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8 Ways to Gamify Savings and Meet Your Financial Goals

Last week, we explored the importance of budgeting for fun and games. We discussed the importance of setting aside money just for things that bring you joy. After all, life is for the living. Make the most of it, even if that means spending some of your hard earned money every once in a while.

Today, we’re going to discuss another way to have fun–saving.

That’s not fun, you say? Well, ok…we admit, opening a savings account is not as fun as buying a jet ski or going out to dinner every night. But there are actually ways to make saving fun. And of course, if you really do a great job of saving, you will be able to spend at least some of that money having even bigger fun.

Perhaps instead of going out to dinner every night, you save toward a lavish vacation. But let’s take it one step at a time. How is it possible to make saving fun? Well, what if we made a game of it?

Of course, personal finances are not a game, and learning how to save money is very serious business in a sense. Your ability to live the type of life you envision depends on it, now and into the future. But adding game-like elements to your savings strategy can actually be a great way to pursue your goals with more enthusiasm while also learning how to make smart financial choices.

Why is Gamification a Good Idea?

In some ways, learning effective money management strategies is psychological in nature. While it obviously helps to make more money, it’s really about learning how to make the money that you do have work for you.

Financial literacy can obviously go a long way, which is why we’ve provided a basic overview of the things you should know to become a responsible steward of your own money. But there’s another element to spending and saving–one which is largely based on habit. Indeed, if you are used to finding personal gratification through spending and financial indulgence (no judgment), this can have a determinant impact on the brain’s reward circuitry.

You associate spending with the release of a chemical called dopamine. Well, the way financial gamification works is essentially through rewiring that circuitry, by creating new neural pathways between savings and that feeling of internal reward.

As Forbes explains it, “Gamification can put a unique spin on personal finances—an area many people consider dry or difficult to comprehend. For those seeking a way to level up their financial habits, adding a fun twist to traditional spending or saving may be worth exploring.”

Effective gamification strategies essentially motivate users to save money in exchange for intrinsic rewards. And there’s evidence that doing that can really help you reach milestones with greater ease and a whole lot more fun. According to Forbes, the premise behind any type of gamification is essentially “rooted in psychology.”

Take, for instance, the psychology behind fitness. Forbes points out that “Meeting small, daily goals with help from a device like a Fitbit taps into the brain’s pleasure centers associated with rewards. Collectively, those little dopamine hits serve as future motivation to nurture healthy habits.”

If you aren’t particularly motivated by the thought of exercise, I apologize for citing this particular analogy. But the point is that you can teach your brain to enjoy the internal reward that comes with meeting the goals you’ve set out for yourself. The result, say researchers, will be a decisive victory in the long game of building wealth.

So without further delay, let the games begin!

8 Ways to Gamify Saving And Reaching Your Financial Goals

1. Create Savings Challenges

At the most basic end of the gamification strategy, you must set realistic savings goals for yourself and frame these goals as challenges. For instance, make it your goal to save a specific sum of money every month, and raise that sum by small increments with each passing month.

Challenge yourself to stick to your monthly savings deadline and track your progress on the way to that monthly goal. You may find this challenge more difficult to achieve as the increments go up. Use this as an opportunity to see where you might be able to cut back on some of your day to day expenses.

Though fairly rudimentary, this monthly challenge may be the first step in forcing you to reexamine your approach to both saving and spending.

2. Reward Yourself For Reaching Milestones

The second step goes hand in hand with the first step. And in fact, rewarding yourself is a central component of gamification. The idea is to treat yourself with suitable and appropriately sized rewards for meeting incremental savings goals and for reaching major milestones in your savings journey.

If your goal is to reach the point where you can effectively save the recommended 20% of your paycheck, for instance, consider treating yourself for reaching that goal with a relevant reward. For instance, you might give yourself a day off from work. You could call it a mental health day. Indeed, giving yourself a nice little treat like this can be quite good for your mental health, especially if you know you’ve truly earned it!

There are plenty of other small ways to reward yourself. Every time you meet your monthly savings goal, you may consider rewarding yourself with a fun but modest purchase. For instance, reaching your monthly savings goal may earn you dinner out with friends. Reaching an annual savings goal may earn you a weekend getaway. Paying down a longstanding debt may earn you a concert ticket.

Not all of your rewards need to be financial, nor should they be. Celebrate meeting a small savings goal with an indulgent dessert, a family movie night, or an extra hour of your favorite activity.

On the other hand, if your reward is monetary, it’s also a good idea to squirrel away a little money from each paycheck to cover that reward. That way, you won’t offset your savings progress with that hard-earned treat.

3. Explore Gamified Finance Apps

The great thing about gamifying your savings is that there are countless apps out there that are specifically designed for this purpose. A whole cottage industry of innovative apps offer all kinds of fun ways to improve your spending and saving habits.

Look for budgeting apps that have gamification elements built-in. Sample a few to see what works best for you. Some allow you to earn points toward virtual rewards. Others use visualizations, progress bars, and achievement badges to mark your victories.

