You probably think saving money has to be boring, hard work.
I say, let’s play a game instead! And if you’re good at it, this game can help you save a lot of money.
About 13 years ago, my wife and I bought our first home — and were immediately dead broke. Every last cent we had went into the house. Money was a sensitive issue, and we ended up fighting about it almost every day.
That is, until we decided to play a game.
One day, we decided to go out to eat at a fast food restaurant, but realized we only had $10. Instead of trying to find more money, we decided to see if we could both eat lunch for less than that.
Turns out, eating at a fast food restaurant for less than $10 and leaving full is pretty darn easy.
Let the Games Begin!
The next weekend, we decided $10 was too easy. So we went down to $8, then $7, then $6.
Pretty soon, my wife and I were enjoying restaurant meals for less than $4. I think our best was around $3.75, and required several coupons and a discount.
Our dining out budget went from an average of $25 for a meal each weekend to well under $5 — a yearly savings of over $780, and we still ate our fill!
Stepping Up Our Game
We realized we were onto something, and the game spread to other areas of our lives.
We took a look at our expenses, and realized we were spending a lot on gas. So we each filled up our tanks and challenged each other to see who could make a tank of gas last the longest.
Instead of driving everywhere, we’d bike or walk — if we could. Also, instead of making multiple trips to the store or other places, we’d wait and combine errands into one big trip.
Turns out, we were able to cut down on our gas consumption by half, saving us a combined $100 a week. Plus, we had the added benefit of all the extra exercise from biking and walking everywhere.
I lost the first gas challenge, but we managed to save about $5,200 in a year!
Taking It to 0
Now it was time to set our sights on our entertainment budget, which was around $200 per month when we began.
We wanted to increase the challenge — we were becoming experts at this game. So we picked an entertainment budget of $0. Nothing. Nada. Zip. And we decided to do this for a month.
It turns out there’s lots of free stuff to do. We began using our local library to its full potential — checking out books, movies and music. We also checked out all the programs it offered, like lectures and interest groups.
We also decided to explore our local stores, and did some window shopping. Usually, we’d just drive by all the little stores and shops. During the “no-spend entertainment month,” we took the time to walk through each store and found some interesting things.
We also used our public facilities to their fullest potential, visiting the many parks, trails and free museums. There was even a summer festival in town — completely free.
Turns out, spending nothing for a month of entertainment, especially in the summertime, is also pretty darn easy — it saved us roughly $2,000! Cha-ching!
The Big Game
Our final challenge was our utility bill.
This was a lengthy game, but an infectious one. It began slowly, turning off a light here and there, but it grew into a monster.
We began turning off lights even if we left the room for less than a minute. We hand-washed dishes. We hung clothes out on a line instead of using the dryer and we read books or went outside instead of watching TV.
When the warmer summer months came around, we held off turning on the air conditioner as long as we could by opening windows. Why turn on the air conditioning if the house only gets hot enough to use it for a few hours each day?
All of our energy reduction efforts added up and we cut our bill well below half. It went from around $300 to $150 or less — an annual average savings of $1,800!
The Budget Game’s Lasting Effects
We felt good about what we were doing for the environment, too. The game is over, but we still hang our clothes out on the line, and it has to get pretty hot for before we turn on the air conditioner.
Playing these games can add up to quite a bit of savings — we saved almost $10,000!
And it’s fun. The higher the savings goal, the more challenging the game.
Creativity is key. Just remember, have fun and make a game of it!
Your Turn: Have you created any games to help you save money? Let us know in the comments!
Michael Beck is a retired Army officer who currently works in Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys being frugal, playing with his kids and making the most of what’s free in the world.