Man to Live Off Coupons for One Year


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?

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
66 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Techbud
Techbud
9 years ago

I just recently signed up for Groupon. seems like a nice site to save some cash.

How do you use networking or bartering skills at the supermarket or department store?

If I think I’m in a buying situation that I can try and negotiate a lower price I certainly will try.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

I saw that article. The comments on cnn were less than kind.

I do not network or barter, though we do accept a lot of free baby things and pay that forward to the next baby (which seems to be everybody under the sun these days). Occasionally we’ll stop spending if we need to replenish the slush fund.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

Groupon sounds great– if you live in a participating area. I’d have to drive 2+ hours to use any of the coupons, and frankly, with that much spent on gas and travel time, a 50% off hair cut just isn’t worth it!

Interesting points, though, about trading v. purchasing, and going spend-free. I’m considering a no-buy (or buy-substantially-less) month myself.

Rob Howard
Rob Howard
9 years ago

Groupon is an awesome (and hugely successful) company, and I was definitely on my way to becoming a coupon addict for a while after I first signed up :-). The coupons provide a lot of really cool date and event ideas, but I eventually unsubscribed for the exact reason J.D. suggested — like gift cards and other “free money”, the coupons were inspiring me to spend money on stuff I didn’t really want or need just because it was a bargain.

That said, Groupon away! Here’s an article about them from Forbes this month: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0830/entrepreneurs-groupon-facebook-twitter-next-web-phenom.html

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
9 years ago

JD, I think your fears about Groupon are well-founded, lol! It started last week in our area, and I’ve already found myself tempted more than once by offers for things that I neither need, nor have the money for.

OTOH, the ability to get a 90 minute massage for $35 is pretty damn awesome!

LG
LG
9 years ago

I’m confused – doesn’t he have to buy the Groupon, and doesn’t this violate the “not touching money” rule? Perhaps I read the article too quickly…

Joe B
Joe B
9 years ago

If I got tipped with a coupon I’d be pissed off. It’s one thing for this guy to choose a life without money, but it’s not so cool to impose that on every person he runs into who makes a large portion of their income through tipping. It’s one thing to come to an agreement about using a coupon with someone before service is rendered and another thing entirely to drop a coupon on the table along with a coupon for the bill and take off. I say not cool and in my experience people using coupons are less inclined… Read more »

craig
craig
9 years ago

I read about this and thought it was a great promotion for Groupon, the fastest growing company in the country. Definitely learn a lot of skills, and he gets the groupons for free, just has to barter with them.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

@LG (#6) I was wondering that at first, too. But from what I can tell, Groupon is actually giving him coupons, probably including deals he couldn’t get normally. They’re supplying him with everything. He still has to conserve his resources (which are, in this case, coupons), but Groupon is giving them to him. I was wondering how he was able to tip, but then I decided that when he uses his coupons, he probably has to leave something like 20% on the coupon’s value so that the tip is included in the coupon. I mean, if this is part of… Read more »

Amazed stranger
Amazed stranger
9 years ago

Real lesson from this challenge:

Americans are either so lazy as to be entertained by this nonsense, or really crazy.

Norman
Norman
9 years ago

Americans are resourceful and its what makes this country incredible. This challenge is so intriguing. To be able to go without spending a dime would be very difficult. I admire Josh for taking on such a challenge and I hope he earns the $100,000 in the end!

Money Reasons
Money Reasons
9 years ago

I think Josh Stevens is brilliant!

With this move he has achieved fame, and after he writes a book out the experience, probably his fortune (via the books he many write along with the appearances on talk shows).

I’m betting this will qualify him as a coupon (and a financial) expert! Very smart move.

As for Groupons, I’ve seen them too, but haven’t used them yet. I do know that people around me that use them seem to be a fan of the company though!

purplegirl247
purplegirl247
9 years ago

I agree that it’s somewhat easy to get carried away with Groupon and buy things you don’t “need.” But it’s also a fun way to experience things that you wouldn’t normally get to, whether it’s a local cooking class that you didn’t know existed, a restaurant that you never would have tried, or a midnight kayak trip that you never would have been able to afford (I’ve done all 3 through Groupon!).

