100 world domination summit

The $100 That Changed My Money Life

A stranger hands you an envelope and says, “Inside this envelope, you will find $100.”

“You’ll also find some basic instructions,” he continues. “They’re really quite simple. Make an investment, start a project or invest in someone else. The money is yours, and what you do with it is up to you.”


I was attending The World Domination Summit (yes, that’s the real name), organized by Chris Guillebeau – internet-famous traveler, entrepreneur  and author of the $100 Startup. At the end of three days, I joined 1,000 of my fellow attendees in the auditorium and sat in shock as Chris explained that he was giving each of us a $100 bill in an envelope with those simple instructions: invest that money in yourself or someone else.

Check out the video below to see how it all went down:

What would you do with that $100?

I exited the theater with the other audience members and was promptly handed an envelope. The theater was buzzing with conversation. We were all wearing the same disbelieving, elated grin and asking each other the same question: “What will you do with your $100?”

I couldn’t stop smiling. Sure, I was thrilled to have been handed free money. But this wasn’t the same smile you get when you find $5 in your pocket. It was a challenge: it was my job to grow this money into something bigger. I was tasked with investing this money in myself or in others, and to watch the waves of that initial $100 ripple throughout the world.

There were no strings attached to the money, and yet I felt as if I carried the weight of the world.

It felt like this was the most important $100 I would ever spend in my life.

Credit: WDS 2012 Flickr Stream and Armosa Studios

How Intention Can Change Everything

It was a simple gesture: give a person $100, and see what they do with it. But that envelope fundamentally transformed the way I think about my finances.

I asked myself:

What if we treated every $100 with this much intention?

How would it affect our financial health? What kind of values could we teach our children with so much purpose behind a single financial decision?

My notion of money – something that you earn for the sake of supporting your livelihood – was flipped on its head. For me, money had been a scarcity, a finite resource to budget, to save and to spend. For the first time in my life, I saw money for what it really was: a tool to create value in the world.

In the days following the conference, I felt so many emotions about my $100 bill:

  • I felt abundance, knowing that I had what I needed in my life and I could freely give this money away.
  • I felt clarity, knowing that I was making a choice to use this money that had more emotional value than monetary.
  • I felt responsibility, knowing that it was my duty to invest my money wisely, and my decision would impact another person’s life.

It’s amazing when you remove money out of its day-to-day context – the endless cycle of earning and spending – how clear its purpose becomes.

Getting $100 never felt so good. And I know that giving it away will feel like a million bucks.

P.S. I’ve decided to invest my $100 in my brother who’s trying to build his career as a musician. It felt so great to give him the money with a copy of Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup and tell him the story of this money 🙂

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15 thoughts on “The $100 That Changed My Money Life

  1. Money Beagle

    That’s cool. You wonder what people will do with that and if there’s any way to track or log your ‘$100 story’. Let us know what you choose (no ideas yet, too early in the morning *lol*)

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      They are tracking it, actually! A lot of folks have donated it their money to charity:water (the founder spoke at the conference – it’s an incredible organization)

  2. Sara Carbaugh

    I love seeing this side of the $100 because to be honest it really has just been mocking me from my desk since I got home! I am having the hardest time thinking of the right thing to do with it because I feel like this is important and I don’t want it to go to waste!

    I really love how positive you are and I’m going to try to feed off of that as I think about what to do with my $100! : )

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      Thanks, Sara 🙂 My first reaction was “Ah, there’s so much pressure!” and then I realized, “Wait, there’s NO pressure. Because it’s free money and I get to determine what’s important to me and do whatever I do with it.”

      So just know whatever you do is right, and there’s no rush. And when you do think of something, it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks.

  3. Agatha

    LOVE this and I 100% agree. I think all money should be respected – no matter the amount. That’s why even when I find a mere penny on the street I am very grateful!

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      Totally. I think I was missing the respect and gratitude about my finances before this moment.

  4. jefferson

    I really, really love this concept. Putting this much focus on how you spend $100, and in turn applying that same focus to how you spend every $100 that you come across.

  5. Jacob @ iheartbudgets

    What a cool concept. I love the shift to thinking that your money is something you can use offensively, not just defensively. I definitely get caught up in the security aspect of money, thinking that I need to keep it around for safety and make sure I don’t run out. But really, I should be more concerned with what I can use it to for to effect a positive change. Thanks for the refreshing reminder 🙂

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      Yup, I definitely catch myself hoarding money so I feel more secure. Not anymore 🙂

  6. Whitney

    We did a project at our church once that was super fun. A missionary that we knew needed a vehicle so our pastor gave all of us $10. The object of the lesson was to turn that $10 into as much money as we possibly could. Several of us got together and created c.d.’s and tapes which we made $700 off of. So fun. Plus it was more fun to give the money away!

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      What a great story! It’s amazing how you can multiply the effect of a few dollars with a little creativity and purpose.

  7. Call Me What You Want Even Cheap

    What a great idea this is. I would think of a way to invest it, so I could double or triple my money, then I would give a portion of it away.

    This reminds me of the story in the Bible where the master gave three of his servants money according to their ability to manage it. He left for a period of time and came back and asked each of them what they did with their share.

    It would be interesting to check back after a year to see what everyone did with their $100 bill.

  8. Tackling Our Debt

    This is a very interesting exercise. I remember Oprah doing the exact same things with audience years ago. After a few months she followed up with some of them to see how they turned their $100 into thousands of dollars for charities and so on. It was amazing how creative people became.

  9. Hank

    This sounds like such an interesting social experiment. Thanks for sharing it. I’m fascinated to hear how people are putting their $100 to use.


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