GiffGaff notes that some “budgeting apps might introduce a competitive element, such as comparing your spending to a national average, or even to your own spending from previous months. All of this works to keep you engaged with your finances in a way that doesn’t feel dull or tedious, but motivating instead.”

Forbes points to apps like Acorns and Qapital. With set it and forget it savings functions, these apps offer fun and easy ways to sit back and watch your investments grow. On the spending side, one popular app called Fortune City takes an extremely creative approach to gamifying your expense tracking.

Fortune City adopts the simulated city concept familiar to gamers with experience playing SimCity or other open-ended city building games. Fortune City uses the virtual city as a way to both engage and motivate users. In short, as you meet your spending and savings goals, your city will grow. It’s not only fun, but it provides a nuanced and enveloping way to see your financial progress in visual terms.

These examples are just a few of countless apps. Broadly speaking, gamified apps encourage users to save by adding fun to the mix. But it’s all about personal preference…having fun usually is. Play with a few of these apps and see which gamified experience motivates you.

4. Create Visualizations For Your Progress Tracking

What makes apps like Fortune City so effective is that they put your financial outlook into a visual context. This makes it both easier and more enjoyable to pursue your financial objectives. Because let’s be honest–there’s nothing quite like a good graph to put things into perspective.

…or a pie chart, or a progress bar, or whatever speaks to you. If you’d rather do it without the help of the apps mentioned in the section above, you can start with your own basic spreadsheet. Build a traditional budget sheet tracking your income, expenses, and savings.

Then, look for the various graphing and visualization elements that are built right into your spreadsheet program. Consider Google Docs as a good universal starting point. This is especially good for households with multiple incomes. Create a collaborative document where you can enter your respective data, then use the graphic functions that you find most compelling to track your shared progress.

If you’re the type who has to see it to believe it, creating a visual representation of your ongoing savings progress could truly inspire you to reach your financial goals.

5. Track Your Saving Streaks

In addition to rewarding yourself for small victories and major milestones, you also deserve recognition for your consistency. This is a great way to ensure that you remain committed to your goals over the long run.

For instance, you may pledge to save a specific amount of money every week for 6 consecutive weeks. You may pledge to put a higher percentage of each paycheck into your savings account for 10 consecutive pay cycles.

Challenge yourself to maintain a streak of consecutive days, weeks, or pay cycles of saving money. Set a minimum amount that you need to save each day or week, and strive to keep the streak going. In addition to giving you a new goal to work toward every few days or weeks, monitoring your savings streaks is an awesome way to build good saving habits.

6. Introduce New Savings Games Periodically

On the subject of building toward new goals on a regular basis, it helps to keep things fresh. Try to think up new challenges every once in a while and push yourself to succeed.

For instance, you might challenge yourself to shop at the grocery store only for sale items or items that can be purchased with a coupon for one month. At the end of the month, compare your total monthly grocery expenses to those of the previous month. See how much you saved. Then, try to top those savings in the next month. Take that extra money and add it to your savings.

Get creative. Challenge yourself to save for a fancy restaurant dinner using only the spare change from your shopping transactions. By the way, if most of your transactions are made using plastic or through ecommerce, apps like Acorns can actually help you round off that change and put it into a special savings account. In other words, you could build toward this challenge without even thinking about it.

These are just a few examples. It’s up to you to connect savings challenges with activities you enjoy. If you like to hike, make a five dollar donation to your exercise equipment fund in exchange for every day you spend on the trails. If you like to shop for clothes, match each frivolous purchase with a 20% transfer into savings. (Hint: If you can’t afford to do this, you probably shouldn’t be buying that frivolous article of clothing).

The point is, find fun ways to challenge yourself that are both relevant to your personal savings goals and that fit into the scope of your life. The more compatible your gamification strategy is with your actual lifestyle, the more likely it is that you’ll keep those good habits in the long run.

7. Go Head to Head With Your Loved Ones

A little healthy competition can really juice up any game. Instead of just competing against yourself, consider bringing a few other players into the savings arena with you. Have a savings showdown with a friend, family member or partner. Engage in friendly competition and even set rewards for the victor.

A word of warning first. Money can be a sensitive and personal subject for some. This is an activity only for those with a fairly close and open relationship regarding personal finance. Indeed, this is perhaps best suited for partners, intimate friends, or close family members.

The basic premise is that you set a time frame, establish rules, and compete to see who can save the most during that period. This is a great way to put away money for a family vacation or a major household purchase. To juice things up, set monthly prizes. For instance, the loser may cook the winner a nice dinner one month, or take over a household chore for a week, or cede Netflix binge-watching preferences to the victor for a few days.

Whatever motivates you and your competitor–make saving into a fun group activity.

8. Join Online Groups or Social Media Communities Dedicated to Saving

You may find it more rewarding to share in your savings journey with others who can relate. There are tons of online communities out there designed to help motivate users toward better financial literacy and spending habits. These can also be great settings for sharing your personal victories, learning about other success stories, and finding motivation in the support of others.

Not only that, but many of these communities will offer their own challenges. Compete with yourself while tracking your progress alongside others who are on a similar journey. You may find that a little positive reinforcement goes a very long way!