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What I Learned From Giving Away $60,000 (and Other Insights From the Hidden Cash Creator)

2015 February 27

hidden cashYou might be familiar with the “Hidden Cash” events that popped up around the US last year. They were organized by successful real estate investor and businessman, Jason Buzi, who was looking for creative ways to do good and give back. We were honored to interview him last summer as these secret giveaways were underway and making news.

Buzi eventually decided to end the events – but continues to give back to his followers and others. We were curious what he learned from this experience and any other insights he was willing to share with us.

In the end, how much did you end up giving out during all your Hidden Cash events
About $60,000 over the course of 2 1/2 months. I realize that’s more than many people’s annual income, but I’ve done very well financially, and wanted to give back. That’s the only reason I started this. Anonymously at first, but my cover was blown. In hindsight, I did get a little bit carried away, which was a big part of why I stopped doing the events. It was usurping all my time and energy and affecting my personal life, family, and business. It was fun though. A once in a lifetime type of experience. I have no regrets, but I needed to stop when I did. Now we are giving back online to some followers, and in other ways.

What are a few things that doing Hidden Cash opened your eyes to?
Doing Hidden Cash opened my eyes to a few things. Among them:

1. The power of social media.
We went from unknown (I hadn’t even had a Twitter account before) to about half a million followers in less than two weeks. It wasn’t anything we could have planned or anticipated. Sure, not everyone is hiding money, but we’ve had various imitators since, and some doing creative things like buying bottles of wine for strangers. This last one is here in the Bay Area, got some media coverage, but few followers. I do think we hit on something – using social media to connect people in a real life, fun way, and it was also good timing: summer, so the weather was good and people loved doing this outdoors activity, and also a slow news cycle (before Ebola and ISIS, etc.). But this could not have been planned.

2. How much need is out there
We get daily financial requests to this day. Unfortunately, we don’t have endless resources and this was always supposed to be just a fun way to give back. People have asked us to buy them a house or a car. That’s not going to happen. Only 5 years ago, I myself was living in a tiny apartment and driving an old car. I hope people realize they need to rely on themselves if they want to change their lives. Which ties into my third point:

3. How many of those in need are badly in need of some basic financial education
I had people write to me that they can’t afford the gas money but drove hundreds of miles to where we were doing a cash drop in hopes of finding some. This is like spending your final $100 of grocery or rent money on lottery tickets. It just makes no sense.

Speaking of the lottery, multiple people wrote something like “I’m going to play the lottery, so I can be rich like Hidden Cash“. I made my money as a real estate investor/developer, not by playing the lottery! If you drive through any wealthy neighborhood in the US or the world for that matter, I’m sure less than 1 in 1000 got there by playing the lottery. They either had high paying jobs like doctors, attorneys and senior executives. Or owned their own businesses. Or were real estate investors like myself.

I’ve read studies before, that in the lowest socioeconomic groups, among the poorest Americans, playing the lottery is considered a valid investment strategy by a majority of people.

There’s a narrative right now that the poor are poor due to exploitation or wage stagnation. While these are certainly factors (I went into a check cashing place recently as I needed to send a Western Union payment overseas; the posted rates for check cashing exceeded 400% APR!), it’s also very clear to me that financial education is desperately lacking. When I hear people saying they want to get a good education so they have a real career or want to learn real estate or start a business, it makes me hopeful. When I hear people spending money they can’t afford on lottery tickets, it makes me depressed!

Giving money away will always attract a crowd. What things were you most surprised about people and their quest to find cash?
I think actually, that for the most part, people were very orderly and none of the events got violent or really out of control. And that’s pretty remarkable considering you had hundreds of people (and in a couple cases, thousands) in a small area all looking for money. Another pleasant surprise is that many people said they were using the money to “pay it forward”, which was a big part of our message. They did this by buying a meal for a homeless person or treating those next to them to ice cream or donating to a charity.

You’re a big proponent of being “smart” with your money and the need for more financial literacy. How did you see this played out during Hidden Cash events?
Well, I think for most people, they knew this was just a fun game, and if they were lucky, they might find $40 or $100. And if not, they will go out there and have a good time with their friends or family or make some new friends. The messages we got overwhelmingly reflected that. But some people were so desperate financially, that they were looking at this as a way to pay their bills. Which made no sense to me, because first of all, it’s a game of chance.

