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Using Gamification to Boost Your Progress to Financial Independence (+Giveaway!)

Today we’re talking about some geeky stuff, friends. But geeky in the best possible way. Of course, I can’t talk about geekiness and not think of this:

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

That, friends, is Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Hollywood, where Mark called in a favor from an old work contact and got us a VIP experience last week. Because he knew how gaga I would go over it, and he was right. It is to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway that we’re going to New York in May (NYC friends, make sure May 5 is in your calendar for the Manhattan meetup!), and short of owning a Hogwarts robe (because those things are expennnnnnsive) I’m as into this stuff as a grown ass person can get.

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

An awkward, rushed selfie in Ollivander’s before the wand fitting began. Sadly, we do not possess the magical gift.

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

Mark “enjoying” the crazy sweet $7 (not comped) butter beer.

But we’re not here to talk about Harry Potter geekiness today. We’re here to talk about money geekiness. Specifically how you can use one of the very best parts of geek culture — gaming and gamification — to boost your progress to financial independence.

And there’s a giveaway, too! Which is a lot like magic!

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

I’ve been writing this blog for a bit more than three years now, but I’ve been going to town with spreadsheets and graphs for far longer. Why? Because it makes personal finance so much more fun. Just creating a budget for the sake of having a budget is no fun at all, and saving money just to save money is hardly motivating and could end up feeling like more of a sacrifice than it is.

But when you start tracking progress over time, and building that out into pretty graphs, you feel the progress in a different way, you get motivated to try to speed that progress up and some of that fun factor creeps in. I defy anyone to come up with a more fun way to spend a Friday evening than updating spreadsheets and graphs! (Just kidding.) ;-)

Well, turns out that, without realizing it, I was actually gamifying our finances by doing our tracking that way. And I think that has more than a little to do with us reaching our goal. Apparently I’ve been a big fan of financial gamification all along, and that’s why I’m so excited for today’s post.

Interview with Kristin Wong, Author of Get Money

My friend Kristin Wong’s new book Get Money came out yesterday. (Note: That’s an affiliate link. Keep reading for more from me on this, because I’m pushing for more blogger transparency.) It’s Get Money like “Go get that money!” but more so a book to help you “get” money. Get it? ;-)

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

Kristin is a long-time finance writer for New York Times, Lifehacker (you might recall her Basics of FIRE piece) and a whole bunch of other sites you know and love, and she’s embracing her full money geekiness in the book. JD Roth wrote a great review of Get Money on Get Rich Slowly that you should definitely check out (spoiler: he loved it), but we’ve got a special treat here. Kristin and I chatted about how both her book and its core premise — gamification of your money — can be applied specifically by those working toward financial independence or early retirement.

Enjoy the interview, and stay tuned for info on a giveaway at the end of the post!

Kristin Wong, Erin Lowry, Liz Thames, Cait Flanders and Tanja Hester at FinCon17

Kristin in the middle, with my other author friends (Erin Lowry, Liz Thames and Cait Flanders), at FinCon17 in Dallas last year.

Tanja: Congrats, Kristin, on launching your first book! I’m so excited for the world to have more from you in book form, and I’m especially excited to talk with you about Get Money on Our Next Life, because folks here will relate big time to the money geekiness. ;-) First off, what inspired you to write Get Money?

Kristin: I’ve been writing about money for about five years. And I’ve always used writing as an exercise to work through my own issues. I did that with money. I had no idea how to manage my finances, and I was tired of being broke, so I started blogging about it over at Get Rich Slowly. My writing resonated with readers, and the more I began to understand how money works, the more my writing took off, and I started contributing to places like Lifehacker, NBC News, Bankrate. Eventually my friends took notice, and they were like, “Girl, I didn’t know you had your financial sh*t together! Teach me what you know about money.” Whenever they said this, I always wished I had a book I could give them that included the best financial lessons I’d learned. So I thought, why not write that book? But I knew it wasn’t enough to explain basic money concepts to people. The old “knowledge is power” maxim does not always ring true when it comes to money. People don’t get their finances in order by simply learning about compound interest. They need to feel a sense of power, confidence and control over their money. So I really tried to focus on that with the book: helping readers gradually feel they’re “winning” at personal finance. It sounds nerdy, but I think it works!

Tanja: I know a big focus of yours in the book is to get really clear on your big life goals and values before you set your money goals, which is a lot like the “What is your ‘why’?” question that we talk about in the FI space. From your vantage point, why is focusing on life before money so important, maybe especially as it relates to FIRE?

Kristin: Money is just a tool. When we die, our regrets are never money-related. We regret not spending enough time with family, or not seeing our friends often enough, or working too much.

But the thing is, money affects all of those things. It can rule your life. For example, without money, it’s hard to go visit your friends across the country. Money can keep you in a job you hate, where you’re overworked and don’t get to spend time with your family. This is why it’s so important to learn how to master money. If you focus on money, and all of your goals are about money, then money is still ruling your life, in a way.

Money is meant to be used as a tool. If you know what you want to accomplish in life, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to that tool to make those accomplishments happen. And I think this is applicable when it comes to FIRE. For me, the main draw of FIRE is the freedom of not having to consider money in my decisions. I want to be able to do everything I want — write books, visit friends, travel — without having money rule my life. Reaching FIRE is just like reaching any other money goal. You have to identify why it matters to you, why it’s meaningful, so that you actually have the motivation to stick with it — and so you know how much you need.

It’s also worth noting that there are some things FIRE will not solve. If you hate your job and don’t know what you want to do in life, FIRE is not necessarily going to solve that. I think you need a clear understanding of how you can use FIRE as a tool to accomplish your goals.

