In a world where hoarding wealth is considered the norm, giving money to complete strangers, with no strings attached, seems like a radical idea. Yet, for the hundreds who have taken part in Free Money Day since its humble beginnings in 2011, there is a knowing that greater sharing is needed in this world, now more than ever.
More than this though, our experiences on Free Money Day, each September 15th, confirm that people feel more comfortable giving, than receiving. In 2014, for example, Jennifer Hinton said it took her and three friends over an hour to give away 35 Euros in Athens, Greece.
This is where Free Money Day offers such a liberating opportunity; for while the day is certainly a chance for people to push through personal inhibitions about engaging with strangers, it offers an even greater opportunity to expand our ability to receive. In wrestling with the judgments we place on ourselves in relation to money and our worthiness, we more clearly see the pervasive influence of mainstream stories about human nature (if we are essentially greedy and separate from each other, how could we possibly give freely to a complete stranger?). With love and vulnerability at the heart of the Free Money Day exchange, we can continue to collectively heal the rifts that emerge in any scarcity-based culture.
But few are willing to jump straight into the vulnerability of receiving from a stranger. So we encourage Free Money Day participants to use a simple technique (which also serves to spread the experiment): suggest to recipients that they keep half the money you are giving them, and pass the other half on to someone else. This technique massively increases people’s willingness to engage in the experiment, reinforcing that people feel a need to view the giving as legitimate, which in turn legitimises the receiving.
In many ways, it is not surprising that people are suspicious, confused, even sometimes offended when they are offered ‘free money’. Mainstream economics still holds that we are driven by rational desires to further our self-interest. This assumption drives a pernicious culture that reinforces its own beliefs by placing on the pinnacle of success those who have been most successful at maximizing their self-interest. So many hear the words ‘free money’ and immediately think ‘greedy scam’. But greed has been absent at every Free Money Day event so far. No one has tried to ‘game’ the experience to make money for themselves. Rather, generosity has been abundant; from people handing out the last few notes in their wallets, to one couple giving away $35,000 of land to whoever arrived next on their organic farm.
Where we are most wounded is in receiving the generosity of others. Perhaps part of the reason so many Free Money Day participants have reported unwillingness to receive is because we have a cultural connotation that receiving help, from anyone – especially strangers – is linked with weakness. In this way, as experienced by this man who filmed himself trying to give away money, offering help becomes an insult – an accusation that someone cannot manage by themselves – rather than what it is intended to be – a gesture of love and goodwill.
In this light, Jennifer Hinton reported that the most common response she received when she offered people money was “please give it to someone who needs it more than me”. Certainly this response can stem, in part, from generosity for others, and the caring ethic that the Free Money Day experiment hopes to grow. But perhaps there is a part of this response that emanates from a deeper belief: that we are not worthy of love and support, especially not from people who we have never helped. Perhaps it’s a product of the ruthless individualism promoted by neoliberal ideology – where people are expected to succeed by themselves, for themselves. Perhaps centuries of market-based capitalism have ingrained the transaction model so deeply in our psyches that getting something for nothing seems like an impossible trick. And perhaps this is why suggestions to ‘pay it forward’ and learn about the event on the website seems to make people more comfortable with receiving.
Excessive taking (greed) is tightly related to materialism, and evidence shows materialism is correlated with personal insecurity. Insecure people feel unable to fully receive the riches they have been given, and when people are supported, loved and feel abundant, they tend to naturally give with immense generosity.
Thus, Free Money Day is an invitation to explore both giving and receiving. In particular, this year, what can you do to encourage people to receive more willingly? Perhaps your smile can break through their cynicism. Perhaps they will feel your heart. And, if so, what a wonderful opportunity for growth because, as the spiritual teacher, Tiziana DellaRovere, says, the expression give and ye shall receive should actually be reversed: receive, and ye shall give. As we increase our capacity to receive love, we are more able to give of it to others in a healthy way.
Let us continue to share with others that receiving is not about being weak, nor is it about being greedy. It is about honouring the understanding that we are all worthy of love, responding graciously to the gift of the giver’s desire to give, and replenishing our trust in humanity, so that we can continue to experience the richness of our interconnection on this finite planet.
