As a recent college grad, one of the biggest reasons I put off saving money is because it’s simply no fun.
Saving money means doing mental math at the grocery store, settling for a less expensive phone and telling friends you can’t hang out with them at the movies tonight.
You might have experienced the same anguish when you’ve had to decide whether or not to think long term, or reward yourself with some short-term fun.
But what if we could make saving money fun? Or take the willpower factor out of saving and turn it into an enjoyable game?
Inspired by NerdFitness creator Steve Kamb and his idea of using gamification to make exercising fun for those who aren’t hardcore bodybuilders, I came up with the idea of turning budgeting into a game to provide some encouragement when saving gets tough.
This strategy helped me triple how much I save each month, and it might help beef up your savings accounts, as well.
Create a Money-Saving Competition With Your Friends
If there’s anything that will keep you motivated, it’s getting together with a group of like-minded friends. They can keep you on track, hold you accountable to your goals and be there for you when you need support.
With friends on board, you don’t feel like the guy or gal who always turns down events or hangouts because you can’t afford to spend anything.
Everyone’s in it together, working toward spending less.
How I Started Our Challenge
When I first introduced my idea to my friends, most weren’t all that excited about it. After much persistence and persuasion, I was able to round up three other recent grads who were willing to commit to participate for at least a whole year.
Though we all had different goals — one of us was saving for a used car to replace his old one, and someone else just wanted to build up some cash to pay his student loans each month — we could empathize with each other’s successes and failures.
My goal was to create an emergency fund of at least $2,000 to help myself through those rainy days.
We met once a month for about 30 minutes, usually at a coffee shop or someone’s apartment. Two of us were still living with our parents, so we couldn’t always meet at a home. Afterward, we would go out to play sports, hike or hang out at the beach.
We talked about our successes and failures, what we did well and what we could improve. We brainstormed ways to save money and planned our goals for the next month.
It was a great opportunity to ask questions without fear of being judged and offer suggestions to help one another out.
The Rules of Our Money-Saving Challenge
Our competition was pretty simple: At the end of each month, we compared who put the most money into their savings account in the last 30 days.
Each month, the winner took everyone else out to a cheap dinner, so win or lose, everyone felt good about participating in the game.
We all made close to the same amount of money per month, but because we all technically earned different incomes, we had to figure out a way to fully level the playing field.
Instead of comparing the monetary value of the savings, we compared the percentage of monthly income saved. This system worked perfectly for us.
To keep it simple, we all opened new accounts at the same bank, just for the game. Everyone had to show their bank statements to prove how much they actually saved.
To account for recurring monthly debt, we deducted our debt payments from our total monthly income when comparing savings.
For example, if one person made $2,500 a month, but had a $500/month student loan payment, we’d consider his monthly income to be $2,000 when calculating his savings percentage.
Though I didn’t have bills to pay, some of my friends were making car payments and paying off loans and credit cards. This way, we could encourage each other to pay off debts instead of padding up our savings accounts for the game.
We all agreed cheating would hurt ourselves and the whole group, so it was never an issue.
In the end, we all stuck it out for the entire year, from January 2015 through December.
During that time, everyone was a winner at least once. One of my friends started out living paycheck to paycheck and was able to pay off nearly $3,000 in credit card debt!
Needless to say, all of us have developed better saving habits we’ll carry with us into the future.
Before my money-saving challenge, I was putting around $500 in my savings account each month. Today, I’m saving triple that amount — plus, I met my goal of building a $2,000 emergency fund within four months of starting the competition.
How to Start Your Own Money-Saving Group
Think about people you enjoy being around and like to hang out with. These are the best people to reach out to because they most likely have a lifestyle similar to yours.
The game works best with people who can relate to your situation and empathize with the challenges you’re going through. It’s much more encouraging to be with people in the same boat than having some members who make way more or less money than everyone else.
If your group doesn’t have time to meet in-person, use the internet to keep connected. With Facebook, Skype and other apps at your disposal, there’s simply no excuse not to have a few minutes of spare time each month. If it’s a priority, you can make it happen.
Your Turn: Have you ever been part of a money-saving competition? We’d love to hear about it.
After realizing that retiring by age 30 wouldn’t make the world a better place, Minh Nguyen went on a quest to discover the mythical intersection between helping others and building wealth. Through his blog, Working Makes Me Sad, he inspires people to find the courage to do what matters to them.