We’ve all heard of Groupon. We’ve probably all bought one of the discount coupons to save $7 at the local pizza joint or get $12 off the next eyebrow wax. But could you image living off Groupon coupons — and nothing else — for one year? That’s exactly what Josh Stevens from Chicago is trying to do. Since May 2010, Stevens, who was selected out of 20,000 applicants, has been traveling the U.S. with nothing but a stack of Groupons and the kindness of strangers. If he successfully lives one year only using Groupon coupons — no money or other possessions whatsoever — the 28-year-old will win $100,000. Below he talks to Out of the Storm News about how the challenge is going so far.
OOTS: How did you get this job?
Stevens: Groupons posted online that they wanted to find somebody who would live exclusively off of Groupons. The challenge was they wanted to find someone who wanted to live without spending any money in order to win $100,000.
OOTS: How has the challenge gone so far?
Stevens: It has been great. It has been an adventure.
OOTS: What is a normal day for you?
Stevens: There is nothing like a normal day. Some days I am stuck in a hotel or someone’s house with nowhere to go and no way to get around. So I just walk around the neighborhood, and I can’t really get anywhere because I wouldn’t have transportation. Then there are days when I get around in a car. Somebody comes to pick me up and we go do fun things like exchanges with people I have been meeting from the website (liveoffgroupon.com), or on facebook or twitter or my blog. Then I will go use some Groupons in order to meet new people. Some days I am off on my own, and I am just going to go explore. Some days I’ll use a Groupon and some days I’ll use five. Some days I don’t use any Groupons. Every day is different.
OOTS: Do you go from city to city?
Stevens: Yes, I have been to 25 cities already.
OOTS: Are you supposed to hit a certain number, or is it just where ever you want to go?
Stevens: I have to hit New York and LA and a dozen other cities of my choosing, which I have already done a dozen more than that.
OOTS: How do you get from one city to another?
Stevens: I have traded Groupons. So if I want to get airfare, I can trade Groupons for that. I have gotten train tickets that I have traded for. Train tickets, bus tickets … I have caught a lot of rides from people who are going from city to city. I enjoy having some company on the road.
OOTS: Is there any one Groupon that is more valued by people that you might trade?
Stevens: The ones that seem to flow out of my stack pretty fast are the spa-type ones: the ones for facials, manicures, pedicures, haircuts. Really anything to do with the spa has gone quickly. Massages are the ones that go the most.
OOTS: You can’t go to the grocery store to buy something you want to eat. You have to use a Groupon?
Stevens: Pretty much. Unless the Groupons I had were in a place where things were closed or it was too late at night. Some of them (businesses using Groupons) won’t have any breakfast because a lot of them are for lunch or dinner. Some of the people don’t live in an area where there are a lot of places for Groupons, like in a suburb, so they might just take me out for lunch or dinner, or breakfast or whatever it is and they will pay for it. Then I can trade them a Groupon for whatever I had to eat.
OOTS: How are they making sure that you are not using money? How do they keep track of that?
Stevens: They put out that I kind of have a bounty on my head. If anyone catches me, I will lose out on $100,000. Sort of the public eye, so anyone I see I don’t know if they are working for Groupons or if they are looking for the bounty trying to catch me using money. There are people who have offered (money) and they want to be involved, they just want to be helpful. They are very generous. They just want to offer to help me in any way they can. People have offered to give me money. They don’t really understand how the rules work. They think I can trade the Groupon for money, but I can’t even touch money. But these people are just as willing to buy me things as they are to give me money. There is very little issue with that, because instead of giving me say $50, they are willing to take me to the store and buy whatever it is.
OOTS: How are you meeting the different people that are offering the different things?
Stevens: I get e-mails, phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, and tweets every day. Mostly it is through social networking.
OOTS: Were you a big Groupon user before hand?
Stevens: Yes, I love Groupons.
OOTS: What do you plan on doing with the money if you win the $100,000?
Stevens: I don’t really have much of a plan for it. I don’t know what opportunities are going to present. I don’t know if I will move to another city. I don’t really plan on doing anything that extravagant. I will pay off my student loans and make sure I have some sort of nest egg. At the moment I will probably buy a couple of things I have been wanting, like an electronic drum set, and take my girlfriend on a vacation, but nothing too extravagant.
OOTS: Speaking of your girlfriend, what is it like for her since you are traveling all the time? Do you get to see her or your family?
Stevens: The rules are that I can only see people I knew before I started the challenge. I can only see those people two nights a month maximum and it has to be in the city where they live. So I can only see my girlfriend or family when I am in Chicago for two days. I can stay with my parents for two days, and stay with my girlfriend for two days. I can stay with strangers or in a hotel where I have a Groupon. It has been rough for her. My girlfriend is in grad school in Chicago. So she is very busy so that helps a little bit. She has been very supportive.
OOTS: What have you learned for all of this? Have you learned anything?
Stevens: How kind and generous people are, which is a different side of people. I think a lot of people feel like the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that people aren’t particularly nice, and I have seen the complete opposite. So that has been nice. It has been really cool to see all these people and meet up and have fun, get out and do things. Also, to live in a way that a lot of people don’t; to not have any real place to go. I can just sort of let the wind take me where I want to go. And so if someone says, ‘Hey, you want to go here?’
Then I might say, ‘All right why not?’