What if you won the lottery with a ticket someone else had lost?

What if you won the lottery with a ticket someone else had lost?

Or you mistakenly got an A-plus on a test in a difficult subject because the teacher got your paper mixed up with that of the smartest kid in the school?

What if you found $100 pair of pants accidentally tagged at $2.50 by a harried clerk?

Or you get credit from your boss for coming up with a great idea at work when, in fact, it was someone else's brainstorm?

What would you do in any, or all, of these cases?

Would you 'fess up and injerject a bit of truth serum to the mix?

Or would you say, "Forget it? I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Life owes me this one."

We've probably all done a little of both. Sometimes, the truth wasn't there to find, so maybe it was OK to seize our good fortune. At other times, we know in our heart of hearts that we didn't look hard enough for it.

I faced one of those moments. You're going to laugh at first when I tell you my dilemma. You'll call it making a mountain out of a mole hill, and in some respects, maybe it is.

In making a purchase at a local store a while ago, I got back a handful of change. That's never a bad thing for any of us. More is more when it comes to money in any quanity or denomination, isn't it?

That's especially true for me. I know I've mentioned at least once previously in this space that I collect old change. If a coin is 40 years or older – why I came up with that cut-off point, I really don't know – I keep it. I take it home and place it into a plastic bag that sits inside a plastic orange bucket I used to use when Trick-or-Treating.

I've kept that bucket all these years for a several reasons. First, what better place to stash old coins than an old bucket? It makes sense. They're from the same generation.

Also, the bucket is still in great shape – no cracks or discolaration. A quality piece, to be sure. As such, it's good to hold stuff – a roll of small garbage bags is in there as is a book loaned to me by a friend.

But most of all, I keep the bucket because it's from Mom. She's been gone for a long time and the bucket is among the dwindling number of things that I still have from her. It touched her hands, and now it's touching mine.

That's kind of cool.

On this particular occasion, though, the haul of old coins among the change I received was unbelievable. There were plenty from the 1950s, and also from the 1940s.

I hit the jackpot!

Then it dawned on me that it was someone else's jackpot I had hit. It was from somebody else just like me who collects old coins. This person had obviously run short of "current" money and, because of the necessity of what he or she was purchasing, had to dip into the stash of old stuff to make ends meet.

I remember doing that once and it darned near killed me. I practically had to use the Jaws of Life to pry my fingers off those coins. I felt defeated, as if I had let someone down. And that someone was me. Somehow, I had done a poor job of managing my money and now I was paying for it by giving up part of my collection.

It was a punishment.

Just as it was for me, it had to be hard for that person. But you do what you have to do to get by. The economy – which, I truly believe, is still absolutely rotten, no matter what some of the "experts" say – has forced all of us to do that.

So what was this person buying? Milk and/or bread for his or her children? Maybe some other basic food staple? It had to be something the person really needed, just as it was for me, or else they wouldn't have done it.

This same thing had happened to me one other time – getting a horde of old coins as change at a store – but it didn't occur to me then what had actually happened. Now it had, and it hurt doubly bad this time.

If I could have found that person – either of the two people – I would have gladly given the money, those exact coins, back to them. It wasn't mine. It was theirs. They had just run low on their luck.

It's our duty to help our fellow man or woman in need because that may be us one day.

But I'm not helping them. Instead, I'm spending their money – the money that they so painstakingly collected for who knows how long.

And that hurts.

So how do you correct it? You can't.

And that's even worse because every little really does help, or, in this case, hurt.