Tanja: I love the idea of using FIRE itself as a tool! And thinking of money as a tool and not as a status symbol is something that puts you in good company here! While the FIRE community talks about using money to let you never work again, that is only one definition of “financial independence.” FI could also mean not relying on others for support and having enough money to be able to turn down work that doesn’t speak to you, so you have control over what you say yes to.

Kristin: Totally. I think the key word is independence. I think of FI as independence from money. Like, you don’t have to worry about it as much, and if you do work while you’re in FI, it’s just “extra,” you know? To me, financial independence has nothing to do with whether you work or don’t work. The allure of it, for me at least, is being able to make decisions without having to think so damn much about money.

Tanja: One of the things that really sets your book apart is your focus on gamification of your money. As someone who enjoys a bit of XP here and there, this really spoke to me. Can you share more about what gamification is, for those who aren’t already familiar?

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

My usual source of XP, in addition to the money graphs.

Kristin: A lot of people think of gamification as a gimmicky, geeky “points and leaderboards” type of thing. But when done right, gamification is so much more than that. It’s all psychological. Gamification is essentially the process of using elements of game design to make otherwise mundane tasks more engaging and fun. When “users” are engaged, they feel motivated and empowered and they want to complete the task at hand.

Think of the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstakes. Buying a Big Mac? Not terribly exciting. But when you add rewards to the mix, suddenly you want to buy more Big Macs. And there’s this idea of competency: you feel you’re actually making progress and moving through the “game.” Buy more fast food, make more progress.

Not to knock McDonald’s, but you can use that concept for healthier habits, like building a budget or getting out of debt. These things are boring! Nobody wants to do them! So in the book, I use many of the elements of game design to motivate readers to complete these otherwise mundane money tasks. I wanted to make them gradually feel they’re “winning” at personal finance. So as they read the book, do the exercises, take the quizzes and complete the assignments, they feel a bit more empowered over their money.

One of the more complicated elements of game design is feedback. Users need to feel like they’re on the right track with their progress. This was hard to do with a book! So I actually take the book online. You can go to a website to watch video tutorials, download worksheets, get feedback in the Get Money group and so on.

Tanja: How do you think people pursuing FIRE especially can use gamification of their money to help them reach their goals?

Kristin: Here are just a few elements of gamification, based on Yu-Kai Chou’s framework in the book Actionable Gamification, along with some ideas for using these elements with FIRE.

Epic Meaning: Users need to feel like they’re contributing to a bigger picture. In practice, this is why it’s important to establish WHY you want to be financially independent in the first place. What does FI represent to you?

[Tanja’s addition: The idea of FIRE as a tool fits really well here, too. What will achieving FIRE allow you to do that adds meaning to your life? Answer that and then undertake your epic quest!]

Social Influence: Users need feel connected with others going through the task. You’re reading this blog, so that’s a good start. Join FI groups. Get an FI accountability partner. Any method that offers feedback on where you’re at in your FI journey will motivate you to stick with the goal.

[Tanja’s add: This doesn’t have to mean spilling all your numbers to others, but find support online or in real life so you have folks cheering you on.]

Accomplishment: Reward yourself! This is also known as “gold star” effect. Users need to feel a sense of progress and accomplishment going through the process. So reward yourself for your FI savings milestones!

[Tanja’s add: You know I am a big believer in the gold stars. Award them to yourself shamelessly, and then throw in a real reward for the big milestones.]

Tanja: I completely agree with those ideas. And even just thinking about them as a game makes the whole journey more fun, like a quest instead of a slog. So this is outside the topic of your book, but do you think of yourself as on the FIRE path?

Kristin: It’s definitely something I’m interested in for all those reasons I mentioned. Right now, I’m sort of in the “what is your why” stage. I want to figure out what I want for this next stage in my life, what it takes to get there, and how FIRE fits into all of that.

Tanja: That makes total sense. I can’t wait for people to read your book! 

Gamification Takeaways

There’s lots more in Kristin’s book that folks at all levels of financial knowledge will find interesting, but here are a few takeaways from this interview, Get Money and my own thinking about how we inadvertently gamified our finances, which helped us level up again and again:

Identify Your Own XP (extra points) — There are a lot of things you can track, but ask yourself which metric gives you most pleasure. For us, it was always dumping more into our taxable index (phase 1) funds, so that was our XP. The thing that fires you up the most is the thing that will keep you focused on the goal, so make sure you’re earning some of that XP, even if it’s in tiny increments, to keep the journey fun and to make sure you continually feel the progress.

Find What Gives You a Sense of Control — I’m positive the “latte factor” is a thing because it’s not only a good example of how small numbers add up over time, but also because it’s a great example of a discretionary purchase that’s entirely within your control. So encouraging people to cut out the lattes and save the money instead gives them an immediate boost in their sense of control, which improves their likelihood of sticking with a plan to reach their financial goals. Figure out even a small habit that you can focus on that improves your financial position, and build a positive streak there.

Make It Pretty — You can interpret “pretty” to mean whatever you want, and it doesn’t even have to be aesthetically beautiful, but find a way to track your finances that makes you happy to look at it. I love doing charts in PowerPoint, but lots of people love bullet journals or incredibly detailed spreadsheets whose beauty is in their complexity. The more you like looking at it, the more you’ll engage with it and stay on track.

Reward Yourself — Not to be confused with “Treat Yo’self,” reward yourself for hitting milestones, even little ones, just as you would earn new characters or prizes in a game. Every time we hit a particular increment in our savings or in paying down the mortgage, we’d cook ourselves a nice dinner, and we popped Champagne for the bigger milestones. That made the journey more fun, too.

