It's Time to Pay It Forward by Handing Out Cash to Total Strangers

The founders of Free Money Day hope to start a conversation about the role of financial resources and sharing in society.

(Photo: Facebook)

Sep 15, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Are there a couple dollars or coins burning a hole in your wallet? Get ready to hand them over to a complete stranger because Sept. 15 is Free Money Day, that annual chance to pass a bit of loot over to someone you don't know. While giving and receiving some no-strings-attached dough is always nice, the effort does have a purpose: sparking conversations about sharing and how much money is enough for one person.

Free Money Day was launched in 2011 by the Post Growth Institute, an international network working to foster global prosperity without the need for constant economic growth.

"It's a liberating experience for a lot of people because you're sharing something we've really come to idolize," founder Donnie Maclurcan told FastCoExist. "We share cars, drills, and houses, but giving money is normally philanthropic. This is a random act of kindness that poses questions about our economy, why we're so attached to money, and how individualistic we've become."

To that end, the founders chose Sept. 15 because it's the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in 2008, accelerating the global financial crisis. It's also the International Day of Democracy. What better occasion to encourage people to share cash, wrote the creators on the initiative's website, "given democracy is defined by the United Nations as '…a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social, and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life.' "

Bonus: Giving away your cash will put a smile on your face. The Free Money Day website cites research published in Science in 2008 that found people are happier when they spend money on others. That was true for the anonymous Bay Area 1-percenter behind last spring's Hidden Cash craze. He said he began giving away his wealth because he didn't need it, and it was "fun."

That said, Free Money Day isn't about millionaires putting $200 in an envelope, hiding it, and leaving a trail of clues to its location on Twitter. Instead, the average joe's participation in Free Money Day is what matters. If a person has just two quarters in his or her pocket, he or she can hand them to a stranger along with instructions to pay it forward. Recipients of cash on Free Money Day are then supposed to pass on 50 percent of the money they receive to someone else.

"It doesn't matter if you share a million dollars or one dollar—you get the same chemical reaction in people," Maclurcan told FastCoExist. "It's more about the underlying message, which is asking why we're so attached to money."