Gamify your Personal Finances to Power-up your Real Life

The original Pokémon was after my time, I must confess (with not a hint of sadness). Without the nostalgia to suck me in to the Pokémon Go fad, I tend to get a bit cynical when my RSS feed is littered with article titles like, “T-Mobile to Give Free Data when Playing Pokémon Go“, “5 Fast Rules for Playing Pokémon Go as you Travel “, and even “How to Type the é in Pokémon Go“. Life-changing stuff, there.

Now, let me be clear, so I don’t come across as a total curmudgeon. You like Pokémon Go? Cool. Have fun. As long as it doesn’t lead you to walking off a cliff to your demise, crashing your car into a tree, tresspassing the zoo, quitting your job to play full time, getting hit by a car or hanging out with sex offenders, leaving your luxury car running with doors open among a mob of zombies in Central Park, or financing your copious amounts of mobile data usage with a credit card (or simply going over your low pre-existing monthly data cap), then have at it. It’s probably a healthier use of your time than the alternative of watching porn on your couch. If there were a similar Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, or A-Team app, I would likely be quitting my job to play full time as well.

It’s clear that people are passionate, like obsessionally passionate about Pokémon Go. And it got me philosophizing…

“If people can get so completely immersed in a VIRTUAL game that it causes them to run all over the world and completely lose all sense of their surroundings, safety, and real world responsibilities, then why can’t they bring that same passion and intensity to something as profoundly life-changing in REALITY as their personal finances and gamify that as well?”

Pokémon Go is a game. And like most games, you can find and collect items, power-up, fight bad guys, reach new levels, and challenge yourself to improve your standing. There is not much in our lives that can be similarly gamified as much as personal finance.

People are literally running into busy streets, falling off cliffs, and/or quitting their jobs while obsessing about capturing/training/fighting a:

  • gamify your personal financesPikachu
  • Bulbasaur
  • Meowth
  • Krabby
  • Charmeleon
  • Squirtle
  • Beedrill

(those are all Pokémon characters I had to research for this article for the uninformed, like me)…

What if, instead (or additionally), people brought that same kind of gamified intensity to:

  • building a one-year emergency savings fund, to create a level of immunity from short-term economic shocks like an emergency or job loss?
  • downsizing their homes, so they can save significant amounts of money on their mortgage/rent, insurance, stuff, and energy?
  • building side incomes from marketable hobbies, so they weren’t 100% dependent on an employer for life-sustaining income (and to boost their total income to the next level).
  • getting their employer’s full 401K match to boost their retirement savings beyond 1 year of poverty level income so they can have a kick-ass retirement (and have it earlier)?
  • having a cheap wedding so they don’t start their blissful union with the tension that comes from crushing debt.
  • learning how to invest their savings, so that they can take advantage of the power of compound returns over time?
  • becoming financially independent, so they can actually go play Pokémon Go or do whatever else they want all day without ending up homeless and in the streets?

Those are some significant real-life power-ups! And the drive to achieve them should be crazy strong!

I realize that a little bit of escapism here and there can be fun and healthy, but if one can passionately spend 30 hours playing a video game to “power-up” in a fantasy world, then what’s stopping them from spending more than the common zero time investment on something as critically real-world life-changing as personal finance?

Want to gamify your finances? Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Make a list of financial power-ups (i.e. goals that you can set out to obtain and assign a point value to each). When you obtain the goals, add the points to your cumulative total.
  2. Make a list of common pitfalls to avoid (i.e. high-interest debt, spending more than $X per year on a particular consumer category, dining out more than once per week). If you run into a pitfall, subtract points from your cumulative total.
  3. Reward yourself when you reach certain point levels (often times, the value will come from the benefits afforded to you by reaching the goal, but it doesn’t hurt to incentivize yourself even further, if needed).

That’s it! I don’t want to get more prescriptive than that, because half the fun is in making your customized list.

Without labeling it, I have been doing this for many years. And I can tell you that if you do the same, you’ll be reaching new personal finance levels, and the benefits will far exceed anything that a smartphone app will ever give you.

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