Transparency and Affiliate Links

I’ve said it before, but it’s always worth repeating: I will never stop plugging friends’ books. ;-) Even if they send me one for free, I always buy one too, and then recommend them here if I like them. Which is great for friends, but poses a problem when it comes to the question of whether to take a cut of those sales in the form of affiliate links… blogger transparency and all.

OurNextLife.com // Using gamification to boost your progress to financial independence or early retirement

One copy purchased, and one to give away!

For years, I just posted straight Amazon links and didn’t make a penny off anyone’s sales. Those free recommendations helped the Charltons sell a bunch of copies of their book, and I was happy to support early retirees who’d helped us develop our plan. But gradually, blogging got more expensive. Boosting up the design and features of the site meant paying for a more robust hosting package. Dropping photos into every post means paying for Photoshop. Maintaining an email newsletter list costs soooooo much more than you’d imagine if you’ve never seen the prices on these things. Even without talking about travel to FinCon, which I mostly see as a way to hang out with a bunch of friends in one place, blogging became a very expensive hobby. And given that we already had skiing as a non-negotiable line item, it seemed like a bad call to maintain multiple expensive hobbies. But I was also not willing to give this up.

Of course, you already know how I feel about putting ads here, and about plugging certain financial or web hosting products just because they give a big kickback. No shade on bloggers who do that stuff, but it’s not for me. I realized, though, that I’d always plug friends’ books, and also that Amazon probably has plenty of money at this point and can stand to give up a few pennies on each transaction.

And so I made peace with posting a very limited number of affiliate links here, on the Resources page, and with a very specific and limited goal: to cover my out-of-pocket costs associated with running this site. I said so on the Resources page when I changed the links to affiliate links, but I’ve recently beefed up the disclaimer, because I think readers deserve to know why I’m recommending my list, and whether they can trust that, or whether I’m only recommending stuff for the kickback. So here’s what the Resources page says now:

[UPDATE: I’ve tweaked this language to allocate any income above costs to charity, thanks to the many excellent suggestions to do so in this post’s comments.]

Our Next Life is not monetized, for a whole bunch of reasons. However, there are some large costs involved with operating the blog and newsletter that make this an expensive hobby, one that’s hard to justify on a retired budget. The books I recommend include affiliate links, and the revenue from them (around $.46 per book purchased) covers a small fraction of the out-of-pocket costs of providing ad-free, unsponsored content to you at no charge. My aim with the affiliate links is — absolute best case — to break even on out-of-pocket expenses, so that providing this content isn’t a money pit for us. But here’s my commitment: In any calendar year in which affiliate income fully covers the cost of web hosting, photo editing and email list maintenance (the latter is the biggest expense by far!), I will donate all earnings above and beyond expenses to charity directly or to our donor advised fund for charitable giving, for the remainder of that year. And of course I’m thrilled if you go check these books out at the library instead!

And now you know the deal.

(P.S. I treat our podcast sponsorship money on The Fairer Cents the same way, and use any extra beyond podcasting expenses — which are high! — to offset blogging expenses.)

The Get Money Giveaway!

I’m super excited to be able to give away a copy of Kristin’s book courtesy of Hachette Books! (Of course you can short-circuit this process and guarantee yourself a copy by buying it here. Or, you can always help an author out by requesting that your library purchase both a hard copy and an e-book license of that title. Library sales are real sales that support authors, and they cost you nothing beyond the tax dollars that are already keeping the library’s lights on.)

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post stating your favorite way to gamify your finances, or something from this post that you’re going to try. (See the interview above if you need inspiration!)

Comment entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. Pacific time (my time) on Sunday, April 1, 2018. The contest is open to anyone with a mailing address in the U.S. or Canada, and I’m happy to ship it to a winner outside that zone if you’re game to pay the difference in postage.

Good luck!

(As always, if you wish to comment but not be entered, just say so and I’ll count you out.) ;-)

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68 replies »

  1. I’m competing with my sister to see who gets closer to zero waste on throwing out groceries. I got a perfect score on the first level (month) but need to replay level two with less unplanned eating out!

    On the affiliate links, I’d rather see you keep the links up and donate the excess to charity. Free money for doing good!

    • I love that idea. My BFF and I were just talking about how much we spend on groceries and then end up throwing away stuff we don’t use. I think I’ll suggest that challenge to her. Great idea!

  2. When I was repaying my student loans, I started out trying to “sneak” money into an extra payment each month. Like, if I bought paper at Staples with a rebate, I would put the rebate gift card towards my loans with the rationale that I hadn’t missed the money for the 6-8 weeks it took for the gift card to show up. Eventually it evolved into a game of matching things with a dollar value that could go into the extra payment: baked bread instead of buying it at the store? Add the amount saved to the extra payment! It worked! :-)

    As far as affiliate links go, they don’t really bother me, especially considering how clearly you disclose them. I hold the power to decide whether or not I’m going to click the link and whether or not I’m going to end up buying that product, after all!

    I’m actually very interested in seeing more of your thoughts on blogging as a not-so-frugal hobby. I wasn’t expecting to hear that!

    • That’s so smart–actually save the money you “save.” There’s a whole section in the book on savings rules like these. I’m a big fan of them. They encourage you to actively WANT to save.

  3. Now I understand your reply to my side hustle comment about not breaking even. I had no idea how much it cost to run a blog. I will say this though, from a UX perspective, your site is one of the most enjoyable to come to. It’s very clean and restful for the eye. So whatever you’re spending on an editing and photo package is well worth it. And good for you for figuring out a way to try and break even and support your friends at the same time.

    I like the idea of gamification to achieve goals. I’ve been reading books about developing habits lately and maybe turning some of the habits I’d like to develop into a game might help me do better with them.