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

“To be able to go without spending a dime would be very difficult.” But don’t you see, he’s only not spending a dime because he’s spending coupons given to him by Groupon? Per JD “Groupon is actually giving him coupons, probably including deals he couldn’t get normally. They’re supplying him with everything.” “something like 20% on the coupon’s value so that the tip is included in the coupon” Why is it a big deal because he’s not spending cash and instead spending coupons? I could spend with gift cards all year long too. Its nothing but a marketing gimmick. And… Read more »

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
9 years ago

Really, what does this guy have to lose? He gets 100,000 dollars and learns some great networking skills. (Obviously not seeing family and friends for a year would be a huge downside, but I am speaking strictly about the challenge itself.)

I am with Money Reasons on this one.

Samantha
Samantha
9 years ago

I’m getting married next month, and my Maid of Honor just used a Groupon coupon to purchase a night out package for 10 of us girls, with admission, food and drinks for $50 (less than half price.) We were going to go out anyway, so what a huge bargain!

I really recommend Groupon, if you can trust yourself not to impulse buy. They are really good at creating a sense of urgency… you must buy the coupon that day, so when in doubt, don’t.

Jackie
Jackie
9 years ago

It sounds like a great promotion for Groupon, but I’m surprised they even had multiple people vying to be in the contest. Hardly seeing family or friends for a year would not be worth it.

Andrea Pokorny
Andrea Pokorny
9 years ago

This is the first I’ve heard of the challenge. I think it’s a bit extreme of course, but it does begin to make one think of the options to barter/network. (and yes, brilliant on his part to do the challenge, he’ll be making well more than the $100k in the end, I’m sure).

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

What a horrible deal. Presumably Mr. Stevens is single, and did not have a particularly high-paying job in the first place. I would not only lose money by taking a year off work, even if I did win the $100k, but I’d make my wife homeless and healthcare-less in the meantime. That’s not to mention it sounds like the loneliest year imaginable.

Matt
Matt
9 years ago

We live in Atlanta, and constantly use Groupon, Half off depot, livingsocial, and scoutmob. With all these daily coupon sites, we are constantly finding coupons for many restaurants / activities around us. But like JD says, the good deals that pop up do sometimes cause you to spend money that you wouldn’t have otherwise spent. Like “ooh half off the restaurant down the street, lets buy it.” Then 5 months later you find that groupon lying around and realized you’d spent $20 and it had expired, oops 🙂 But the corollary to this is, it has opened our eyes to… Read more »

Cam
Cam
9 years ago

I’ve used groupon for discounts on a trapeze class (went with a group of friends), a painting class (for my birthday) and yardwork. I’m having a home energy auditor come by tomorrow that I got through groupon. For the most part, I’ve purchased things that I was planning to get anyway, but had the good fortune of seeing the groupon and getting a discount on it. It can be really tempting to impulse buy, especially the food groupons, but I try to make sure I don’t go over the month’s eating out budget when getting one. I currently have two… Read more »

Annie Stith  (@Gr8fulAnnie)
Annie Stith (@Gr8fulAnnie)
9 years ago

Hey, April and JD! Kudos to Groupon for the marketing strategy that is (so far, judging by the attention it’s getting) a huge success. Of course, no one will know for sure until after it’s over and Groupon can crunch the numbers: new subscribers, amount purchased per subscriber does/doesn’t increase, new subscribers are/aren’t returning to site, recovering/not recovering the prize money (if he succeeds), etc. Is it a gimmick? Absolutely. Is it not to your personal taste? Don’t follow it, read about it, join Groupon or copycat the strategy. I, for one, appreciate the wide variety of marketing examples here… Read more »

