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Save through gamification: how to gamify your savings

Updated on June 6, 2013
Coin shower from jeff_golden on Flickr
Coin shower from jeff_golden on Flickr

Gamification was a buzz word a few years ago, and even now, the trend is prevalent in the numerous apps and websites that try to hide healthy habits behind a veneer having fun. Gamification is where chores become a game, and it’s big business.

Because people are primed to play even as adults, gamification is an easy way for businesses to get customer engagement. Sometimes the gamification is pointless, adding layers of “fun” to otherwise worthless tasks. Other times, however, the gamification can help to encourage positive behaviors such as working out, walking, eating healthy foods, and saving money. Even using false tactics such as badges and artificial scarcity, the habits can be worth it for compound savings alone.

The U.S. is a nation of debt. There are people who are free from the burdens of minimum payments and interests, but more often than not, the passers-by have student loans, car payments, mortgages, and credit card debt. Because of this, the gamification of healthy finacial habits such as saving money and investing early is the key to later wealth.

TEDxKids@Brussels talk on gamification

Save and get XP

You don’t have to have an app to gamify your savings. As a game is just a set of rules, it’s easy enough to start simple habits on your own. The rules don’t have to be complex. For example, you could say that every time you get some change, you have to put the pennies into a bank. You could even add layers to your rules: if your change totals an even amount, it can go in your fun money savings. If the total is odd, you have to use it to pay a bill.

One program that gamifies savings is SaveUp, a reward program that unlocks prizes and achievements whenever you add to your savings accounts. Basically, each deposit is a credit. When the credits reach certain levels, then the player can trade them in for rewards such as sweepstakes entries, cash, cars, and even a well-earned vacation.

Mint, a personal finance site that helps you manage your finances, has some gamification elements as well.

Real-life Monopoly by HarshLight on Flickr
Real-life Monopoly by HarshLight on Flickr

Sometimes you have to lose to save

The key to gamification is in the framing of the game. With most every game, there is a way to win and a way to lose. Although saving is a great outcome, putting aside money that can’t be spent right away can be a drag. When you make your own rules, it’s important to determine whether you want the money saved to be a reward or punishment.

For the money to be a reward, for example, a lost game would result in money being spent. In this case, you could have the money go towards a cause you’re vehemently against in order to make a loss more unbearable.

For example, the program stickK punishes you if you don’t follow through with your goals. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to--in this case, save money--it will access your funds and send your money to a cause you don’t support. Although stickK is often used for weight loss goals, it could easily translate to financial goals as well.

Play money from mandiberg on Flickr
Play money from mandiberg on Flickr

Sign up for free accounts--and leave the money there

Some online savings accounts offer free signup bonuses. If you put so much into your account, for example, they’ll credit you with a little extra. Some people like to bounce from account to account to collect the bonuses, but one way to gamify your savings is to aim for the rewards and then keep the account open.

Imagine if you had four savings accounts, each filled with a bit of money. You could easily attach them to some other motivating factor--perhaps SaveUp or stickK--and make both the hunt for accounts and the filling of them a big game.

It's all about the mindset

For gamification to work, it’s all about your personal thoughts and habits. It’s not enough to make up some cute badges and arbitrary achievements. Badges might give you a quick hit of dopamine, but the pride is short-lived and the healthy habits won’t stick. If you make up your own rules--or use rules on apps and programs that resonate with you personally--you’re more likely to keep going.

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