  4. I didn’t realize it until much later in my life, but the gold star effect is crucial. Those small little rewards keep you going. Your will power can only do so much… little rewards can keep that motivation going. What I always struggled with was that those gold stars came at a cost and when you’re thinking about money, there’s a tendency to keep saving vs. spending a small amount on a gold star.

    As for monetization, you could always look into site patrons/benefactors? I know it has the feel of passing the hat, which you may or may not like to do, but it could defray the costs so you are subsidizing all of our educations in FIRE. :)

  5. Ha! This reminds me of something one of my daughters’ teachers told us one: that she could teach them just about anything as long as she turned it into some sort of a game in which the kids could compete. It sounds kind of crass in retrospect, but darn – it worked! It’s funny how things don’t really change a we get older….

    For me, the act of saving & seeing my balances go up as a result is kind of a rush. There have been times where I’ve thought about pulling some money out to spend it on something, but I don’t want to upset my progress (and lose points!) by doing so. Funny how the act of saving can be motivating in and of itself. Just have to see how that works when the market eventually tanks ….

    • Haha, you totally can! I actually tell this story in the book, but when I was kid, I tricked my little brother into picking weeds because I told him he would get “points” for every weed he picked. Points for what? It didn’t matter! Suddenly a boring chore became fun. You can do the same thing with money, and get the good news is, it benefits you directly (as opposed to your lazy older sister).

  6. I’ve been a big believer in gamification for almost exactly a decade now. In 2008, a company called Money Strands got a bunch of All-Star personal finance bloggers together (J.D. Roth, Jim Want, Harlan Landes, to name a few). I was invited probably because I was local to event ;-). They were looking for feedback on building the next Mint, because everyone was obsessed with Personal Finance Management (PFM) apps back in the day.

    I wanted to see two things from the software:

    1. A way for people to write “extensions” of financial information. I wanted to see a developer community able to create their own widgets that were helpful them. It would be something in between what you’d get from PFM (Mint, Personal Capital) today and a spreadsheet.

    2. A focus on gamification. PFM software mostly works in isolation. There’s been very little progress in this area. I’d love for my second act to be in this, but I’d need a lot of financial help (maybe some people in the community reading this can contact me).

    Finally, I’d offer another suggest rather than just removing the affiliate links. Why not donate any extra money to the Plutus Foundation or some other non-profit that promotes financial literacy?

  7. I enjoyed the interview! We’re old souls on saving money, but occasionally find that opportunity to really turn something into a game. It may be the proud moment of spending as little as possible on a vacation via travel hacking or the weekly game of buying the loss leaders from the local full price grocery stores or watching for that item we need at Costco to hit the three level discount (Item not returning, then a double mark-down).

    As a side note, loved the Hogwarts picture. In our bigger spending days and when my wife was practicing, she had a random Wednesday off so I surprised her with a 24 hour trip to Orlando right after it opened. Spontaneous for an otherwise pretty retentive planner

  8. Every January I start the 52 week savings challenge with my coworkers. Then we check every month to see who is still saving according to the calendar. Not only I encourage them to save as well but the friendly competition gives us accountability.

  9. For us trash is a game. We have a small can, which is cheaper, so we have to be careful to keep under the limit. For retirement there are certain milestones, but haven’t really thought of awards since everyday seems pretty great to me.

  10. My gamification so far has been pretty basic – just a big spreadsheet where I track all my expenses, income, and taxable/tax-advantaged accounts. I’ve created a routine where I begin my day with 5 minutes of inputting the prior day’s expenses (if any) and checking my progress against whatever goal I have in mind for that month. I also made a year-by-year comparison sheet and that’s always a huge boost to see how my accounts have grown and my spending has become more aligned with my goals/values (e.g., less restaurant spending, more donations). I’m trying to think of what reward to give myself when I pay off my final law school loan in August – your example of a nice home-cooked dinner makes me think maybe some type of themed potluck with friends would be fun!

    Just requested Get Money from the library and am excited to check it out for more ideas! Thanks as always for a great blog – it’s the only one I consistently read after finding the FIRE blog world a couple years ago!

  11. Commenting without entering: So many books I need to catch up on! Is it sad that I read more blogs than books these days?

    I never really thought of it as gaming, but I do keep/post a spreadsheet comparing one month’s net worth numbers to the next, with comparisons to where I started. And I set goals for the year in the areas that are priorities to us (right now, paying off credit card debt).

    I have no issue with blogs being monetized, and agree with the previous comments that maybe anything over blog costs should be donated? As you said, Amazon doesn’t need the extra money!

    Aside from annoying popups and overly using sponsored posts, one of my biggest beefs is bloggers who tout that anyone can own a blog for $3/month. I get it, Blue Host probably pays them a fortune for those links. But A) I have a small blog that I admittedly don’t put enough time in to, and don’t have all the add ons that most blogs have, and it still costs me several hundreds of dollars a year to keep it up and running. And B) It gives readers that don’t blog the impression that blogging is an incredibly cheap hobby/career. Which, I feel, makes them more likely to be upset when a blog does monetize. Most people have no idea how much it costs to run a blog like this, that is visually appealing and user friendly. It isn’t just a matter of the time put in to it.