This article was written by Tegan Tallulah and Donnie Maclurcan. Image credits: Nudzejma Avdic, Jennifer Hinton, Amelia Bryne.
At the heart of Free Money Day 2014 is a social experiment: What happens when we share money with complete strangers?
On Monday, September 15th, people around the world will experience the answer to this question for themselves. Participants will be simultaneously helping to create a more sharing economy. Why? Because if we can open our hearts to the vulnerability associated with sharing something deemed as sacred as money, then we’re encouraging others, indeed giving others the permission, to do the same. And this grossly unequal world could certainly do with a little more sharing.
But sharing your money need not be a daunting thing. An event can be as big or as small as you’d like. It can be as easy as giving two notes or coins to someone at your workplace and asking them to pass one on, or leaving money somewhere in public, with a small note mentioning #freemoneyday.
Or perhaps you’re able to help share our Thunderclap campaign – a timed Twitter or Facebook post from our supporters, which will create a wave of attention four days before the event when released on Thursday September 11.
So, if you’re ready to make some change on September 15, by giving it all away, join us in registering your event via the sign-up form at http://freemoneyday.org.
Here’s to changing the world, two notes or coins at a time!
Free Money Day will occur, globally, this 15th September, albeit in a scaled down form from its 2012 success.
The organising team at the Post Growth Institute are presently focussing attention on outlining an alternative macroeconomic framework, grounded in not-for-profit enterprise. Hence, important updates to this websites’ functionality are yet to be made and we won’t be seeking media coverage for this year’s event.
That said, we’d love you to hold an event this year (as simple as handing out a couple of coins and asking the recipient to pass one on!) and to register the details here. We will keep an offline record of all 2013 events, to be updated online as soon as we have the time and necessarily skills to improve the website. If you hold an event, please do send any pictures, videos and stories to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you have a fun day this weekend and look forward to engaging further in the coming twelve months.
Giving things away freely – time, knowledge, possessions and money – has been and continues to be a truly valuable aspect of my freedom. My grandmother was a big inspiration. She lived simply yet, in the last years of her life, if you commented appreciatively about any item in her house she would suggest you take it. In part, her ‘gifting’ inspired my belief in the maxim: ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’ – which, for me, is less ideology and more common sense logic for abundant living in a world of largely finite resources.
And whilst interest is returning in many ways, in other ways it never left; Mali, for example, maintains a gift culture. Somewhat differently, I have read that the first words the Amish will often use when arriving at a neighbour’s house are not ‘how are you?’ but ‘what can I do?’ And, of course, nature is a wonderful gift economy from which we receive, every single moment.
A method of gifting that universally brings a smile to the face is the ‘pay it forward’ model (global pay it forward day is April 25th). Yet, money is such a powerful drug and scarcity thinking so pervasive, how might people respond to an international day where people are encouraged to give their own money, or some equivalent, to complete strangers, asking them to pay half of this forward?
People became really creative with the Free Money Day concept. In Moerewa, New Zealand, buskers Emma and Derek handed out money to people listening to their music. Gonçalo’s video store in Lisbon, Portugal, gave free movie rentals and asked recipients to give to others in the street the money they would have spent. Similarly, Brian left $30 on ‘the tab’ at the Flying Hat Coffee Shop in Portland, U.S.A, with notes for customers saying: “this coffee has already been paid for. Consider yourself gifted… We encourage you to give away the money you would’ve spent on this coffee to a complete stranger”. At Hamimi, in Brisbane, Australia, staff gave away their own money to customers all day in memory of their late brother Andrew ‘Wilf’ Wilford who was involved in the inaugural Free Money Day.
In terms of other ideas on how to give to strangers, Rick in Wisconsin, U.S.A, put a money-filled bucket and ‘for the taking’ sign on the street for passers-by; Eric in Bristol, U.K., left a ten pound note on a toilet seat, tweeting that it was the: ‘happiest shit someone will ever have!’
