5. Tips & tricks to gamify your finances

June 22, 2024

June 22, 2024

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Episode Description

Do you struggle with staying on top of managing your money—especially when it comes to staying motivated to save money or pay off debt? In this episode we will cover the concept of gamification, and how you can use that to turn overwhelming or boring financial tasks into something more enjoyable. You’ll learn how to apply this method to your spending, savings, debt repayment, and budgeting systems so that you can actually start having FUN when it comes to your finances.

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What You’ll Learn

  • what gamification is, and how to apply to your money systems
  • why gamification is so effective for neurodivergent folks
  • how to gamify anything in your life
  • tips for gamifying your spending, savings, debt repayment, and budgeting
  • helpful apps that utilize gamification
  • & more!

Important Links

Listen to the dopa-menu episode HERE.

Download my free Taylor Swift savings tracker HERE.

Donate to Lina & Lubna’s Go Fund Me HERE.

Apps mentioned:


The key is not to force yourself to do anything, but instead make everything something you actually want to do.

Hi friends, and welcome back to dopamine dollars, the podcast where we dive into the emotions, science, and real life impact of managing your money and your life when you’re neurodivergent. I’m your queer AuDHD host, Ellyce Fulmore, and today we are talking about how to gamify your finances.

Some of the common struggles neurodivergent folks have when it comes to their money are things like planning for and following through with long term goals, creating and sticking to a budget, impulsive or emotional spending, balancing multiple goals at once, conceptualizing their spending and just money in general, and managing their finances day to day and month to month.

Obviously, all these things cover a large portion of the financial kind of tasks and responsibilities that we have to do as adults, and many of these challenges are caused by things like executive dysfunction, dopamine deficiency, impulsivity, and other neurodivergent traits. One of the biggest issues for neurodivergent folks when it comes to navigating finances and overcoming these challenges is that the majority of the education and tools out there were created for neurotypical folks.

So in order to really overcome these challenges and figure out what’s going to work for our brain, we need to start thinking outside the box and get creative with our solutions to these problems. If you are struggling to stick to a budget, then following tips from someone who is neurotypical might not ever work for you. This is where the concept of gamification comes in.

When I learned about gamification, it really changed the way that I viewed all of my responsibilities, not just my finances. The tasks that I would perpetually avoid because they were overwhelming or boring could be turned into something more enjoyable. And that was a game changer.

The thing is that neurodivergent people are motivated differently than neurotypical people. So someone who is neurotypical can look at a task that is important to them and think, oh, I should do that, that’s important to me, and then go ahead and do it. But for neurodivergent folks, even if we know something is important to do, we don’t respond to those quote unquote shoulds in the same way. It can be really challenging to motivate ourselves to start the task and to keep going long enough to actually finish the task. For people with ADHD, specifically, the most common types of motivation are pressure slash urgency, interest slash passion, competition slash challenge and novelty play. I’m going to do a future episode on all the different types of motivation.

But the important thing to note is that we don’t have the same sort of internal motivators that neurotypicals do. The task can’t just be important, that’s not enough. It also needs to be exciting or challenging or interesting, or have some sort of external motivator or accountability. We can achieve that by using gamification. Gamification is the process of enhancing systems, services, organizations and activities by creating similar feelings to those experienced when playing games in order to stay motivated and engaged. Gamification can be applied to your finances in order to make the process of managing your money more fun, enjoyable, and motivating. The key is not to force yourself to do anything, but instead make everything something you actually want to do.

The reason why gamification can work so well is not only because it plays into those motivation systems, but it also provides immediate rewards and positive reinforcement. In an earlier episode, we talked about the concept of delay discounting and how folks with ADHD tend to overvalue immediate rewards and undervalue long term rewards. By building in a system that delivers immediate rewards on the journey to achieving the long term reward.

It helps keep you on track by gamifying the whole process of, say, saving up a lump sum of money for a certain goal, then you’re getting those immediate rewards through the process and that keeps you going long enough in order to actually reach that long term goal. Whereas if we only have the goal at the end of the tunnel, end of the road, we only have that big lump sum savings goal. If the process itself isn’t enjoyable and isn’t giving us rewards, then we’re just going to really undervalue that and probably end up spending that money we’re supposed to be saving on something else.

The positive reinforcement aspect is also really important because many of us are used to negative reinforcement. We struggle with our money and then we shame spiral. We beat ourselves up because once again we couldn’t stick to the plan. Once again we impulse spent the money we were saving for something else. Once again we ended up in debt. You probably don’t even trust yourself to follow through with some of your intentions because you feel like you’ve let yourself down so many times. I know that I struggle with that personally. I tell myself I’m going to do something and then it doesn’t always work out that way. I don’t always—I can’t always follow through, and a lot of times it’s not my fault. It’s because I’m either placing expectations on myself that are, you know, too high or lofty to begin with, or I’m placing neurotypical expectations on myself, or I’m trying to use systems or tools that, again, were not designed for me.

But I want to remind you that the issue was never you. It was always the fact that the world itself was not designed with you in mind. And that includes the systems we’ve been taught to use with our money. I think it’s really important to understand the fact that being neurodivergent and living in a neurotypical world, every system, every tool, every educational aspect, everything we need to navigate, whether that’s school work, extracurriculars, like hobbies, traveling, anything, you name it, it’s going to be challenging because they’re designed—all of these things were designed for neurotypical brains and neurotypical experiences. While that is a discouraging thing to hear and think about, I think it’s also really important to acknowledge because it reminds us that it’s not our fault. We have a disability, we have a marginalized identity, and that makes things difficult.