  12. I love games. I think I spend way too much time gaming when I’m home, but it’s all right, because I’m getting in to using Twitch.tv to monetize (omg super nervous). My SO and I used to play this game on Kongregate (a free game website, go figure) called “Adventure Capitalist” where you start out with a small sum, invest the money in businesses, and as you earn more, you can invest more, then new options open up, and then eventually angel investors become a thing, etc.. And I started seeing our money in the same vein. The more we pay off debt, the closer we get to “mega” investing in businesses (via the index funds in our 401k’s and brokerage accounts) where we get a return, and that return is reinvested back into the whole venture, and it just keeps snowballing. Now, I doubt we’re going to get to a point in life where we’re at thirty zeroes after the 1 (we can’t even pronounce the monetary terms anymore..the septadecamegazilitribillion or whatever dollars) and we’ve actually stopped playing ’cause it was just too ridiculous at one point.. But I now keep spreadsheets that track both debt paydown and investment increases so we have those visual markers to get excited about. Seeing that debt line chart drop SO much in one month to the next is actually quite exciting!

    The first “badge”, or whatever I come up with, will come at $0 debt (eeeh not counting the mortgage because the return is not as good as the market and that’s a 30 year thing and we don’t need that demotivater for 30 years.. [but we do pay an extra $50/month or so just because :) ]) and I am trying to come up with a creative way to mark our milestones. We both love WoW so maybe some sort of loot-themed thing for each level we pass (each level will be every $50K or 100K increase) but I’m not sure how to show it. I briefly had an advent calendar idea (even with the chocolate!) but I don’t know. I’d pull a Bad Santa and open it all up at once and eat it all. Maybe I’ll make designs of some sort (I am trying to be crafty, another facet on Twitch I’d like to explore) and we can hang up the pretties on the wall? You know what might help? Browsing Pinterest for ideas. But boy do we love our hits of dopamine at game milestones! :D

    I agree with above posters, I love the simple not-cluttered-with-ads look of your blog. There aren’t ads between the paragraphs, on the sides flashing at me, etc. The only thing that bothers me, but it’s not specific to you only, is all the side clutter with all the various social medias, updates, and such. However, I will say that I totally understand the reason for it (I’m going to have to get used to it for Twitch, so yes, I understand the reasons) – I just don’t look at any of it because mind overload. :) Hmm donating the extra sounds like a grand idea because it goes to a good purpose. :)

  13. Once I started tracking net worth and income vs. expenses in a spreadsheet, it made saving money way more satisfying. Sometimes it’s hard to see what the increases mean when they’re just in your budget, but having a graph is really rewarding proof that I’m making progress!

  14. Thanks for the interview (and the post, as always). I know nothing about gaming, but I found these theories about elements of gamification in FI very interesting, particularly around the issue of “epic meaning”:

    “Epic Meaning: Users need to feel like they’re contributing to a bigger picture. In practice, this is why it’s important to establish WHY you want to be financially independent in the first place. What does FI represent to you?”

    That is possibly the most important pursuit (in other words, “epic quest”) for us right now, this sense of “contributing to a bigger picture” and finding meaning.

    (ps–As someone who reads and teaches more traditional epic tales, it’s interesting for me to discover these cross-sections. Thanks!)

  15. Again, here it is. FI – FREEDOM to make decisions outside of the money constraint. I also need to learn to give myself more gold stars; I set myself “rewards,” but by the time I get there, I talk myself out of spending the money.

    Also, another suggestion on the affiliate links – why not keep them for the entire year no matter what and beef up your DAF with anything beyond break even?

  16. I’m using an app just for my discretionary spending that tells you if you’re over or under for the month. It allows me to print out all my cash transactions at the end of the month too. It’s fun to check every day and see where I am as I agonize over buying something silly.

  17. The game I use is to have my savings buckets race. I had an IRA from a previous job vs my current job 401k (sadly? the 401k crushed it in roughly half the number of years worked and ended that game). Now I am doing 401k vs all buckets combined. Since my 401k is a fairly constant increase I pit that vs After Tax Savings, HSA, IRA from last job combined.

    The combined pot is pulling ahead so I’m starting to instead look for hitting certain plateau differences between the two.

    It feels strange to be rooting for some pots more than other, but it gives me something extra to look at when updating spreadsheets.

  18. So this sounds like an amazing book! FIRE is a long slog, so why not make the process more fun with some gamification? I love the concept of gold stars (I’m such a gold star-seeker, too) and need to be better about awarding myself them. Hitting a 40% or even 50% savings rate in a month is a damn amazing accomplishment, and while I do get to celebrate a little when I write that out in a post, I’d like to be better about allowing myself to celebrate it personally, too.

    I also use a microsavings app that’s all about the gamification since I’ve got it linked to my Fitbit. I hit my steps goal for the day? $3 to savings for me! I hit my distance goal as well? Another $3 to one of my savings goals! I’ve been known to go out for an evening stroll to get my last 1k or so steps in for the day to hit my goal, so it’s a double win on the health side as well.

    PS love the extra transparency of the affiliate links. I’ve got a grand total of one post so far with an affiliate link and I’m trying to figure out how best to put out the disclaimer about how I plan to use them sparingly to (hopefully?) cover my hosting fees. I’ll be taking inspiration from this!

    • Thanks, Erin! I love using savings apps to help with goals, too. Qapital and Tip Yourself are two of my favorites. And since we’re talking transparency, I get nothing for mentioning those here, except maybe the satisfaction that someone else will enjoy them too :)

  19. I’m a spreadsheet kind of person too. I like this concept of gamifacation, as it relates to person finance – but I also have to keep myself in check! Paying down our mortgage is what really gets me excited, but logically I know we need to balance paying down the mortgage with growing our investments. But immediately after reading this I pulled up my mortgage tracker spreadsheet and started plugging in numbers to see how quickly we could pay down the mortgage if we threw every dollar we have at it. The “how quickly can I pay off the mortgage game” can be a dangerous one to play! Certainly fun to think about though, and good when taken with a dose of moderation.

    I just put a hold on the book at the library!

