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Money

Grow Your Savings with 3 Games That Work

Last Updated on June 22, 2022 by Alex

If you don’t already play games to save money and grow your savings it’s time to start.

It’s easier to spend than save, but saving can be a lot easier than you think, even if you have very little money to put away.

And if that is the case, you really need to start cutting down on expenses or building up your income, ideally both.

Don’t Wait Until You Are Out of Debt

Money is a mind game, full stop. Getting into the right frame of mind is the most important first step. For 6-12 months (the longer the better) pay only the minimum on all debt, and instead focus on saving.

Yes, I understand that in terms of return, paying down credit cards before putting money into savings makes mathematical sense.

It does not make psychological sense.

Let’s say you owe $3000 on your credit card. If you put all of your extra cash towards the credit card you will pay it down faster than if you put only a percentage of your extra money towards it.


That might seem like the right thing to do.

It’s not: the mindset that got you into credit card debt in the first place prevents you from being rational. Most likely you will not throw every last dollar you can squeeze out of your budget towards the debt. 

If you have the mindset of a spender this is what you need to change first. The only way to do that is by building new habits.

Here is a strategy that will actually work (I used it myself many years ago and it worked like magic):

  1. Defer paying more than the minimum on debt for 6-12 months
  2. Put ALL extra money you get into an account you cannot easily access
  3. Develop strategies for cutting expenses
  4. Find new sources of income, however small

Point 1 is easy. Just put all debt on autopay for the minimum.

Point 2 is tricky. What’s extra money? There are two easy first things you can do as you work towards maximizing your savings. First, pay yourself first with each paycheck–put away as much as you possibly can the moment you get your money. Secondly, put all windfalls into savings, including birthday and Christmas money, rebates, pennies you find on the street: everything.

Point 3 is your austerity plan. Figure out ways to cut, cut, cut your expenses. Cut out movies. Cut out restaurants and cook at home. Turn out the lights diligently. You get the idea.

Finally, point 4 is to increase your income, even marginally. There are literally hundreds of ways to do this. Start here for some low hanging fruit.

It’s 6 to 12 months—come on, anyone can do this.

Here’s what you can expect at the end of this time:

  • You will grow your savings more than you ever have in your life
  • You will have savings momentum
  • You will have come up with all sorts of creative ways to both cut spending and earn extra income
  • You will be a saver, not a spender (possibly for the first time in your life)
  • Your change of mindset will make it safe for you to use a big chunk of your savings to pay down debt without losing the savings mindset

Don’t forget that the amount you saved is way more than the amount you would have put towards the debt over the same period of time. You would not have cut expenses, you would not have saved windfalls and you probably would not have found new, small sources of income. 

This is a winning strategy for anyone who is more in the habit of growing debt than growing savings and for anyone else who just wants to accelerate their savings.

Do a One Month Money Challenge

Everyone loves a challenge and a game.

Whether you are in debt or blissfully debt free, a one month money challenge is a great way to expand the horizons of what you think is possible, develop new habits, and increase your energy even as you grow your savings.

For one money you will turn cutting expenses and growing your savings into a game. Make every day an adventure in not spending when you feel inclined to, looking out for deals and for new sources of income.

Measure your success by how much you can save by the end of the month, and then compare to usual months.

Some tips:

  • Spend only for necessities, and question yourself hard about what is a necessity
  • Shop at discount stores
  • Install GasBuddy or a similar app on your phone so you can find the cheapest gas for your car
  • Experiment with other money saving apps
  • Eat beans and rice–a lot (cook both from scratch and you’ll be healthier as well as wealthier by the end of the month)
  • Sell useless stuff you no longer need
  • Look around for new and easy ways to earn some money, from painting your neighbors house to renting out your car and everything in between

Turn the Ordinary into a Special Occasion

I like expensive red wine.

In a week I could spend over $100 on wine–easily. In truth, I often have.

Even if I limit myself to $40 a week, that’s over $2000 a year–and that, for me, is ridiculous. For $2000 I could go on a great holiday, buy all of my Christmas gifts or just become wealthier by investing it.

When I think of it like that, the wine doesn’t see to important. Yet I don’t want to give it up or, worse yet, drink cheap wine.

Solution: the good ol’ piggy bank.

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Yep, it’s ridiculous, and it also works.

I tell myself that excellent wine is a luxury, not for everyday. So I specifically save for it at home by putting all my quarters and the occasional single dollar bill into a piggy bank.

This is money I do not miss. It doesn’t feel like saving.

When the pig is full I empty it and voila: plenty of money for one or two bottles of outstanding wine.

However long it took me is just the right interval between one bottle and the next. It’s a luxury now, not an everyday indulgence.

I value it much, much more. I enjoy it immensely. I drink slowly.

My expenditure on wine is no more than one fifth of what I used to spend and my quality of life has gone up. I’m just a tiny bit happier, less hung over, and financially better off.

We all have that thing we overindulge in, whether it’s eating out or drinking expensive wine or buying clothes.

Don’t give up your favorite indulgence, just turn it from an every day event or an unplanned impulse into a luxury that you save for, effortlessly, the old fashioned way that the kid in your will enjoy.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, three very simple ways to grow your savings–and change your habits and mindset.

Spending is fun in the moment. Over the long run overspending is a trap, not just financially but also mentally. It’s a huge downer, a cause for depression and anxiety, and to be avoided like the plague that it is on our lives.

Thankfully there are really easy ways to grow your savings and at the same time change your mindset, and thereby change your life. Make it a game and becoming money smart will be easier and more fun than you every imagined.

Hi, I'm Alex. I’ve been working since the age of 12, have had over 30 jobs in my life, and have been a professor for over 20 years teaching environmental studies. During that time I’ve consulted for governments around the world as well as UN agencies and the European Union, have published poetry and short stories. I’ve been married, divorced and married again, and have four incredible children, and I am a long time student of Tibetan Buddhism. I’m deeply interested in how to navigate change in a constantly changing world and how to optimize our lives for happiness, well-being and growth.

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