How Gaming is Changing the Face of Finance

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shutterstock_79429900Things that are fun: beating your friend at a round of Call of Duty, earning reward points for shopping at your favorite clothing boutique and cashing in frequent flyer miles for a trip to sunny California.

Things that aren’t so fun: keeping a budget.

Finances can be boring. Spreadsheets, cash flow projections and other bland money management techniques have plagued the personal finance world since the beginning of budgets. It’s hard to encourage positive consumer behavior when it’s just not that engaging.

Other industries, like airlines and coffee shops, have long-excelled at “gamifying” the consumer experience. The formula is simple: complete a task and get a reward: earn 50,000 points, get a free roundtrip ticket or buy 9 lattes, get the 10th for free.

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In the last several years, gamification has finally reached the financial sector – and in full force. Financial products and online tools are making a concerted effort to influence the way we manage, save and spend our money (and to make tasks like keeping a budget a little more enjoyable). Websites, banks and app developers are turning to the world of game design, financial rewards and human behavior to motivate and reward our daily financial habits.

Here are a few examples of how entertainment and gamification are changing the way adults (and kids) manage money:

1. Real-Time Financial Data and Trends
Long gone are the days of balancing your checkbook on pen and paper. With the majority of consumer purchases happening either through debit card, credit card or online transactions, money management has evolved into a digital activity.

Several online software companies and banks have taken it a step further, developing money management tools that provide game-like feedback to consumers about their spending and saving trends. New online tools not only let consumers monitor real-time spending and set budgets, but these systems will alert you of unusual spending activities and help you visualize your financial goals easier than ever before.

(I know for me, the shock of seeing hundreds of dollars spent on coffee and take-out each month was enough to inspire me to reconsider how I was spending my money each month).

2. Rewards for Good Behavior: Prizes and Peer Pressure

Winning money by saving money? Sign me up! Websites like SaveUp and apps like ImpulseSave are using both prizes and peer pressure to promote good financial behavior.

By syncing your financial accounts to SaveUp, you can earn raffle ticket-like entries for prizes every time you save money or pay down debt. ImpulseSave uses an easy-to-access app and peer pressure to encourage you to save money in moments when you might have otherwise bought something on impulse. Everytime you choose not to buy something on impulse (like that delicious-looking cupcake in the display case), the app transfers money to one of your savings goals and sends an alert to a person of your choosing, letting them know that you’ve just resisted the temptation to spend.

3. Games and Family-Friendly Finances

There’s a big movement in the financial education space to make saving money “cooler” – for adults and kids alike. Websites like Feed the Pig use a clever mascot and online interactive exercises and to add some humor to your finances while still providing practical advice (who wouldn’t want to listen to a talking, humanoid pig about ways to save money on movie tickets?). Games like The Great Piggy Bank Adventure focus on a younger audience, transporting kids into a 3-D interactive environment where they can actively make choices about how to spend and save their virtual money.

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But the fun doesn’t stop at animated piggy banks. There are plenty of new apps on the market aimed at helping kids and teens manage real money, too. For families looking for an intuitive way to manage parent-to-kid cash flows, websites like FamZoo and VirtualPiggy make allowance tracking easy, intuitive and actually kind of fun. With many of these virtual family banks, kids can set goals and even shop online, and parents can help track and decide where their children’s money is going.