Second of all, I think the biggest amount we ever gave out in one envelope was about $200 and that won’t solve anyone’s financial situation long term. I just wish people who are struggling would invest in themselves more, and figure out a good career or business or investment path. It breaks my heart to see people struggling, but I can’t help everyone. I’ve already given more away last year than I ever planned to, and will continue to. But I am not a billionaire, and people need to educate themselves.

As a successful real estate investor and businessman, what tips do you have for people to better manage their money and “get ahead”?
Well, first I want to let people know that I have been broke and I have been in debt. I had to borrow money from friends and relatives at one point just to keep a roof over my head. It wasn’t that many years ago, and I remember it very clearly.

The thing is, once I hit rock bottom, I realized I had to grow up and change my attitude towards money. I don’t really get it when people hit rock bottom but they don’t really want to change. It’s like “Aren’t you fed up enough to want to change your life?”. Well, I was. So I started doing real estate and doing it very aggressively and buying and flipping and keeping some properties. Networking, marketing, learning – the whole nine yards.

My advice is first of all, find something you’re passionate about AND can make you a good living. If you’re passionate about poetry or karaoke, that’s a great hobby, but not a career. If you’re passionate about spending time at the gym or computers, that could be a career. Some people say “live your dreams” and other people say “Be practical”. I say you need a balance of both. I think making movies would probably be a cooler way to make money than flipping houses, so should I have gone to Hollywood to pursue that? What would my chances of success be? Probably less than 1 in 1000, no matter how talented and persistent I was. I love real estate, but I also realized it was a practical way to make a really good living and achieve financial independence. I personally think it’s the best way.

Sometimes the best thing you can give a person who is down is hope, not cash
So find a career you love and will pay you well. Maybe start a business in it. Or just get a good paying job in the career. It also depends what field. A doctor or attorney can make a 6 figure income without ever being self employed. But to use the earlier example, if you’re into working out at the gym, I can guarantee you the gym owner is making the big bucks and not the personal trainer working there. Although he might make a decent income too. It also depends how ambitious you are. Some people are fine with making $50K a year. I know I wouldn’t be. And Hidden Cash, which brought joy to thousands, would never have happened if I was making $50K a year. Neither would many amazing experiences I have personally been fortunate to have. Learn business skills. There are so many great books and free information out there on investing. Way beyond the scope of this interview obviously. Being a real estate guy, I like real estate of course as an investment. Rental properties are good. But so are solid dividend paying stocks and some other conservative investments that pay a decent rate. I don’t like bonds right now because rates are so low, you’re not even keeping up with inflation. But I would be conservative. You don’t want to work hard for your money and then risk losing it all on some penny stock or speculative investment. If you’re going to speculate, do that with maybe 10% of your money. Think of it as “Vegas money”, a gamble basically. A couple years ago, I bet $10K on Facebook by buying options. Basically, the stock just had to make a big move, either up or down, and I would have tripled or quadrupled my money. Well, it had been making big moves, both up and down, just before I bought my options. But of course, once I bought them, it just sat there, and my options became worthless. So I lost 10 grand. It sucked, but I could afford it. It would have been extremely foolish if that were my life savings. So don’t gamble, or if you do, set reasonable limits.

What other types of things have you got planned in the wake of Hidden Cash?
Well, right now we are doing #15daysofcash, which started on Valentine’s Day and goes to the end of February. We ask people what they’d like to do for a loved one, and every day we pick a winner, retweet them, and send them $100. We have been able to help people spend time with a distant relative, take care of their pets, get something for their Mom, honor a grandparent, take care of their wife, and much more. It’s been very gratifying. My partner in this venture, Yan, and I are going to brainstorm more ways to give back.

We want to do some local stuff, not just online. We’ve both been busy with our lives and careers, so it’s not like we do this full time, but we want to keep connecting with people this way. Especially as we have about 650K followers still. We also like inspiring people with positive messages. Not everything is about money. Sometimes the best thing you can give a person who is down is hope, not cash.

When can folks expect your book to be published?
We did an IndieGoGo campaign, which has now ended (may extend it at some point). We sold a few hundred books of “Hidden Cash: The Inside Story” and it also has some life and business advice in there. I am doing the final editing now and expect to send them out in the next 2 weeks (by mid March). The profits are going to Feeding America.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to wish all our followers the best. This has been an amazing experience, and although the cash drops are probably over, we will keep coming up with different ways to give back in a fun way. Without our fans and followers, this would have never been the amazing experience it has been.