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

I started following groupon in my rss feed reader a month ago. So far I saved a whopping $8 on a local tourist attraction I had been interested in doing for a long time but never got around to. Other than that it’s been a bunch of restaurants I’m not interested in and a small handful of things I found tempting, but without which my life still would be complete, so I declined. The restaurant deals aren’t as interesting if you have one of those coupon (entertainment) books. Getting 50% off food at a single restaurant isn’t as interesting when… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
9 years ago

I inadvertantly subscribed to Groupon emails when I visited their website, but I unsubscribed after a few days. The coupons were all for things I don’t need/use! My husband and I have the same problem with coupons in general. We don’t buy a lot of prepackaged foods and we generally won’t drive across the Valley for a restaurant. I really only use coupons for household goods like toiletries and luxury foods like ice cream.

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

It’s a nice marketing gimmick, but other than not seeing his family or friends, it’s basically a paid vacation for a year with a chance to win $100k. I signed up for Groupon about a month ago, but haven’t used any of the offers yet. It’s just like any other coupon – using it for the sake of using it is probably not a good financial move. But if you’re buying the “stuff” anyway why not take the discount? I’d like to hear from the other side – the merchants who make the offers. Are they getting repeat business from… Read more »

KS
KS
9 years ago

I can’t figure out why he can’t see friends and family – that seems like an arbitrary and pointless thing. So he won’t be tempted to stay home and thus HAS to use the Groupon coupons? Too gimmicky for my tastes, but hey, why not.

Liz
Liz
9 years ago

I’m guessing the range of offers from Groupon varies by area, but if you stay on the mailing list, you’re bound to get a deal for something useful every once in a while. I’ve subscribed to it for several months, and I’ve only bought into a few deals, but they were definitely worth it. For instance, I recently moved into an apartment with tall ceilings. Around the same time, Groupon sent me a deal for Ace Hardware, and I was able to get the ladder I’d been planning to get for $15 off. I also feel like pampering myself every… Read more »

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

I agree with Joe B that it’s lame to tip with a coupon (unless it’s been agreed upon ahead of time).

I do use coupons to eat out from time to time, but I leave a tip on the full amount rather than the discounted amount. It’s nice to get a discount, but not at the expense of people who work for a living!

average Joe
average Joe
9 years ago

Bread and Circuses.

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago

I would simply let everyone know that Groupon is just one site now that has the group buying alternaive. Just like any other deal and freebie opportunity, you have to make a decision based on yourself. There are lots of times I do not get anything. But then in the last week there was a $25.00 target gift card for five bucks, and two tickets to “Eat, Pray, Love” for four dollars. Now, Im not am inimalist, just broke and these kinds of things allow me to do things I otherwise would not. One of today’s coupons is for an… Read more »

R Hookup
R Hookup
9 years ago

For you naysayers, remember it’s a big publicity stunt. The restaurants he goes to are already accepting Groupons so it’s not like they are a big surprise to anyone. He can invite someone to lunch and that person agrees to pay the tip or he can tell the waiter in advance and give him a Groupon for something valuable. It’s not like the waiter has to live on Groupons — it’s a one time deal. The toughest thing would be finding yourself in those occasions when you can’t barter easily. I don’t think the DMV would take a Groupon for… Read more »

Nick
Nick
9 years ago

Yea, I looked at some of the groupon deals in my city and at first though “Oh, wow, that’s neat. What a great deal.” before realizing it was all stuff I wouldn’t spend my money on anyways.

If it’s encouraging me to spend more money, it’s definitely not a frugal choice.

444
444
9 years ago

I was inspired to sign up for Groupon but I’m disappointed to see it’s a bunch of fluffy stuff that DINKS might like but I have no use for, like gourmet crepes and cupcakes (hey, I can make cupcakes in my own kitchen) and toenail filing and other assorted crapitude that people with tons of disposable income might like blowing their money on. I thought I could really save money on things I have to buy anyway but I should have known that would be too good to be true.

Jeanette
Jeanette
9 years ago

He will be spending, just not his money. Groupon is essentially giving him money by giving him these coupons. It’s just a currency exchange. What’s the big deal?

