If you've been around here for any amount of time, you know that we are a big fan of giving. So when I heard about these interesting “hidden cash” events going on in California where an anonymous person(s) hides cash and provides clues via Twitter as to its whereabouts – I was intrigued.
As is the norm (somebody always has to ruin the fun) – eager journalists just had to know who was behind these anonymous giveaways. After some investigation, they outed the man behind the “Hidden Cash” events. His name is Jason Buzi – a real estate investor – who (with some of his friends) started hiding cash as a way to “pay it forward”.
As he says, he is not an uber-wealthy fella – but that “he's done well the past few years” and wants to give back. All total, his group has given about $10,000-15,000 in hidden cash and plans to do more in the future.
Intrigued by his creative generosity, I emailed him a few questions and he graciously responded.
Do you hide the cash at night? Seems it would be hard to go unnoticed.
You would be surprised. For example, we announced last weekend that we will do a drop in Brooklyn, New York. There was a lot of media and anticipation around it. Yet, my friend went to Prospect Park, probably the best known park in Brooklyn, in the middle of the day, on a sunny Saturday, with thousands of people there, and people knowing we are about to do Brooklyn [and that we usually do parks], and found an area to hide the envelopes unnoticed. You just have to be careful no one is watching. Sometimes we do them at night.
What's the oddest place you've hid money?
In a public restroom on the toilet paper roll.
— Tatis Iolani (@tatisiolani) June 25, 2014
From your Anderson Cooper interview, Inside Edition was responsible for unmasking your identity. How has this affected your running “Hidden Cash”?
It hasn't really, except that it's harder to do the drops myself now. But I have done a couple, including Sacramento this week. What it has affected, though, is people hitting me up personally for financial help. The loss of privacy has been unpleasant at times. My family doesn't like it. But Hidden Cash itself is not majorly affected. I want to say again that it isn't just me, and that my time and resources are too limited to respond to personal requests for money, advice, mentoring, etc. Can't do it. Don't ask.
Seems like there are others doing their own “hidden cash” events. Is this what you had envisioned happening as a result of your efforts?
Not at all. This has been one of the totally unpredictable phenomenon with our success and growth. It started almost from the beginning, as soon as we started getting media attention. I want to emphasize we are in no way affiliated with any of these. If they're doing it legitimately, and for the right reasons – meaning selfless giving, not a business promotion, and no political or religious agenda – we support it. But we don't know these people, haven't spoken with any of them. Certainly haven't had a chance to vet them at all. Some appear to be legitimate. If so, great. We obviously cannot be everywhere at all times, and this seems to have struck a chord with people.
You recently tweeted the media is focusing too much on your wealth not enough on your creativity in generosity. Is there anything else you'd like others to know about what you are doing?
Well, they've made me (Jason Buzi) out to be a tycoon or billionaire. My friends and I were actually laughing about this. I'm nowhere near a tycoon or billionaire. Pure sensationalism. I've done well, especially these past few years, and wish to give back. Doing it in this way has been very gratifying. I've had a lot of creative ideas over the years. I'm a creative person. I've written a novel, I've wanted to make a movie. I just don't want to be known only as “the super rich guy hiding money”. I hope I can share my other creative endeavors with people in the future, especially my writing.
Who was most influential to you in teaching you about personal finance / generosity?
My parents taught me about being financially responsible, but for many years I was not. Generosity is something I was born with. You either have it or you don't.
Sounds like you have tried many businesses but chose to focus on real estate. You mention that “no capital of one's own is needed to get started” in it. Can you explain how this is possible and a couple other reasons why you recommend real estate to others?
You can make money finding deals for others and getting a % of the deal for putting it together and/or money upfront. You can get loans, investors. You don't need your own money. For example, let's say you can get a property worth $1 million for $700K. Even if you don't have a penny to your name, declared bankruptcy yesterday, are unemployed, and sleeping on your sister's couch, you can make money on that deal by bringing in investors who will pay you a finder's fee and/or a % of the profit after they resell it. My situation when I got started wasn't all that different from what I just described. I don't have a sister though :)
Have you ever heard of someone finding money and then re-hiding it, but adding cash to the pot?
Never. Nice idea though. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened (people taking the money and leaving the envelope, or even faking our name and leaving an empty envelope).
Do you think there is any liability in hiding money and someone would get hurt?
We've done everything possible to keep it safe but also taken measures to protect ourselves from legal liability. You can't control everything people will do, but we are being responsible.
When you tell others to “pay it forward”, is your hope they would turn around and give the found cash to someone in need?
Yes, if they can afford to. We want to maintain a spirit of fun and generosity and friendship with this, not greed and selfishness. You can't control what everyone will do, but we want to set that tone.
And, if you want to know more, Jason wrote an insightful essay in which he offers very helpful advice for the younger generation.
Update 8/12/14: Buzi announced he would be ending his “Hidden Cash” campaign after stating it had gotten too big to sustain.