  20. Tanja, I firmly believe that sticking to your principles and maintaining transparency about affiliates and plugs contributes in a big way to the trust and credibility that you’ve earned from your followers and fellow bloggers. In a world where ethics seems to have taken a backseat to personal gain and power, it’s both refreshing and reassuring.

    Managing our discretionary spending is big in our household, especially since we’re technically on “fixed income” now that I’ve retired. Making and enjoying great meals while minimizing food waste is easily accomplished now that we can take the time to plan and prepare instead of just eating out. I’ve experimented (successfully) with new recipes and am a big fan of sous vide cooking. And while I still like my Peets coffee every day, I buy whole beans and hand grind them each morning for my morning cup of joe.

    Also, we’re definitely into rewarding ourselves for exceeding goals and major milestones. While we have vacation plans built into our post-retirement budget, we are also looking at making bucket list adventures a reward for exceeding our financial goals each year.

    (By the way, my daughter is a huge Potterhead. She’s a Hufflepuff and yes, she has a robe – sewn by one of her talented cousins because as you say they are crazy expensive otherwise – and an interactive wand for casting spells around Hogsmead at Universal Studios Hollywood.)

  21. Making money a game is critical to success! My tip is to treat ALL of life like a game. My body is the tool (avatar) I use to play the game. My mind (meat computer), is actually WHO I am. Life is the greatest-ever open-world game! Enjoy it to the fullest; help others; have awesome experiences. Money is a tool that helps you achieve all of this. So, spend it on only what matters to you.

  22. I’ve never really been a (video) “gamer” but I do like personal challenges. I guess my current challenge has been to eliminate my debt as fast as possible, but after reading this I think turning it into a game would definitely motivate me more! If I read this book, I’m sure it’ll help me develop a game for myself to accomplish my debt elimination and eventually FI !!!

    • You can do it, Roger! I felt the same way when I was paying off my debt. (I actually wrote an entire chapter on ‘supercharging’ your debt payoff plan in the book). I wanted to get out of it as fast as possible, and looked for any opportunity to throw “extra” money at it.

  23. Ebay Upcycling! Frugalwoods’ virtues of sourcing “pre-owned” becomes a game if you can achieve zero trade deficit on eBay, craigslist, or FB mktplace, next-door or ?? $ accumulated from unwanted items are “free budget” to pursue new passions & keep a small stuff footprint!

  24. I’ve always been a fan of making money goals more interesting and fun – and if I reach a goal with money to spare – I love putting it as a “surprise bonus” into one of my other savings objectives. So I get a double win and it keeps me on track to keep hitting those lofty goals 😊

  25. For me it’s setting up automatic transfers and deposits but also spreading them out a bit so that every week there’s something that feels like “progress”. I’m either getting paid, or my transfer goes through and I need to buy etfs. Helps to keep the goal front of mind!

  26. I like the extra points concept. I am going to try to implement that with our taxable account savings as well. Right now, with day care costs for two kids, it’s a stretch for us to save much beyond our maximum pre-tax contributions & tiny college savings goals these days. For us, saving more in taxable accounts would certainly be “extra points,” and conceptualizing it that way may help make it happen more often. Thanks!

  27. I’m really interested in winning the book. One of the principles I’m most excited to try is “Find What Gives You a Sense of Control.” I am still struggling with this and could use some serious guidance! Thanks!

    • Yes! The entire book is designed with that in mind–to help readers feel gradually more in control as they read. We have a bunch of fun money challenges to help with this, too. I’m a huge fan of money challenges (and will actually be hosting a new one every year in the Get Money Facebook group). Good luck!

  28. I like “Reward yourself” from time to time. Hit a certain milestone? Let’s reward ourselves by going out for a nice dinner. Would love to win the book.

  29. Thank you for the contest. All the ideas in the comments helped me solidify what might be doable for me. I read the post often but have not been actively pursuing FI .. mostly I feel like I am drowning in debt. So, I’m going to set up automatic payments and set a very manageable savings goal.

    I would love to win the book!

  30. It sounds like you’ve read some Jane McGonigal! Love her and Super Better- fun ways to gamify your whole life. My next “level up” is reaching out to some friends to look for a side hustle (my third). :)

  31. Great post today, and thanks for the explanation regarding the affilliate links.

    My way of gamifyng is having my google spreadsheets send me an email the instant our net worth or investments hits a 100k milestone. This way I have the exact date and time of every milestone. The best is when I look back at all these emails, and see that the time between milestones is getting smaller. Magic of compounding, yo! :)

    I even wrote a detailed explanation on how to do it and it is sitting in the ChooseFI vault

  32. I really like the idea of charting my progress and have enjoyed the finance graphics on your site. I’m going to try sprucing up my boring spreadsheets and adding some graphics to see my overall progress. My XP has been seeing my overall savings go to the next “decade” or the next level in gaming terms.

    As far as your blog and affiliate links, I don’t see any issues with that, especially since you’re so transparent about it. I agree with some of the others that said maybe you could leave the links up all year and apply the extra to charity.

    For anyone that wants to blog more for fun, there are ways to set up a blog for no cost. I’ve had a genealogy blog hosted on Blogger for seven years now and haven’t spent a cent on it. (other than my time!) I know it doesn’t give you the same control as hosting your own site and probably wouldn’t scale up to a large readership. Just throwing it out there for anyone that wants to give blogging a try, but was put off by the cost.

