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Alum closes his wallet to win yearlong challenge

Josh Stevens

Josh Stevens ’06 in Chicago.

Is it possible to go an entire year without using cash, checks, or credit cards?

Josh Stevens ’06 found out when he was selected by Chicago-based Groupon to live and travel for a year using only the company’s deal of the day coupons offering discounts to restaurants, activities, and services in metropolitan areas.

An accounting graduate, Stevens found the contest on the Internet and was immediately intrigued. The opportunity to travel and do something unique was one he would gladly accept. The prospect of winning $100,000 for accomplishing the task had its appeal as well.

“When I told family and friends about this, they were surprisingly supportive,” Stevens said. “There was a lot of laughter, and it took a little bit for some to get their heads wrapped around it. Overall, everyone was pretty excited about it.”

He submitted a video application showing how much he believed in the power of Groupon. In the video he manages to kill a bear, pull a man back from the brink of death, and stop a gang of gun-wielding thugs, all with Groupons. The video placed him among the final candidates. After proving himself further through sample blogs, interviews, and a trial survival run on the streets of Chicago, Stevens won the right to the challenge.

“I was given a random assortment of Groupons for different cities that either they wanted me to visit or I wanted to visit. Sometimes I would have one Groupon for a particular place, sometimes two, sometimes multiple,” Stevens said, noting it was a challenge to organize the hundreds he collected.

In the year that followed, Stevens sampled restaurants in major cities around the nation. He tried myriad activities including sailing on both coasts, partying for three days at a Dave Matthews concert, driving a NASCAR, taking in an NFL game, flying in a helicopter, and riding in a hot air balloon. Peppered in along the way were massages, pedicures, and even a flying trapeze class. Stevens’ motto quickly became “Why not?”

But the year had its challenges. Stevens was limited to five visits from family and friends, and was not given Groupons to account for every need. He developed a network of followers on his blog and social networking sites to trade Groupons for things he might need in a strange city, such as toiletries or a couch to sleep on. His system worked, as he did not spend a single night in a hotel during a month’s stay in Seattle, Washington.

“One night in L.A. I needed a place to eat, and most of the restaurants I had Groupons for were either closed or too far away from where I was staying,” Stevens said. “So I put out a post describing my situation and someone in San Diego responded. She ordered delivery for me from a Chinese restaurant across the street, and I traded her Groupons for cupcakes and a pedicure.”

Other tasks presented problems as well, such as paying for a parking meter, tipping a waiter, and trying to get a passport for a trip to London.  But even these obstacles were overcome.

“Whenever there was any apprehension, I just had to push it away,” Stevens said. “That was the point of all of this: to meet new people, try new things, and push me outside of my comfort zone.”
After 365 days of living life without money, Stevens returned to Chicago on May 10 of last year in a horse-drawn carriage—paid for with a Groupon—to a cheering crowd and marching band to accept his $100,000 check.

He will use the money to put his life back together after his yearlong adventure, during which he proved you can do just about anything with Groupons. His girlfriend, Amber Silverman, accepted his marriage proposal—complete with a ring and ring box, both made from Groupons.

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