The Fun of Frugality: Gamifying saving to trick yourself into better financial decisions



We want to win.

As a species, we’re hardwired to want to win, to survive, to get ahead.

Scientists are now building research projects into video games where gamers can win in-game rewards for doing routine research tasks because humans want to get ahead, and are willing to spend time doing even the most boring thing to do it.

Numerous studies have shown that workout plans are more effective if shared socially, where your achievements bring at least the hope of social capital, or at least you face social punishment (mockery) for failure to adhere.  The November Project workout group takes this particularly far, bombing your social feed with “we missed you” posts if you miss an agreed upon workout.

While startups haven’t quite figured out how to gamify savings yet, and while silicon valley works on it, you can do it yourself.  My girlfriend and I signed up for investment based savings accounts at the same time, and with the same regular contributions, so for one to grow faster than the other, we have to actively decide to contribute more.  We regularly send each other our betterment reports, showing where we are, as we have a friendly competition to see who can save more for retirement.level_up_gamification_robix_gameboy.png

That game has lead to another game, picked up from comic book artist Joe Matt, which I call the “compound interest” game.  Warren Buffet suggests that we can expect something around 6-7% growth in money invested in a broad-based mutual fund over the long term (10 years or more).  So, $500 today, invested in something like vanguard, would be $3800 when I retire in 30 years.  When I am debating a $500 purchase, I think about the purchase, and the joy it will bring, and then I think about myself at retirement, and that $3800, and the number of early bird specials it might buy.

This doesn’t always mean I put the money away.  Some things will bring me enough immediate joy to be worth spending now.  And, after all, I might never retire, due to death, or loving my job.

But it’s a fun game to play, picturing what that money could be, and it helps clarify my decision making.

I guarantee, within five years, there will be a startup with a comparison savings game where you compete against your friends to see who can save the most.  Hopefully, it’ll also play the compound interest game, and show you how much it’ll be when you retire, and how much you might get with your money in the future.


Occasionally, Logix will invite members of the community to contribute to our blog. These guest posters are not licenced financial advisors, but rather bring unique consumer perspective to financial subject matter. The opinions expressed may or may not represent those of Logix.

Meet the blogger

Charles Haine

Charles Haine

A long time artist and contributor to the Citizens of Culture print and web magazine. He writes to promote conscious consumption and the idea of thinking before you spend.The views expressed are those of a discerning young consumer, not a financial advisor and may or may not reflect the views of Logix FCU.