You can follow Jason and Hidden Cash on Twitter @HiddenCash

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

2015 February 23
by Aaron

Let me just tell you – I’m no handyman. Most of my repairs are done with the aid of YouTube and the help of a trusted professional. So, when my wife said she had gotten something stuck in the garbage disposal the other day and it wasn’t working, my first thought was to think about who I knew that might be able to fix it.

Against my better judgment (and my better half), I decided to have a look underneath the sink and I started to tinker around.  read more…

How to Enable Ooma’s Expanded Blacklist Feature

2015 February 20
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by Charlie

charlie_imageLately, I’ve been getting a lot of annoying telemarketing calls and requests for donations on my home phone. Even though I’m on the “Do Not Call List”, I still have to deal with these folks. Luckily, since I have Ooma Premier services, I am able to leverage their new call blocking services. Ooma calls this new feature “Expanded Blacklisting”. Here is step by step process on how to take advantage of Ooma call blocking service.  read more…

7 Ways to Save Money Through Your Employer

2015 February 18
by Aaron

This post originally appeared on Three Thrifty Guys in 2010. Thought it was worth republishing again in 2015, in case you missed it.

One of your best ally’s in saving more money could be right next door to your cubicle: your employer. While every company is different, a majority of employers offer various perks to keep their people happy. Taking advantage of these could save you some decent change!

See if your workplace participates in any of the following:  read more…

How Much We Earned in Credit Card Rewards Last Year

2015 February 13

credit card rewardsIn 2013, I decided to share with our readers what we earned from using our credit cards sparingly over the course of the year. The total came to about $150.

Since that time, we decided to take advantage of these cash rewards a little more because they were fairly lucrative (as far as credit card rewards go). It seems that more and more cards are turning to rewards to help spur spending (and, I would assume) leads to folks not paying off the balances every month.  read more…

Head to a Small Town to Save Money on Entertainment (and More)

2015 February 11

Last week I helped my mother celebrate her 70th birthday by taking her out for a little dinner and movie. I was glad to be able to spend the time with her and didn’t think twice about spending money (which I think is important to do – even us thrifty types).

My mom lives in a small town with a population of about 5,000. It’s a nice little place with friendly and hard-working folks. Mom told me the other day that it takes her awhile to get through the grocery store sometimes because she runs into so many folks she knows.  read more…

Charlie’s Gift Card Challenge – Results (January 2015)

2015 February 9

charlie_imageOn January 1st, my family and I started our first ever gift card challenge. After Christmas we had accumulated $520 of gift cards and cash from the holiday season. When we added them all together it was hard to believe we had gotten so much converted cash.

Before the end of the year I approached my wife and asked her if we could survive on these gift cards for 21 days. With not knowing what we were stepping into and very little convincing needed, my wife and my kids set out to accomplish our goal.  read more…

Purchases We Make Our Great Grandparents Would Shake Their Heads At

2015 February 4
by Aaron

things grandparents would shake their heads atRecently, my friend Dave and I were visiting a burrito establishment for their BOGO offer and discussing life and money-matters. The subject soon turned to “things we purchase today that our grandparents would shake their heads at”. Knowing the generation that came before us has endured quite a bit by way of the Great Depression and war – thriftiness became a way of life for most.

While pondering this question for awhile – here’s a few things we came up with.  read more…

How to Make Sure Your Taxes Are Done Correctly

2015 January 30
by Aaron

Unfortunately, there is no way around doing your taxes. You either need to do ‘em yourself OR get someone knowledgeable enough about tax law to do them.

To top it off, you want to make sure they are done right.

A couple years ago, I wrote about how the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a study where they visited 19 different tax preparers. What they found was astonishing:  read more…

How to Link Your Ooma Phone to Your Nest

2015 January 28
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by Charlie

charlie_imageJust recently, Ooma announced that it had joined partners with Nest to connect your Ooma telephone service to your Nest devices. Now with your Nest, you can either utilize the “Follow Me” or “Check-in Monitoring” or “911 Alerting” service. However, in order to utilize your Ooma & Nest, here is what you need to get started.

Requirements

  1. Ooma Telephone Base Unit (currently $109.99 at Ooma.com)
  2. Nest Thermostat or Protect (CO2/Smoke Alarm) (ranges from $199.99 to $249.99)
  3. Ooma Premier Phone Service (about $10/month + $4 fees)

read more…