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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Marguerita M. Cheng, CFP®, CEO
| August 24, 2018
Budgeting, saving and getting out of debt probably don’t sound like a lot of fun, but app designers are trying to change that with an array of mobile apps to help people better manage their money. Some of these apps even use gaming elements to help make personal finance more fun and to increase user motivation and engagement.
Gamification can improve learning and boost performance. Game-design features trigger an unconscious incentive that entices the user to reach a certain goal. This could be optimizing their expenses, income or savings.
For example, Outbank uses illustrated bars to visualize transactions. The bar for outgoing transactions is red and grows longer and closer to the green savings bar with every dollar spent. The incentive is to save as much as possible to see a larger difference between the bars. Other examples for game elements in financial apps include rewarding users when they check in at a bank branch and awarding badges for reaching savings goals.
The following apps — some of which feature gamification, and others that are more traditional — can help you meet your financial goals.
Written by Marguerita M. Cheng. Cheng is the CEO at Blue Ocean Global Wealth (www.blueoceanglobalwealth.com). She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠, Retirement Income Certified Professional and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.
PLATFORMS: Available for Android and iOS
GAMIFICATION: Build your own city
POPULARITY: Downloaded and installed more than 500,000 times (Android)
Fortune City combines bookkeeping to track your expenses with a fun simulation game to build and grow your own city into a metropolis.
The app awards you for daily use, lets you analyze your expenses at a glance and helps you keep track of both your short-term and long-term balance sheet for easier financial planning. In addition, a search function allows you to better understand your spending habits.
The overarching goal is to teach users good budgeting habits while tracking income and expenses.
PLATFORMS: Available for Android and iOs
POPULARITY: Downloaded and installed more than 1 million times (Android)
Acorns targets users with less than $100,000 in yearly income and allows them to automatically invest their spare change from everyday purchases across 7,000 stocks and bonds. The investments are selected by smart portfolio algorithms with the goal of helping to improve returns while reducing risk.
Apart from spare change investments, you have the option to make recurring investments, one-time investments and also start saving for long-term goals like retirement.
On top of that, you gain free investment advice from investors like Warren Buffet and you can withdraw your money anytime at no additional charges.
PLATFORMS: Available for Android
GAMIFICATION: Visualization of savings and goals
POPULARITY: Downloaded and installed more than 50,000 times (Android)
Thriv is a lesser-known app that focuses on helping you save enough money "for the things you really want in the future." You can set up short-term and long-term goals, including titles, price tags, pictures, descriptions and links, and keep track of your personal expenses and savings with ease. A neat reminder and progress bars help you to stay motivated.
From Henrik Wrangel (Qapital)
GAMIFICATION: Goal-oriented way of looking at savings with rewards and punishment
POPULARITY: Downloaded and installed more than 100,000 times (Android)
Qapital is a banking app that encourages you to save money on autopilot. The idea is to put aside small amounts in a way that you won't even notice. IFTTT (if this then that) technology allows you to use personalized savings goals and automatic rules triggered from purchase and transactions of all your connected bank accounts and cards.
The app rewards good behavior when spending less and punishes bad behavior when overspending on your credit card. All in all, the app will make you look at savings in a more goal-oriented way — like a real challenge!
GAMIFICATION: Monetary incentives
POPULARITY: Downloaded and installed more than 10,000 times (Android)
Beeminder is a little bit different. It's a contract play app that forces users to make a commitment to a goal and meet milestones along the way. As an incentive, you have to make a payment to Beeminder if you can't manage to reach your goal or go off track.
Obviously, this app requires discipline and accountability, as no one is going to know if you are cheating.
GAMIFICATION: Visualization of monthly income, expenses and remaining budget
Prism lets you organize your income and expenses all in one place. This way you can easily keep track of your account balances, so you always know how much money you have left at the end of the month. Prism has an aesthetically pleasing design with an intuitive and uncluttered interface, so anyone can readily enjoy the benefits of the app.
For the setup, you need to connect your different accounts separately, which requires a bit of work upfront. Then, Prism will sync everything automatically — set it and forget it!
GAMIFICATION: Makes borrowing and lending money and debt collection more fun
IOU is a debt manager that helps track who owes you money and what you owe to others. With the app, you can organize all of your personal loans, including incoming credits and outgoing debits.
You also have the ability to set up recurring payments and use the history function to view all past debts that have already been paid off. From a behavioral finance perspective, this gives you a sense of accomplishment.
GAMIFICATION: Goal setting and tracking to reach objectives faster
Most will have heard about YNAB by now. YNAB is a budgeting app that enables you to sync all your bank accounts to "break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, get out of debt, and save more money." The key feature of YNAB is the ability to set and track budgets. The goal is to budget every single dollar and assign it to a specific category, so you always know how much money you have left to spend for whatever you want.
Reports with visual elements provide details about your spending habits and allow you to track progress, which can also be shared with a partner or friend. For example, you can identify areas of opportunities to reduce spending, such as entertainment, dining or even ridesharing.
User Data Collection
Usually, companies want to find out as much possible about their customers, their behavior and their likes and dislikes. One of the easiest ways to collect user data is with the help of a mobile app. However, some might (wrongly) consider financial data to be too sensitive to collect. This is why gamification in financial apps with the sole goal to collect even more user data could be problematic.
The more behavioral finance apps go mainstream, the higher the risk that people might be getting tricked. In other words: Gained insights could be used for manipulation. On the other hand, consumers are already being manipulated day in and day out, for example through advertisements. So, this concept is not exactly new.
Too Much Gamification
App designers must use gamification responsibly so that it’s relevant and beneficial for the user. Too much gamification could cause reckless behavior, which might lead to monetary harm.
There are different approaches to conquer behavioral finance challenges. Mobile apps that use gaming elements like incentives to help people reach their financial goals manage to make an oftentimes boring and unpleasant topic fun and engaging.
With so many apps for you to choose from, you should go ahead and try some of them to find out if you can actually save more and spend less!