In addition to money, Carol in Norway handed out free reading books. In the Pyrenees, France, Sally paid for the people behind her to enter the national park. In Cardiff, Wales, Justin and friends from Positive Money and other groups held a ‘skills auction’, where artists, musicians, technicians, filmmakers and web designers donated their skills and time, and people bid to have access to these skills. The proceeds were then used to hand out free money! In Kenya, Joseph and friends held circle discussions about the concept, whilst in New York, Joanne also shared conversations about money with her 11th grade students.
The main words used to describe the 2012 Free Money Day were ‘fun’, ‘apprehension’ and ‘appreciation’.
Many participants shared how fun it was to give away their own money – particularly when it was warmly received. In Utah, Roger handed out two $1 bills to each of his IHOP restaurant co-workers in their break room, saying: “your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to keep one and give the other to someone else.” The result: “it sparked a lot of fun discussion and it felt great to be charitable”. Robyn, on Australia’s east coast, dropped money into people’s gardens and was delighted to read on her friend’s Facebook page that it had “been raining money and that he kept finding $5 notes in his yard”. Cila’s Free Money Day at Liverpool Station in London, U.K., stemmed from incredible serendipity. Suzanne made this creative video of her fun experience handing out money in a park in Charlotte, U.S.A. On the United States’ west coast, things got contagious in San Francisco, with a member of the public taking up Caterina’s offer to see what it felt like to hand money to strangers. In Washington D.C. where I and two others handed out close to $600, some people were ecstatic; literally jumping around. At one stage, word must have got out to the neighbourhood, because people came running in from all over, smiles beaming. Yet, rather than just wanting ‘free money’, many people wanted to hang around and chat.
As in 2011, a number of people handing out money commented on the unexpected level of apprehension from strangers. It took Alix over an hour to give away $20 dollars in San Francisco; she regularly gives free hugs and found people were more skeptical of money. Brian, in Portland, U.S.A., had a similar experience:
It has been strange to know how well-intentioned we are, and to realize most of our work is overcoming people’s skepticism that this is some sort of scam…Portland prides itself on its eccentricity. We have done a great job pushing social norms about fashion and ‘normal.’ One night a group of naked bikers pulled up right next to my outdoor dinner table…but people around me weren’t nearly as unsettled as they were with this…some random person coming up to them to give them money…it really makes you think about how ingrained our relationship to money is, even in a progressive place like this…
Brian, Portland, U.S.A.
On a deeper level, perhaps there is something to learn from the response Alix received in San Francisco, that “nothing is ever free”. After one particularly challenging experience in Portland, Brian realised that “…in actuality, I was expecting that the other person be excited or maybe even thankful in return…I wanted the recognition…”. In this sense, a number of people commented that reflecting on the challenges they faced handing out money was important for their own journey.
One sad soul took the money, insulted me, was aggravated that his picture was taken and after we deleted the photo told us he would take the money and not share it at all. I probably got the most out of the worst experience. That person let me understand gratitude as something to experience from the inside, not the outside. I thought I understood this before, but I feel it more now.
Gail, Hilo, Hawaii
In terms of reducing unnecessary apprehension, we learnt three main things. Firstly, having more than one person handing out money at the same location is less intimidating for all involved. Secondly, that physical proximity matters – people were more likely to engage when spoken to within a radius of no more than 2 metres; beyond this distance, the raised voice perhaps lends itself to fear someone is selling something. And thirdly, mentioning in a non-instructive way to people who might at first wave you away that they ‘might like to pass half on’, seems to draw in a number of perhaps otherwise unlikely participants.
