When Chicago resident, Josh Stevens, launched on an improbable fiscal adventure in May -- to live off nothing but Groupon vouchers for a year -- he had no idea that he'd make it half a year into the experience with wealth that far surpasses his $100,000 grand prize (that is, assuming he makes it a full year without using cash).
The Groupon contest winner has traveled all over the country and made countless new friends via Facebook and the Internet. He's also built a following in the five digits, and achieved a kind of celebrity usually reserved for reality TV stars. If you didn't catch Stevens on WalletPop or on the Today show in May, you can follow this self-proclaimed "Groupawn" and his exploits on his website, liveoffgroupon.com.
WalletPop spoke with Stevens, 28, as he prepared to leave Providence, R.I. for Washington D.C. where he will embark on a new chapter of Groupon-fueled adventures. The accountant spoke of his six months on the road -- he begins his seventh month on Nov. 10 -- and the range of new experiences he's had, from race car driving to flying planes to whale watching.
WalletPop: What brings you to Providence?
Stevens: This is the 20th Groupon city I've been to in less than six months. It's been a lot of fun, actually. I'm just going around and doing whatever I can to survive without money. I'm using the Groupons I have, and bartering the rest with people for things that I need but don't have. I'm making a lot of new friends. The nature of what I'm doing, while it does promote Groupon, is really more to live off Groupon for a year. So it's not like I'm going city to city holding up a Groupon banner.
WalletPop: So what have you learned about yourself after six months of living off Groupons and the generosity of others?
Stevens: It really sort of affirms my confidence and my ability to adapt, be resourceful and live without a safety net. That's been really good. It's also taught me that people in general are not as bad as some would lead you to believe. You hear the world is going to hell in a handbasket and that people aren't ready to do good, but I've found that's not the case at all. It's really good to see that part of humanity. I've met a lot of kind, generous, lighthearted people who have been more than willing to help me out.
WalletPop: For example?
Stevens: I guess I just didn't predict how many friends I've made that I feel will be lifelong friends as a result of doing this. Paul Morana was in the contest with me, and during the course of the application process, posting videos on YouTube and Tweeting, we started a dialogue and became friends. He and his girlfriend are driving me from Providence to D.C., so it works out nicely.
WalletPop: That's nice of them.
Stevens: For helping me so much, I took them on a helicopter tour of Newport R.I., then a winery tour, and then out to dinner on the way back to Providence. All of that was paid for by Groupon. Maybe the total expenses were $7 plus gas and tip. It was a hell of a day.
WalletPop: What have been some of the highlights of this six-month ride?
Stevens: As a child, I always wanted to visit Seattle and I was able to spend almost a month out there. The weather was gorgeous; I got sailing certified when I was out there. That's something I especially loved, and I got to do some whale watching there, as well. And it was another place where I got to make a ton of new friends.
I always wanted to fly a plane and when I was in Louisville I had a Groupon for a small plane tour in a Cessna. And while we were up there, the pilot said, "Do you want to fly the plane?" I said, "Absolutely." He gave me two minutes of pointers and I flew the plane for 10 minutes.
WalletPop: I see a parallel between you and Bill Rancic, another contest winner (on The Apprentice) who had a business background and Chicago ties (Loyola University Chicago's business school). Do you ever think of yourself in that reality-star sort of vein?
Stevens: It's a life outside of real life for me, but one I've accepted for at least a year. I've done so much networking with the Groupon businesses and people who want to get their business involved in Groupon. So it's a lot of networking, almost a mini-masters. So I can definitely relate to Bill Rancic. And I was a big fan of The Apprentice.
WalletPop: So when this all comes to an end next May, what will you do? Your birthday is in May, too.
Stevens: [Laughs.] It is close to the end, so it will be sort of a dual celebration. At the start, I had a birthday party and going-away party,. So at the end, it will be quite a bash. I'll try to get as many Groupon businesses and all the friends I've met around the country involved as I can.
WalletPop: And maybe you can catch up with all that fan mail, too.
Stevens: On the "Live off Groupon" Facebook page, it should hit 10,000 followers any day. I have 2,000 followers on Twitter, and there have been times when the sheer response rate has been daunting, where I've had to spend hours clearing out messages. But I'm extremely grateful.
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