Groupon contestant Josh Stevens tackles holiday shopping without cash

Josh Stevens tackles holiday shopping with only Groupon couponsAt first blush, any attempt at copious Black Friday shopping without cash or credit might sound akin to baking a cake without flour ... and eggs ... and an oven.

But for Chicago's Josh Stevens -- the winner of Groupon's contest to survive a year using nothing but the website's discount vouchers as currency -- it's time to cook up some tasty ideas. Good thing that Stevens, 28, is an accountant who is used to juggling numbers to make them work. But a bean counter without any actual beans to count? What's a Black Friday shopper to do?

Accept the challenge, that's what.

"It's my favorite holiday season," Stevens told WalletPop. "I love Black Friday because it's the whole game of finding a great deal. I've always enjoyed the waiting outside a store for however many hours it takes. It's just a lot of fun. Some friends and I would always go out to a few stores to see what kind of deals we could get, or what types of things I could get for other people. Sometimes I would even make a little bit of money ... but it's not really about that. It's the thrill of the hunt."

Stevens has chalked up six months of Groupon-fueled living. (You can follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter and his website.) If he makes it to May 2011 without spending a dime, he snags a $100,000 cash prize. That's enough loot to fuel his Black Friday shopping for the next few decades.

For now, Stevens has his hands full just making it through Black Friday 2010. And in a WalletPop exclusive, he told us exactly how he's going to shop and and play Santa this holiday.

It's All About the Experience

For Stevens, the highlights of his last six months have involved "special experience" Groupons that have allowed him to fly a plane, drive a racing car and watch whales. "This year, Groupon has been talking about giving the gift of experiences, so there's a gifting option on the site that I'll look at," he said. "I've seen ones for cooking classes, and I think people in my life will want to do those kinds of things: flight lessons, skydiving, scuba lessons -- I will definitely look for extreme experiences."

Like what? "In Las Vegas, there's one activity called land sailing, and you ride across the desert in a boat outfitted with miniature sails."

Stevens can't help thinking about the kinds of presents the ladies will like, and he already has a few things in mind: "Manicures and massages are popular for Mother's Day, so those things will work," he said.

Groupon in large part established its reputation as a go-to place for restaurant deals, so Stevens hopes that the gift of a quiet, classy dinner will go over big as well. Or it could be something romantic for your sweetie, such as a balloon ride or a tasting at a local winery.

When All Else Fails, Deal With It

Outside of those suggestions, Stevens -- a self-described "deal shopper" -- says he may just score the best Groupon deals he can find now, and figure out who to give them to later.

He explains his "shop now, ask questions later" philosophy this way: "Last year I got a Blu-Ray player for my dad, and I have no problem buying things for people that I think they'll want," he said. "There's no risk in doing deal shopping. And if the person I'm buying it for doesn't want it, I can always try to sell it."

You would think that Stevens has a leg monitoring bracelet that connects him to the company's founder, Andrew Mason. Not so; Stevens has been left pretty much to his own devices since starting his exploits last May. Still, his voice may be heard a little more loudly than others when he issued this entreaty:

"Groupon's deals are usually pretty big -- 50%, 60%, 70% off -- but I'm hoping that Black Friday morning will be the best of the best. As for whether they will do, I have no idea."

For now though, Josh is sticking to the experiences.

"Something for two or four people to do so you could include your friends and family. Any Groupons that will let people spend time together," he says. In fact, Stevens already has such an excursion in mind: "If I can find any Groupons for sailing, maybe I can give those and go on a long sail when the Groupon year is over."
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