This post is from GRS staff writer April Dykman.

Josh Stevens of Chicago might win $100,000 — if he can keep from spending a single cent (literally) for a year.

Stevens accepted internet coupon company Groupon’s “Live Off Groupon” challenge, beating out 400 contenders, and since May he’s been using only online coupons for food, lodging, and other expenses. With strict rules, he’s had to be resourceful. Guidelines include the following:

  • Stevens had to leave his job and apartment and can have only five visits from family and friends during the year. Each visit is less than a day long.
  • Groupon provides an unlimited number of free coupons, which are generally for restaurants and activities (think yoga classes and Segway tours).
  • Strangers and fans may donate things like a couch to sleep on for the night, car rides, or plane tickets.
  • Stevens is not allowed to use or touch money during the challenge.
  • No performing jobs for goods or money.
  • He must still leave tips, as any good customer would.

Stevens told CNN that he “started with one pair of shoes, socks, underwear, and a paper suit made of Groupons. They gave me a laptop, camera, Internet card, and phone. They put it in a paper messenger bag.”

Wearing the paper suit, he used a coupon for a carriage ride to a clothing store, where he used more coupons to buy clothes. Obviously, the challenge requires him to be creative, like the day he needed to park a rented car and had no way to pay for parking. Stevens found a hotel valet who was willing to park his car in exchange for a coupon for a boat cruise.

Deal of the Day in Your Inbox
Groupon e-mails members a different discount offer each day and serves more than 40 cities in the US. The deals are only finalized when enough people purchase the coupon, which encourages members to forward the offer to friends and family members. Discount merchants include restaurants, subscriptions, classes, tours, spa services, and more. Groupon has sold more than 1.6 million coupons since its launch in 2008. If you can stand the often nonsensical coupon descriptions, you can find pretty good deals.

J.D.’s note: You know, I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned Groupon before at GRS. It’s all the rage among my circle of friends. Kris and I don’t use it ourselves, but we know many people who do. My main concern is that I’ll end up buying coupons for things I don’t really want or need.

Lessons from the Challenge
The challenge is a great marketing move, but there are some interesting lessons that can be gleaned from Stevens experiences thus far, such as the following:

  1. Networking skills can take you places. Stevens uses them to the extreme — for everything from lodging to rides to doing laundry at a stranger’s house. He’s used Facebook to ask for a bus ticket from Tennessee to Kentucky, and he had 12 offers in about 12 minutes. How often do you turn to a network of friends or colleagues before spending money for a solution?
  2. Trading can substitute for cash. Stevens often has to trade coupons for essentials like toiletries, parking fees, tips, and other seemingly trivial expenditures. He even paid for a short taxi ride with a cookie and a $5 gift certificate. While you might not want to tip a waiter with, say, 50 percent off yoga lessons, it’s still interesting that so many people are willing to trade. I know personal trainers and massage therapists who trade services. Before you spend money on something, do you stop to think about how you might trade for it?
  3. Buying mostly experiences changes your perspective. Stevens is trading coupons for items cash would normally buy, but for the most part, he’s buying experiences with coupons. He’s taken plane ride tours, driven a late-model stock car, tried sailing lessons, took a Segway tour, and sampled yoga. When he went to the Mall of America (more than 400 stores and 35 to 40 million visits yearly), he wrote on his blog, “I wonder how many people that aren’t living off Groupons visit the Mall of America and manage to get out of there without spending a dime.” This reminds me of No-Spend Month challenges and the Great American Apparel Dietwhat happens when spending money is removed from the picture?

If Stevens completes the challenge, he has said he’s thinking of using the $100,000 prize money for a down payment on a home and possibly to pay for a graduate degree.

What do you think of the challenge? Do you regularly use skills like networking and bartering or a no-spend challenge?

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