  33. Hooray for Gold stars! I am definitely super into these tips, and was interested to learn that Gamification is the official name for this. (Learn something new every day! Woo!)
    I am a visual person so I think the graph idea is great and while I have some with my numbers, I am going to up my graphing game to drive home the progress visually. Also, more mini rewards along the way is so smart, I think that will make a big difference for continued motivation :)

    P.S. I am also a huge HP fan and was visibly upset when I was not chosen for my magical powers at Olivanders, but i’m getting over it lol since the whole “world” there was so magical. I also just saw the HP play in previews in NY and you are in for such a beautiful gift of an experience. SO GREAT!

  34. Several years ago, I started using dollar bills to track the progress of paying off a specific debt. $1 on the bulletin board would represent $100 or $1000 of the debt that I was paying off. For example, an $8,000 auto loan would be represented by $8 on the board. As $1000 of principal was paid off, I would move $1 to the right side of the board. Once the debt was paid off, the dollars are moved back to the left and a new debt is tackled. I LOVE moving a dollar!!! Why??? I don’t really know, but it’s awesome! The bulletin board is hung in my office, so I see it when I pay bills and determine how much money to save or pay towards debt. I’ve paid off tens of thousands of debt (auto loans, student loans, braces). Right now we are working on the last $100k of the mortgage and then my husband and I will be DEBT FREE! You can bet that I will enjoy moving that last dollar!!!

    I think I’ll implement the same approach as we sock money away in our (newly opened) Vanguard account. We’re changing our mindset from ‘get out of debt’ to ‘build wealth’ and I am so excited about our financial future!

      • Thanks! It also keeps me focused on the short term goal of moving one dollar instead of being overwhelmed by the overall objective. Sometimes it can take a year or more to pay off a debt. I have spreadsheets and charts too, but nothing beats moving that dollar!

  35. Paying off debt was a great game for me. Once I finished the student loans and the mortgage, I wasn’t as inspired. Then I found FI and blogs like yours. We started using YNAB to track our spending. Tracking our spending has become my new game.

    Thanks for your transparency and posts about blogs and monetization. You never judge people who do things differently than you do, and as a reader I appreciate your explanations.

  36. I would definitely read this book to learn more about gamifying FIRE. I guess I cannot call myself a geek, because I haven’t really ever thought about gamifying.

    I guess I am still working on my why. Right now, my current best answer is: it will give me the time and the space to think about and explore what I want to do with the rest of my life. I know, its not concrete. But the things I really wanted to do with my life, or rather in my career, have been seeming less and less likely to happen. I keep working and plugging away, but plan A went bust in 2011 and plan B is not looking so promising right now. I still work hard on plan B and have not lost all hope, but I really don’t have much free time to think of plan C. My goal is to achieve a level of FIREFsomewhere areound the middle level of fire you have been talking about on this blog by 2025. Atleast then I can take the time and get some space with which I can consider where to go next.

    Sorry for the above paragraph. I know it doesn’t completely go to your question, but I kinda like and don’t feel like deleting it. Sorry for the train of thought typing.

    Back to your question: i have rewarded mile stones, usually with nice restaurant meals and happy hour cocktails. I never considered it gamifying, I just believe that achievement should be awarded some how. I like games, a lot, which is probably why I can push myself to run linger and harder in soccer than on a treadmill or park path. So I definitely need to consider gamifying. Maybe it’ll make me progress faster (and reach my FIRE level sooner than 2025). More likely, it will just make the experience more enjoyable.

  37. I’ve been increasing the percentage of my paycheck that goes straight to my 457. Every time I increase it by 1%, I challenge myself to make do for the next 2 months. If I succeed, I go up another 1%. I plan on doing this until I hit my goal percentage, but I’m starting to view that as a moving target. If I can go higher, I will!

  38. This year we are totally gamifying our finances to see how little we can spend on our cars (maintenance and gas) and track our bike miles vs. car miles. (Our friend Accidental FIRE recently posted about how he clocks about 7,000 miles/year on each.) We don’t enjoy buying gas or spending money to maintain our gas, so by comparing miles traversed on each will be a fun way to challenge that spending.

  39. welcome to the dark side. i use a calculator and a pen to track our dollars to the nearest thousand due to being atavistic. i think we got champagne when we paid off our mortgage or it could have been just a tuesday night in february.

  40. In reading the links, you hit the nail on the head with this quote: “A good reason to retire early is that you have an alternate vision for your life that you are eager to pursue, but which you can’t pursue while employed full time,” Hester said. “Achieving financial independence allowed us to leave that career chapter of our lives from a place of gratitude and appreciation, and move onto our next chapter that we’re in control of.”

    It’s retirement of one chapter and moving on to another non-retired chapter. So in a perfect world, are you ever really retired?

    As for gamification, on a monthly basis we have a target amount that we want to spend for almost all non-fixed items. These expenses all go on a credit card. At the end of the month, if we are below target (often), then off to BOFA we go and get cash for the difference, split it up evenly and then that becomes “spend on yourself, no questions asked” money. Reset for the next month. If over target, then no shame, no blame … no penalty. Fixed items are mostly automatically paid and separate. Every so often (yearly), we also play a game to see what subscriptions and optimization we can make to these “fixed” expenses that automatically draft. I did this a few weeks ago and found >$100 per month in this category which is pretty typical on an annual basis. It just creeps back in there. Actually, we’ve pretty much game’d a bunch of stuff to get to where we are now.

    • I love that quote! We were joking the other night about how work keeps getting in the way of our life. That’s how we’re viewing it from now on.

  41. Hey! Thanks for this post :thumbsup: I’m a big fan of gamifying my finances, and (though I’m a writer by trade) I’ve found that visuals and spreadsheets help me stay motivated more than anything else. Last week, my husband and I worked up a new sheet that allows us to visualize how quickly we’ll be able to pay off our mortgage, based on how much extra we throw at the principal each month. It’s super fun to play around with (and really encouraging, too!).

