Gamifying finances: 13 money challenges to make saving money more exciting

Sometimes it can be tough to stay motivated with your finances, especially once you’ve instilled a good system and you don’t really have to put as much mental energy into it. You know your numbers, you have rules in place and it works…just like you designed it to… but then you notice after plodding along a bit that you feel… bored? You notice that you’re starting to get complacent? Progress doesn’t feel as exciting as it used to, maybe? When it cycles around to this, I find that itch to buy things starts to feel stronger because I guess I miss the excitement that comes with working towards a goal.

Enter the concept of money challenges. There are a ton of different ones; some centered around saving, some focused on earning and some that do both. The idea is to present your brain with a challenge it needs to work on for a length of time and a goal that is a bit outside of your normal sphere so that it feels exciting and a little challenging. You have to work a little harder to reach these kind of targets and for me it’s a nice way to spice up the 8 hours of computer at the desk time, followed by TV on the couch time before you hit the sack.

Here are a few of my favorites and a bunch I haven’t had the chance to try yet:

Money challenges:

  1. $1 per week savings challenge for a year: $1378
    Save the dollar that corresponds with the week of the year. $1 during week 1, $2 during week 2, $52 during week 52 and so on.
    I personally like to cut slips of paper and write all of the numbers on them, fold them up and put them in a jar. I draw a number each week and use that as my contribution number so that all of the big numbers don’t hit at the same time which is also right around Christmas time).
  2. $1 per day savings challenge for 30 days: $500
    You have to add some change to a few days to make this equal an even $500). $1 on day 1, $2 on day 2, $3 on day 3, etc.
  3. Save $1 per day for 365 days: $30-31 per month
    No special rules for this one, just consistently transfer $1 per day. It’s painless and you don’t even really notice it. This is a personal rule of mine and I have it automated.
  4. Round up the change on all of your purchases for 30 days
    Throw the change in a jar if you use cash or track the expenses and transfer the difference to a savings account if using cards).
  5. Paycheck challenge: $970 (based on 26 paychecks per year)
    Transfer $10 out of the first paycheck of the year and then add $10 to each next paycheck ($10 – first paycheck, $20- second paycheck, $30- third paycheck)
  6. $5 challenge- save all $5 bills
  7. Likewise, $10 challenge – save all $10 bills
  8. $20 challenge- save all $20 bills if you’re feeling ambitious
  9. Quarter saving challenge: $116.75
    Save one quarter on day 1. On day 2, save two quarters. Save three quarters on day 3, and so on.
  10. Match your spend challenge
    For those who balk at a structured budget, an interesting approach is to instead transfer a savings amount equal to all nonessential spending purchases. Savings transfers must be made at the same time as purchase, so if you buy something nonessential for $20, you must then transfer $20 to savings also which essentially makes the amount you must have available to make the purchase actually $40. You cannot buy another nonessential item until you have transferred the $20 from the first purchase and have enough to make the transfer to match the second purchase.

    I’ve tried this and it’s an interesting way to spend. I felt less guilty spending money (even though I spent more but because I was also saving the exact same amount at the same time — which I think was the clincher with that), but I saved less overall than I would have without my structured budget.
  11. No spend challenges for an allotted amount of time (month, week, quarter, year)
    No spending outside of essential living expenses (rent, insurance, debt payments, essential grocery foods, etc.)
  12. No spending during the week challenge
    I personally try to always do this. I find that when I’m on a roll with both spending or saving, I tend to stay on a roll until I break the streak.
  13. Double the penny challenge: $5,368,709
    We’ve all seen this example whenever you read about compound interest. I’d like to try it some day, though I imagine it would take several years to get through all thirty days of doubling the penny.

I’ve done numbers: 1, 2, 3, 10, 11 and 12. I consider number 12 more of a general lifestyle rule that helps keep my life balanced. I always have number 3 running in the background on automation to keep padding my emergency fund or investments on top of what I deliberately transfer into these accounts. Once you figure out the basic parts, it’s about honing the system and getting 1% better every day.

What are your favorite money challenges and do you participate in any that I haven’t listed here? Please list any fun ones in the comments.

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