Most people are not nearly crazy enough to spend a year living solely on coupons, but Becky Alexander is not most people. Alexander is from Monroe Falls, Ohio, and claims to have “traveled around the world without a single dollar, peso, rupee [or] dong.” She is also proof that the truly frugal do not view the world through any lens other than price tags. Alexander boasts that she will “parlay with PETA” just to get some free tofu or “head over to the NRA for a free cheeseburger.”
No, we did not make this person up. Alexander is one of six finalists in an ongoing contest to find someone willing to trade their bank account for a limitless supply of coupons for one year. The contest was organized by Groupon, a popular site for finding great deals in 30 cities nationwide.
The Live Off Groupon contest is not just about shopping for groceries or buying clothes with coupons; the winner is actually required to abandon their house, job and family and live in hotels for the year and blog about the experience. They will have to be resourceful and be willing to rely on the kindness of strangers. As the site notes, “This will be a catastrophic disruption to your life.” In return, Groupon will pay the winner $100,000 if they can make it through the year.
Nearly 400 people thought they had what it takes and entered the contest. In order to be considered, every candidate had to submit a short essay and video explaining why they should be picked. Alexander may sound extreme, but she’s in good company. Rebecca Stewart, another finalist from Evanston, Ill., explained that she would be ideal because she doesn’t have a home, boyfriend or a job, so she would be willing to leave her life behind. Then there is Josh Stevens from Chicago, who submitted a ridiculous video showing how he could use printed-out coupons to slay angry bears.
However, my personal favorite is Ross Cook-Golesh, who works as a butcher in Denver. Golesh’s video is a very straightforward appeal explaining that he doesn’t make very much money and has learned the value of finding creative ways to get things for free. Golesh bills himself as a “goofy starving artist” who has a passion for photography and journalism, and if he wins the contest, Golesh plans to use that money to go to school for photojournalism.
The winner was supposed to be announced by the beginning of this month, but that date has now been pushed back until the end of April. “The reason for the delay is that we have absolutely no idea what we are doing,” said Andrew Mason, the CEO and founder of Groupon. “We thought of this on such a whim and now we are grappling with the enormity of the task.”
Mason says that he and the other members of Groupon are currently in the process of a “brutal internal debate.” Each of the finalists was asked to come into Groupon’s Chicago office to do a trial run by living for one full day on coupons. “We walked them into the office and took their wallets, gave them a handful of groupons and set them out onto the street,” he said. Some of the candidates had to hitch rides on postal trucks or random buses just to get around the city for the day.
The trial exercise was daunting enough that one of the six finalists dropped out. “When he got here, he just realized what a really ridiculously difficult thing it was,” Mason said. In his resignation letter, Erez Horovitz wrote, “I decided I was not the person for the challenge.” And he only faced 1/365th of the struggle that the remaining five candidates will face.
Right now, Mason is running background checks on the candidates to make sure they are “stable,” but not so stable that they are uninteresting to those who want to follow their antics for the year. When the decision is finally made, there will be a ceremony, which Mason says will be similar to the scene when the prisoners are first brought to the jail in Shawshank Redemption. “We will ceremonially take them to the bank to close their bank account… and then we’ll just kind of strip them of their clothes and give them their paper suit made of Groupons.”
That's right, if the contest weren't crazy enough, the winner actually has to wear a suit "partially" made out of Groupons to start out their year of extreme living. Good luck with that.
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