Gamification Can Help Consumers Reach Their Saving Goals

A TFI research project by Nethal Hashim, Irene Scopelliti, Janina Steinmetz
Posted on June 08, 2021

We can all agree that saving money is very important, however, saving isn't necessarily the most fun thing do. For most people it is at times very challenging, or even sometimes completely neglected. Is there really a way to make saving money fun? In this TFI research report Nethal Hashim, Irene Scopelliti, and Janina Steinmetz explore how gamification can increase the motivation to save in the present, and ultimately help consumers reach their savings goal.

Download the report or read about the summary below to find out about the results

Introduction

Consumers often have difficulty in reaching their saving goals. This is because saving requires them to forego desired spending. The benefit of saving money is only realized in the future, whereas the benefit of spending money is realized in the present (for example, in the form of a new purchase). As a result, consumers may prefer present over future benefits and thus refrain from saving. Such behavior can have negative consequences for consumers, for example leaving them vulnerable to financial shocks.

One way in which consumers could be motivated to save is by making the act of saving more immediately rewarding, so that there is a benefit of saving in the present. We ran a field experiment to test whether gamification can motivate consumers to save and help them reach their saving goals.


What is gamification?

Gamification refers to the use of elements typical of games – for example badges, leaderboards, and narratives – to motivate behavior in otherwise “serious” contexts. Presumably, gamifications leads consumers to experience rewarding psychological motives (such as competition, achievement, or escapism). For example, visualizing their position on a leaderboard allows consumers to experience competition, winning a badge provides an experience of achievement, whereas narratives immerse consumers in a story. We argue that engaging with game elements is immediately rewarding for consumers because they experience these psychological responses. Thus, if gamification leads to the experience of positive psychological responses such as competition, achievement, or escapism, performing an otherwise unrewarding activity (such as saving money) within a gamified environment might be immediately psychologically rewarding and might therefore increase saving behavior.

Our Study

We recruited 509 participants from Prolific UK for an initial savings survey. Out of this pre-survey sample, 331 participants decided to take part in our four-week field study on saving behavior. Participants who enrolled in the study set themselves a saving goal that they could realistically achieve in the following four weeks and tracked their savings toward that goal on a web application. The goal could be for a specific purchase or to save up for the winter holiday season (the study was conducted in November and December). When participants signed up to the web application, they were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: gamified vs. control.

The web app showed participants their set goal and how much they had already saved toward that goal. Participants were able to use an add-savings button and a decrease-savings button to adjust and monitor the amount of money they had saved. The web app also showed participants an indicator of how many days were left to achieve their goal.

The gamified version included a leaderboard (on which participants competed with other participants on their saving goal achievement), a progress bar, and badges that participants could achieve for reaching saving milestones (e.g., reaching 50% of their goal). Once achieved, the badges changed from grey versions to colored versions. In the control condition, the web app did not feature any game elements. We provide screenshots of the gamified and control condition versions of the web app below.

Image 1: Gamified condition

Image 2: Controlled condition

We first tested whether participants were more likely to achieve their saving goal in the gamified condition compared to the control condition. To get some indication as to whether participants found saving in the gamified condition more immediately rewarding, we measured how enjoyable they found the app each week, we also measured participants’ satisfaction with the amount of money they had saved each week, how useful they found using the web app each week, and how often they had logged their savings onto the web app each week. At the end of the study, we measured how likely participants would be to recommend the web app and to continue using it (if they could). Finally, we also measured some individual differences between participants, including their tightwad vs. spendthrift tendencies, debt aversion, propensity to plan for money, self-control, financial literacy, future orientation, and playfulness. We wanted to explore how these individual differences impacted participants’ ability to reach their saving goal.


Results and Recommendations

The results provided some initial evidence that gamification can be used to help consumers reach their saving goal: We found that participants in the gamified condition saved a higher percentage of their saving goal each week compared to participants in the control condition. However, participants in the gamified condition did not find the web app more enjoyable than participants in the control condition. This finding speaks against the possibility that gamification motivates saving behavior because it makes the behavior more immediately rewarding. We also did not find any differences between conditions in satisfaction with saving, perceived usefulness, frequency of use, likelihood to recommend the web app, and likelihood to continue using the app. In our extended report, we discuss the possible reasons why we did not find any differences between conditions on these variables.

In our exploratory analyses, we found that overall saving goal achievement at the end of the study (percentage of goal saved by participants in all four weeks together) was impacted by individual propensity to plan for money in the long run, debt aversion, and financial literacy. Participants with a higher propensity to plan for money in the long run, a higher debt aversion, and a higher financial literacy score had a higher saving goal achievement, which is in line with past research on saving behavior. Furthermore, we found that our main effect (that participants in the gamified condition saved a higher percentage of their goal than participants in the control condition) was robust to the inclusion of these individual difference measures. We also found some initial evidence that more playful participants had higher saving goal achievement. As more playful people might be more likely to enjoy gamified environments, this finding suggests that gamification might be more effective for some people than for others.

Our results have practical implications for consumers, banks, and policy makers. Gamified interventions can help consumers to pursue behaviors they might otherwise not be motivated to pursue (such as saving). Where such interventions do not exist, consumers could self-gamify by setting themselves small challenges and giving themselves rewards (badges), or by competing with peers on the achievement of certain goals. Our findings suggest that banks and other financial institutions could have a positive impact on consumer welfare by providing consumers with gamified tools to help them save. Policy makers could educate consumers to the use of self-imposed gamification principles to incentivize saving. Especially younger consumers, who typically struggle the most with saving for the future but who are more likely to be familiar with games and motivated by game elements, might benefit most from gamification. Therefore, interventions at schools or universities could be particularly effective at helping consumers develop better saving behavior.

Finally, we highlight that further research is needed, especially in understanding the mechanism through which gamification motivates behavior. Additionally, future research should look at whether gamification impacts long-term habit change (e.g., even when gamification is removed, do consumers continue to save) and explore for which consumers gamification interventions are more effective (e.g., for financially or technology savvy consumers, or more playful consumers)?