cities are so full of beggars all you will do is upset the locals even more, no matter how genuine your hard luck story, so offer a reciprocal arrangement of some sort and you may find people respond to you differently. Ask at the local police station about a hawkers license, then buy cheap things and sell them at a profit (eg cigarette lighters can cost 8 for £ on the markets but sell for £1 each outside a pub at night, umbrellas can cost as little as 99p but be sold on for a few quid if it's looking like rain) - people will pay that premium and you show you're making an effort to get out of trouble by yourself and so are much more likely to help you!


  • File:Panhandler1 155.jpg
    Beggar and nuns. Some choose poverty and others have it thrust upon them.
    Most people won’t give you money. In fact, you’ll meet with more resentment than generosity. Don’t let it get you down; it’s a fact of life in your situation. Try to keep a positive attitude, and never show your frustration.
  • Depending on what you want the money for, you may not want to be completely honest, although some people really appreciate it if you’re honest enough to say that you just want to buy a beer. That said, you want to give the impression of being earnest. Keep your story believable, and generally don’t fake a disability that you don’t have. Above all, don’t say that you’ll work for food if you aren’t really willing to do so.
  • Catering to vehicle traffic can be dangerous. Do not walk in the street between cars, and choose medians that offer you plenty of room to stand without stepping into the street. Do not block traffic. Do not collect money from people after their light turns green, because the people behind them will have you arrested.
  • Many jurisdictions now have laws against begging. Most of these concern “aggressive” panhandling, such as being verbally abusive, using intimidation, or standing near ATMs. You may also be charged for loitering, trespassing, or vagrancy. Learn the laws, and if you encounter police, be polite and make a point not to break the law again. If your country has an anti-mendicancy law, street begging isn't such a good idea.
  • There’s some dispute as to whether bringing pets hurts or helps your bottom line. If you have your well-fed dog with you, people may reason, you can eat. However, having a pet can also make you look more like your customers. Whatever you do, do not bring along a malnourished or sick animal. People will despise you for mistreating your pet.
  • Don't ask for money while smoking a cigarette (or anything else for that matter), or while drinking alcohol. People will just assume the money will go towards cigarettes or drugs, not something substantial.
  • It may not be a good idea to panhandle in an area where there are stores with "help-wanted" signs hanging in their windows. People will assume that you are unwilling to work and may not feel sympathy for your situation.
  • If you are a woman on the streets, BE CAREFUL. There are scary people out there. You don't need to be afraid of them, but certainly be cautious.
  • Don't just say Could you just give me some money? DO NOT be rude. Be kind and grateful!

Related Tips and Steps