Jan Newbegin
Jan Newbegin
9 years ago

Apologies in advance for a long comment. I’ve been following the live off Groupon challenge since the contest was announced. A couple friends of my college-age daughter applied to be considered for the challenge at my recommendation. I don’t see how being away from friends and family for a year is that much different from being away at an out-of-state college, or studying abroad. If you’re young and free to participate, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I LOVE LOVE the Groupon experience and it hasn’t been difficult for me to save money on purposeful spending without giving in to temptation on… Read more »

karla
karla
9 years ago

Who pays the taxes when he uses these things?

Or is that included too?

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

Even with the coupons it still seems like it would be hard to live like that for a year without money, unless you can exchange 500 cupcake coupons for a place to sleep for the week and transportation, new underwear, all that?
I do have to say he is doing a good job for them as spokesperson. He’s not spending the year holed up in his best friend’s house exchanging pretzels and crepes coupons for beer, he’s putting himself out there. And I’m sure his toenails look really good.

KMJ
KMJ
9 years ago

@Karla(#36) — Good question. Also, I would like a Groupon for my federal taxes.

Karen in minnesota
Karen in minnesota
9 years ago

Ad Gimmick. Boring. Not actually applicable to anyone interested in saving money. ??? Why am I reading this?

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago

I think that the marketing stunt described here is just that – a stunt. If he can make it work, then good for him. Groupon’s getting a ton of publicity for it. I think that April’s post has two points: first, a reminder to look for unconventional deals. Groupons can be truly incredible. The customer is getting an honest-to-goodness real price break – the seller gets lots of people to try their product and great PR in exchange. As with coupons that you find in your paper, you have to be careful about what you buy – select only those… Read more »

ebyt
ebyt
9 years ago

All this for ONLY $100,000?! Not worth it.

Allen
Allen
9 years ago

Tyler (#20), funny how perspective works. If I did this, I’d quadruple my income, likely improve my housing condition, not have to worry about seeing my drama-filled family, experience all kinds of things I’d never do otherwise, AND increase my social skills.

Heck, if it wasn’t for the fact that my girlfriend probably wouldn’t appreciate only seeing me five times in a year, this sounds like a wonderful deal to me!

Jim
Jim
9 years ago

I really didn’t get much out of this post. Was it an ad for GroupOn? I really don’t see how someone spending coupons is of any value to my personal finance (those “lessons” seemed a bit of a strech)

Hope you at least got some money from groupon for running this post

Jason
Jason
9 years ago

Who knew Sir Mix-A-Lot would be a prophet?

“She thought I spent bank but I really spent coupons”

Jason Beck
Jason Beck
9 years ago

Tipping seems easy to me. “Hey buddy – I can get prime rib for half off! I’ll take care of your dinner if you get the tip.” DONE. This reminds me of couchsurfing.org more than it does “luxury coupons.” It’s like “hey if you can live like a couch surfer, we’ll give you luxury coupons. We get publicity, you get to do fun things. Win win!” I think the negative comments stem from perhaps expecting (from the title) someone to “out of the blue” voluntarily live for a year entirely on coupons – the kind you have to dig out… Read more »

A.
A.
9 years ago

This post reminds me of the Miserable Mill in the Series of Unfortunate Events.

Rachel211
Rachel211
9 years ago

I have to agree with most people that this is totally unrealistic in real life:

If you were to do this yourself, you would have to pay the 50% off of the coupons you purchase. Most of the deals I’ve seen on there are typically like “$15 for $30 worth of stuff!”. So you would basically be spending at least $15 a day in food alone and that is if you can use the coupon (gift card) for more than one meal.

So there is no way you could do this in reality without spending any money.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
9 years ago

I think it’s an interesting idea and a pretty great challenge, but how does someone get by without seeing friends and family more than 5 times a year?

Jessica
Jessica
9 years ago

I have to give Groupon a try. I love to find great deals. More money in my wallet. 🙂

shares