Two childhood friends from outside of Boston hide $20 bills in random spots around Massachusetts to see how far people will go to find it. Sound like the plot of a new Matt Damon and Ben Affleck movie? It’s actually a real-life social experiment created by Steve Grant and Rich Cook, who have been friends since nursery school.Now they’re an attorney and a psychiatrist, respectively, but they haven’t lost the childlike curiosity or wacky sense of humour that brought them together. After hiding their first 20 in late September and broadcasting the location on Facebook, the pair has stashed 20 dollars of their own money every day since and created a website, PlentyofTwenties.com, to tip off fans about the bill’s location.
U.S. News talked to Grant and Cook about their motivations, how the experiment has changed their attitude toward money, and more. Excerpts:
What inspired Plenty O’ Twenties?
Cook: One of our friends, Brian, was going home every day to walk his dog. It was a half-hour drive home, then he’d go back, so my thought was, ‘Why doesn’t he just pay $20 for a dog walker?’ He did that because he didn’t want to pay for the dog walker. My thought was I would rather pay the $20. I joked to Steve, ‘If someone told you there was $20 hidden half an hour away, would you go and get it?’ That brought up the idea of ‘would someone go for a drive to get 20 bucks?’
Grant: I put it to the test one day. I put $20 in the Wakefield Public Library and I announced it on Facebook. It was just there for the taking. I hid it in a book and took a picture of the book and posted it on Facebook. Within 90 minutes, one of my friends drove down there and got it, took a picture of it, and posted it on her wall. For me and Rich, we’ve known each other since we were three years old and we’ve always had these silly debates. If you saw $20 on the ground, even if you were Donald Trump, you’d probably pick it up. But what would you do it if it was five miles away or 10 miles away?
Cook: When we started this, we weren’t really sure where it would go. What happens if we hide $20 and make a website? Will people respond? We viewed it as a social experiment to see how will people respond and react to this. In the process, we were both kind of excited about giving money away and brightening someone’s day, stimulating the economy just a little bit. We enjoy seeing other people have fun.
What’s the craziest place you’ve hidden a 20?
Grant: I hid one in a green Nike sneaker at Foot Locker. In Faneuil Hall, we hid one under a statue.
Cook: I hid one in front of Senator John Kerry’s house. I also hid one outside of Fenway Park inside the batting helmet of the Ted Williams statue. We try to do some obscure places but also some historical places that people might enjoy visiting.
Are you surprised by how far people will go to find the 20?
Grant: Yes and no. We were curious. Curiosity is what started this whole thing. There are certainly some people on our Facebook page telling us ‘hide it in my neighbourhood,’ and we’ve had some people jump out of bed in the middle the night and say they just missed it.
Cook: The thing that does surprise me a little bit is a couple of times, we posted it and within about 20 minutes or so, someone had found it. When Steve and I are both free, we’ll wait and within five or 10 minutes of posting it, someone came to find it. It’s caught on to the point where if we do hide it around lunchtime and we wait there a few minutes, we’ll get to see and meet the person who finds the 20.
How do people spend their 20?
Grant: We get all different stories. Often it’s ‘I’m taking my girlfriend out to dinner.’ We don’t care what they do with it, but we often suggest they spend it on a local business. Some people donate it to charity. We just had one last weekend and he’s running the Boston Marathon for a charity, so he’s matching the 20 that he found and putting it toward that.
Do you think the site’s popularity is related to the economy or would people get excited about found money even in a better economic climate?
Cook: I think even if it were better economic times, there would still be some people who just enjoy the thrill of finding the money. There would still be college students, people who are unemployed who would enjoy it. I think even if it weren’t for the economy, people would have fun with it. Because the economy is where it is right now, that probably does play a secondary role in people’s excitement.
Grant: I think that even if we were putting $10 or $30 in the envelope, I think we’d get the same amount of interest. I think it’s a lot to do with fun. Anyone could use $20, but it’s adventurous to see if you’re the one to find the money. Almost everyone sends us a silly picture of them with the money that they know will go on our Facebook page. It’ll be interesting to see once we start putting more money in the envelope, if that correlates to more interest.
Giving away a 20 a day must get expensive. How do you fund the project?
Grant: Over 90 per cent of the money is ours out of our pocket. The plan has been to start hiding the money in local businesses. We’ve had some friends who were like a real estate agent and my friend has a consignment shop, so they’ve sponsored a 20 for a day. The idea is to start hiding the money in local businesses. They’ll get some exposure on our website and some foot traffic with everyone trying to get here, and maybe if you don’t get there in time to get the 20, the business will give you a $20 gift card. I think there are a lot of opportunities here.
Cook: We’ve been thinking about and talking to local businesses, but our main point is to keep having fun.
Has this changed your attitude toward money at all?
Cook: I think that our society has an interesting relationship with money. It can be a confusing relationship. The social experiment shines a different light on money. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but it does pose an interesting question on money, its meaning, and its significance in people’s lives. It’s something we’re exploring.
Grant: I don’t know that it’s changed my attitude toward money per se. I think it’s a little counterintuitive what we’re doing. It’s counterintuitive to think you can make money by giving it away. We’re certainly not against profit—you should see my law school debt—because the more revenue we get also means the more money we can give away. If local businesses or even big businesses sponsor us, we could be able to give away more than a 20.