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Five Ways to Gamify Your Finances

By Anna B. Wroblewska – Mar 29, 2015 at 7:00PM

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Managing money can be stressful -- make it into a game instead.

Photo credit: Bill Branson (photographer). Source: National Cancer Institute, Wikimedia Commons. 

Sticking to a financial plan, budget, or investment strategy can be difficult. It often requires changes to our most basic habits and behaviors, and making those changes usually requires a degree of willpower -- a scarce resource, and one that is easily diminished.

To help keep you focused and energized, consider incorporating some gaming tactics into your financial life. Here are five to get you started.

Press reset 
We all struggle to stay on track with goals and new money habits, and that's OK. Instead of getting angry with yourself or demoralized about your progress, just press reset. Start over with a clean slate and try again. 

Think of it as a "new life" for the next attempt at this level of the game. You didn't fail, you just learned something -- now apply that lesson and see if you can't get further than you did last time. Each attempt represents progress, even if it takes you several tries to incorporate a new habit or reach a financial goal. 

Get your kids involved
Kids are naturally gifted when it comes to the art of games and fun. Harness their energy for your financial games, and you might find they become the most avid players in the household. 

For example, try getting your kids to help out in the grocery store. Try a "fullest cart" challenge in which each child has to get the most fruits and vegetables for a certain amount of money (I wouldn't recommend this strategy in the candy aisle). Teenagers or older kids might be more receptive to finding the best deal in another area, such as Internet or cell phones. Make it rewarding by incorporating an appropriate prize.

Refuel and recharge
Most games offer the chance to refuel, whether with weapons, coins, or "lives." Take a lesson from the idea and be sure to do the same. It will be worth your time: it's much easier to stick to a financial plan when your willpower is fully replenished.

Depending on your personality and your preferences, this might involve a little reward for sticking to your budget, or saving up for something special (like stocks!). It might also just be the basics: adequate rest, regular meals, and exercise. All of these "lives" will help you maintain the energy and momentum to achieve your goals. 

Adopt a theme song
To jump-start flagging energy, adopt a positive theme song. Just like no one can be unhappy when listening to the Mario Bros. theme song, find a tune that gets you in the right frame of mind to tackle any challenge. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it helps you prepare for a low-budget shopping trip, tackle that investment account paperwork, or start on your taxes. 

Consider the zombie 
After the runaway success that was the running app "Zombies, Run!" it became apparent that zombies are an effective motivator for a lot of things. 

What do they have to do with your finances? Perhaps it's time to title your savings account "Zombie Apocalypse," with every dollar saved representing one more zombie thwarted. Or maybe you do the same with your brokerage account. 

Just like the app, take it step by step and know that you're training for a much bigger goal: It's not just about building a savings account or managing your investments, it's about surviving the attack of the zombies. Depending on your personality, that might be much more fun to plan for than that foggy and distant notion of retirement. 

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