Beyond any initial mistrust and rejection (“I don’t need it”), participants commonly exposed a deep appreciation. Mary in Phoenix said she: “…gave $2 each to the fellows behind the desk at the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix. They just stared at me at first, but then when they realized I wasn’t kidding, they thanked me. One fellow said, “Two lucky visitors will get money today – I’m giving both of mine away””. At least two people we met in Washington, D.C., said their somewhat depressing morning was entirely transformed as a result of being part of Free Money Day. Barbara sent us through this lovely message on Twitter: “Thank you for entering my silly heart & spirit. Now you have touched a corner of each FOREVER!” And we received this inspiring message from Bayo in Nigeria:
As our global landscapes experience unprecedented seismic disturbances, my wife, Ej, and I have often wondered about how best we can transit into the life our hearts tell us is possible – into a world in which time and space are not commoditised properties of the industrial complex. Our disenchantment inspired us to initiate the Koru project, but we needed some sort of ritual to loosen us from the strongholds of our dying civilization. You can understand our excitement when we learned of ‘Free Money Day’…To us, the day represented a re-enchantment of the sacredness of gifts and our shared selfhood – a way to resuscitate the wealth of togetherness, the lack of which has severely impoverished the world and our imagination… The Day inspired us to connect with others, to see ourselves as conduits of the universe’s bountiful wealth, to realize that we are songs that the impeded stream sings. Ej bakes great cakes, and we are finding ways to share them with those around us! Free Money Day helped us realize that a new world is not merely possible on the pages of a skilled wordsmith, but on the streets of our aching cities, in-between the exchanges of supposed strangers, and through the visions of the many and the few.
Bayo, Abuja, Nigeria
This glimpse from Patrick of what happened in Montreal, Canada: “acute conversations, meaningful comments and beautiful spontaneity lit up the usual vibe those sidewalks host”. Matt Jones in Sydney, Australia, spent time handing money out to members of the Korean community, had a wonderful interaction with these three men, and saw moods lifted generally through generosity. On this note, Gail in Hilo,Hawaii, said at least one person she gave money to was “…pretty much a street person who handed half to another immediately and there was a chorus of ‘praise of the Lord!’”. For Ollie in Lund, Sweden, the experience was transformative:
I had my doubts about Free Money Day (I didn’t quite see the point of handing out money to complete strangers in a western country when those whom I would be handing it out to didn’t really need it) right up to the time when I handed across my first 10 Swedish Kroner (in two 5 kr coins) to a stranger at a potluck dinner…Following initial apprehension, the recipient was so excited and the process continued all night long…I felt like I was helping people take a blindfold off their eyes that neither they or I knew was there…by publicly showing that we can approach money not as something to hoard but as something to share, I really feel I helped people to unlock its full potential and embrace the power of paying it forward.
Ollie, Lund, Sweden
On the whole, younger people were particularly appreciative of the Free Money Day philosophies and experience. Here are Louise’s kids preparing for Free Money Day in Eastbourne, U.K.
In Gisborne, New Zealand, Manu gave coins to neighbourhood kids “…on the condition they gave half of it to someone else” which they did, to his surprise.
And we just loved our youngest ambassadors, Max and Kayla, ‘giving money back to the world’:
At Ghee’s event in Exeter, U.K., one bunch of young men were so amused, they actually all put money in rather than take it out. Together, they talked about greed versus generosity; how much is enough; and why some humans find it hard to trust a person giving something away with ‘no catch to it’.
Karen in Amherst, U.S.A, found young people the least suspicious, although Kate, who handed out coins at a private school fete in Sydney, found teenage boys both suspicious and dismissive!
In 2013, we’ll be looking to improve the experience through a more interactive web platform, earlier promotions, and translations of the site and materials from English to multiple languages. We will be encouraging the pledging of gifts beyond money, and exploring a partnership for online gifting with Pygg.
For all our wonderful participants, or readers seeking to create ripples on limited budgets (and lots of voluntary hard work), you might be inspired to know that Free Money Day, as a global event, was organized on a budget of US $120!
When I gift, I rebuild trust. When I share, I delight in life’s joys whilst respecting the differences that make our interactive journeys meaningful. But, for mine, the real value of money for nothing surrounds the sharing of love. As Mark Boyle, the money-less man, so eloquently puts it: “…if you spend your time putting more love into the world, then it is reasonable to believe you are going to benefit from a world with more love in it”.
