Something for nothing: Free Money Day 2012

Now in its second year, September’s global Free Money Day roused both gratitude and apprehension around the world

How would society operate if our relationship with money was different? If there was less take and more give? This is just one of the questions Free Money Day set out to answer on 15 September 2012, when people around the world were invited to change others’ perception of money by giving it away for free.

Now in its second year, at 138 events across 24 countries, Free Money Day saw people hand out their own money to complete strangers, two coins or notes at a time. The recipients were asked to pass one of the coins or notes along to someone else, in a bid to start fresh conversations about money, sharing and beliefs.

However, according to organisers the Post Growth Institute, people took the idea much further, injecting their own creativity into the concept.

Buskers handed out money to people listening to their music, video stores gave out free film rentals and asked recipients to give their ‘savings’ to strangers in the street, and coffee shops stumped up for their customers’ bills, asking recipients to give the money they would have spent to a stranger instead.

In Bristol, Eric left a £10 note on a toilet seat, tweeting online that it would be the happiest bathroom visit someone will ever have. In Cardiff, Justin and friends from Positive Money and other local 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 handed out to strangers. Meanwhile, Rick in Wisconsin put a money-filled bucket and a ‘For the taking’ sign on the street for passersby.

The enthusiasm and creativity behind Free Money Day is apparent from these few examples, but among the spirit of giving, another feeling quickly became apparent: apprehension.

“In Bristol, Eric left a £10 note on a toilet seat, tweeting online that it would be the happiest bathroom visit someone will ever have”

Alix in San Francisco, for example, took over an hour to give away $20 – she regularly gives out free hugs and found people were more sceptical of money. Similarly, Brian from Portland found that people in his city were more unsettled by the prospect of ‘free money’ than, for example, an occasion he remembers where a group of naked bikers pulled up next to where he was eating a meal. “It really makes you think about how ingrained our relationship to money is, even in a progressive place like this,” he said.

Gail, from Hilo, Hawaii, says she “got the most out of the worst experience,” after one encounter. “One sad soul took the money, insulted me, and told us he would not share it at all. That person let me understand gratitude as something to experience from the inside, not the outside.”

Happily, negative experiences were more than surpassed by positive meetings full of appreciation, thanks and mutual giving. While Free Money Day may be unable to completely break down the divisions money sometimes creates throughout society, touching the lives of those receptive to change is more than a good start, as Ollie who gave out some money in Lund, Sweden, experienced.

“I felt like I was helping people take a blindfold off their eyes that neither they or I knew was there,” said Ollie. “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.”