    • YES visuals are such a great tool! I don’t remember where I read this, but years ago, a blog commenter shared this trick. She would create one of those long paper chains, the kind you make in elementary school, and write $100 (or some amount) on the chain. Each time she put $100 toward her debt, she would remove a link, so she could watch the chain get shorter and shorter. I thought that was a really fun way to gamify debt payoff. Could work for mortgage or FI goals, too!

  42. Thank you so much for the interview, Tanja, and for featuring Get Money! Great additional ideas on how to gamify the process, too. I also love your take on the “latte factor.” It’s more than just saving money — it’s one small thing you can control, and that sense of control is priceless!

  43. I tend to reward myself for doing good things. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the best way (i.e. following a healthy diet for two meals and splurging on the next) but I like the idea of maybe being good with saving/investing and then spending a bit on nice vacations once or twice a year. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance and making sure you’re having fun along the way to reach your goals.

  44. We definitely reward ourselves for big financial milestones! When we paid off my husband’s student loans, we opened a nice bottle of champagne and congratulated ourselves on the achievement. I hadn’t thought about what our next big milestone might be, but maybe I’ll make it when we hit $75,000 in net worth since it’ll be before the end of the year hopefully. That’ll give me something to look forward to!

  45. I try and target dividend payouts to be at least 10% above the previous year and have achieved this in every year except one during the last five years.

    -Mike

  46. I keep a spreadsheet tracking my net worth. I go in about once a month to add everything up, and then I add that month’s number to a line graph. It feels great watching it steadily climb up! It does not feel so great watching small drops in investment accounts. And I am going to hate seeing a large market drop.

    Recently, I added in a couple of equations to the spreadsheet. The first tells me how many years of expenses I have saved in my taxable accounts plus my HSA, so I know how long I can live without a job. The second gives me the 4% number for my retirement accounts. It (plus some extra job stress) has increased my motivation to seek additional income opportunities and perhaps frugalize some areas a little more. I’d also like to figure out some milestones markers or small goals to pump me up again.

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity, and thanks for an awesome blog!

  47. I’m quite intrigued by the gamification of money. Recently I decided to take my 7.5 year plan to FIRE and to break it up to a few targeted challenges each year to keep me interested and motivated! I’ll check engage site to see what other suggestions you have to help me level up!

  48. I got the gamification idea from someone off of the MMM forums in 2016. I bought a big “wall pop” stick-on white board that is on the wall in our spare room. We then came up with “levels” meaningful to us and wrote them on the wall. Like Level 1, pay off student loan, Level 2 save a 6 month supply of money, save the equivalent of 1 salary, 6 figures saved, replace both salaries, etc. Because some of those take months to reach, we also came up with a more regularly updated mini-goal: I figured out how much it would take to “endow” a future forever day of retirement (the goal being 365 days). Each forever day isn’t really celebrated, since we hit a new one every few weeks, but it’s a mental motivator while waiting to level up. We’re really close to leveling up again and I think we’ll treat ourselves to a nice dinner out somewhere, since we normally eat at home.

    Also, on the same board we have a constantly updated list of things that being FIRE means being able to do – visit friends in various cities, build a boat by hand, go hiking on a weekday, learn sign language, etc. Many of the things on the list are also things we can do now, so it’s almost like a dreams and goals visualization board.

  49. Years ago my husband hated shopping with me. He hated that I used coupons to shop, he hated the fact that it took forever at checkout because they would beep. Then one day after my son was born we went to the store and I got my bill cut more than 60%. He was happy with it. After that it became a game with him to see how much I could cut our grocery bill each time. With the savings I keep it and use it for our trip to Canada every year.
    I need to start gaming ideas with my seven year old.

  50. Hahaha, I haven’t even read all the way through but felt compelled to comment early on re: the fun of spreadsheets. Updating ours was my version of a super fun Saturday night just last night actually ;) a glass of wine (or two) and geeking out over spreadsheet updating. I know, I live a crazy life hahaha. Love your work, thank you!

  51. I like my spreadsheets! When I am focusing on paying something in particular down, I draw a chart. Filling it in when I have made the payments feels nice!

  52. First time commenting, as the stars have apparently aligned, with today seeing me both read this post *and* see me have a win with gamification! Plus, I would like to win the book.

    I have a spreadsheet where I track all my monthly spending and income. Anything left over is categorised as “savings”. The gamification comes around with conditional formatting – I have the ‘savings’ cell set up with an automatic background colour (green, amber, red), depending on the savings rate for that month. I usually average 50%, so I made 40-60% amber. However, March saving rate? 76%!! Highest ever! I’m going to have to make my scale more nuanced. :)

  53. My gamification is pretty simple. I have a multi-tabbed spreadsheet that I update monthly with our expenses and net worth numbers. And I track our progress on the Mad Fientist site.

  54. I appreciate the lack of ads, but I also appreciate the content and don’t want you to stop writing because it’s too expensive. You’ve built up a lot of trust and aren’t going to scare anyone away with a few affiliate links to things you actually get value from. I think others have suggested it, but I would second the idea of leaving affiliate links up all the time and donating any excess to charity. For inspiration, you should read “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good” about how Newman’s Own was founded with the direct purpose of giving away any profits.

  55. YNAB (You Need A Budget) has been a game changer for me in terms of gamification! That’s exactly how I look at it too. I feel like I’m opening my “Money Game” on my phone, only the reward is actual dollars in our savings account. Setting spending goals, reaching them, and actually having the money available when I need it is awesome. Not to mention I can change the rules as I go along with this app as our household needs change.
    Came here via the Bigger Pockets Money podcast!

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