We just received this wonderful message from Bayo in Abuja, Nigeria:
Wendell Berry, that poetic shaman of new worlds, conjured up the following words once: “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” As our global landscapes experience unprecedented seismic disturbances, my wife, Ej, and I have often wondered about how best we can transit into the life our hearts tell us is possible – into a world in which time and space are not commodified properties of the industrial complex. Our disenchantment inspired us to initiate the Koru project, but we needed some sort of ritual to loosen us from the strongholds of our dying civilization. You can understand our excitement when we learned of ‘Free Money Day’. We looked forward to the day and made plans to give away money; we even helped publicize the day and told friends about it. To us, the day represented a re-enchantment of the sacredness of gifts and our shared selfhood – a way to resuscitate the wealth of togetherness, the lack of which has severely impoverished the world and our imagination.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t embark on the exciting quest to give away money along with other people around the world on Free Money Day! For reasons that concern our workplace demands and constraints, we missed out on so much – connecting with the field of collective consciousness that must have enveloped people around the world. We reasoned, however, that the ‘real’ legacy of the Day must reside in its rhetorical ability to instigate new practices and inspire new ways of being. We may have missed out on the Day, but we haven’t missed out on the days that it birthed. Ej and I have since given out lots of money. Being academics, we tend to live isolated lives – hunched over a new book or our slides for a pending presentation. The Day inspired us to connect with others, to see ourselves as conduits of the universe’s bountiful wealth, to realize that we are songs that the impeded stream sings. Ej bakes great cakes, and we are finding ways to share them with those around us!
We connect with those beautiful souls around the world who are courageously replacing the seeds of separation with the ferns of entanglement. The world is a habit of projection, and our most critical opportunity today is to project new stories on our tortured spheres of interaction. Free Money Day helped us realize that a new world is not merely possible on the pages of a skilled wordsmith, but on the streets of our aching cities, in-between the exchanges of supposed strangers, and through the visions of the many and the few.
www.koruportal.net (still in development)
And simple generosity can sure be creative, as so many are showing through their plans for Free Money Day this 15th September!
In Lisbon, Portugal, owner of the Cinetekavideo store, Gonçalo Peres, will be giving free rentals to all his customers, encouraging them to give the money they would spend on rentals to strangers in the street.
In Moerewa, New Zealand, musicians Emma and Derek will be busking. But rather than collecting money, they’ll be giving it away! This story of generosity became more incredible when I learnt that Emma is a fully registered and qualified early childhood teacher yet spends nearly all her time volunteering with community organisations.
In Mexico City, Axel and his friend are shaking things up by giving their money solely to beggars – with the request that they, in turn, pass half on to strangers. With a fair bit of tension in Mexico of late, and enormous social disparity, Axel believes this could draw attention to these issues in a novel, yet respectful way.
Others are finding ways to incorporate Free Money Day into existing commitments. In Brisbane*, Australia, Kath has a theatre rehearsal on the 15th. But that won’t stop her handing out coins to unsuspecting colleagues and staff at the venue! In Plymouth, Anji reports that her daughter’s 7th birthday party coincides with Free Money Day, and that she’s going to put 7 pence in each child’s party bag, with a note explaining her motivations for sharing! In Paris, Olivier and others have scheduled their Free Money Day to merge with the visit of Vietnamese peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn and the planned Day on Conscience and Freedom. Further South, on the Spanish border, Sally will be handing out Euros in the breathtaking Pyrénées National Park. Meanwhile, Cameron is thinking of handing out money to passengers on an aeroplane, and, as in 2011, Creative Crip will be paying it forward via Twitter.
I also received incredible news from South Korea last week. A researcher, Layne, and his village economist wife, Patcharin, are so inspired by Free Money Day that they are giving away half their small land holdings (7 acres, enough to support 7-14 families) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to begin a land trust for up and coming permaculture farmers. Their offering is made in solidarity with the wonderful work of groups like Via Campesina.
The interest from across Africa and Asia has been particularly exciting. From Ghana to Nigeria, Kenya, India and Thailand, I have been reminded that many of my brothers and sisters in the Global South also seek alternatives to the mantra of endless economic growth.
How truly magical this world appears when I build on what I know already works: observing, respecting, loving, and sharing.
*I’m so glad there will be action in Brisbane, given this year’s Free Money Day is dedicated to the late, wonderful Andrew ‘Wilf’ Wilford, whose 2011 Free Money Day efforts in Brisbane received national attention.