Let’s talk about how to apply gamification into your finances. First off, I’m going to give you my general overview of how to gamify things, which could be applied to more than just your money. Then I’m going to get more specific and give examples on how to gamify your spending, your savings, your debt repayment, and your budget. So regardless of what financial goal you’re currently focused on, you’ll have some specific ideas to try implementing right away. Before I dive into really how to apply gamification and some specific examples, first, I want you to think about what type of games you actually enjoy.

So this could be video games, board games, games on your phone, lawn games, outside aspects of sports. Think about those things, get them in your mind, and try to pull out specifically what it is that you like about it. Do you like it because they’re not too complicated? Do you like ones that involve a lot of strategy? Do you like when you get to customize a character?

If we’re talking about Switch games, do you like a game like Zelda, where you’re open world exploring and you’re fighting the bad guys? Or do you like a game like Animal Crossing, where it’s very chill and calm and you’re just vibing and catching fish? So think about the types of games that you like and why you like them, and just keep those in mind as we go through the episode, because I think that that will also help direct you into what types of gamification might actually work well for your brain.

So starting with my general overview, I came up with a little acronym to help me remember how to gamify. It’s not a creative acronym by any means, so don’t judge me, but it works. And if anyone has any better suggestions on this acronym, feel free to send me a DM and let me know. So the acronym is SFVD, and if you need a phrase to remember it by, I’m sure again you could come up with a more creative phrase. The first thing that came to my mind was slowly feeling very dehydrated, SFVD, slowly feeling very dehydrated. And SFVD stands for spice, fun, visual, and dopamine, and these represent the broad ways you can implement gamification into your life.

First, we have spice, which is short for spice it up. Doing the same thing over and over again is boring, so don’t be afraid to spice it up often and approach tasks in a new way. You can do this by just changing the way that you’re doing things, whether you change the location, the information itself, or the format. For example, maybe you’re teaching yourself a new language and you’re using the Duolingo app and you start to get bored of the lessons on the app and you find that you’re not really excited to keep going with your lessons and you’re not really turning to it anymore. And the kind of initial dopamine hit that you got from doing those lessons has kind of worn off. Maybe you started doing your lessons outside on your patio, or maybe you ditch Duolingo and sign up for an in person class. Or instead of seeing the words visually, you start using only auditory lessons. Those are some examples of how you can spice it up and make the task or thing that you’re doing different by changing where you do it, how you do it, how you consume the information, etcetera.

Next, we have fun, which is short for make it fun. When it comes to any task you don’t really want to do, try to make the task more fun and enjoyable. You can do this by consistently celebrating your wins, implementing some sort of reward system, or adding a friend using the same duolingo example. Maybe this time you get your partner or friend to start taking lessons with you, or you come up with some sort of reward system where every time you reach a certain level, I don’t actually know if it’s levels in Duolingo, but when you reach a certain milestone in Duolingo that you buy yourself a nice coffee out or something like that.

Next is visual, which is short for keep it visual. This one is pretty self explanatory, but essentially many neurodivergent folks struggle with something called object permanence. Object permanence is the understanding that even if you can’t see a person or object at the moment, you still know it exists.

For folks with ADHD, they can struggle to remember objects or even people if they aren’t right in front of them. And so this might be why you have, you know, food in the back of your fridge that you don’t, you can’t see that goes bad. This is also why you forget to maybe stay in touch with your friends or family, even if you think about them on a daily basis. But you don’t have that reminder or cue to actually like text them or call them. And you kind of can’t keep track of how much time has passed. And this sounds awful to say out loud, but it’s almost like sometimes you forget the people in your life because of the object permanence. Like, it’s just not front of mind. I know other people with ADHD listening to this will relate. It’s a struggle. So obviously this can affect your money as well because you can really easily forget what’s going on with your finances.

So by adding visual elements into the tasks you’re trying to do, it makes it more likely that you will remember them. If you’re trying to keep up your duolingo streak, you might move the app to your home screen. You might set up reminders on your calendar or phone, or put a sticky note reminder on your desk or things like that.

Lastly, we have dopamine, short for inject dopamine. This involves thinking about things that you already like or that you’re interested in that give you a hit of dopamine, and then adding those on to the tasks that you’re struggling with. I highly recommend listening to my episode on dopamine if you haven’t already, because we go over a tool called the Dopa menu, which will come in handy here. Continuing on with the Duolingo example, you could complete your lessons while having your favorite snack or beverage, or have your comfort tv show playing in the background. So you’re basically taking some things that give you dopamine and injecting them into the task that you’re avoiding.

Now that you have a general idea of how to gamify tasks, let’s cover some specific examples for your finances, starting with gamifying your spending. Now, spending is not necessarily a task you’re struggling to do, it’s probably one that you’re struggling not to do. In this case, we want to think about how we can still gamify spending to make it more fun and enjoyable while also putting some boundaries into place. But we don’t want to go the route of like full restriction because that’s not going to work. It’s going to have the opposite effect.

The first tip I have is one that I’ve given a few times already, but I think it’s worth mentioning again, and that’s to give yourself an allowance on a separate spending card. An allowance is a set amount of money that you give yourself each month to spend guilt free on whatever you want. This way, you’re spending money feels almost special and there are no rules on how you spend it, but it’s on a separate card away from your daily banking so that it’s harder to overspend on. So that’s an example where there’s some boundaries and restrictions you put in place. But then you’ve also introduced this element of freedom and autonomy by letting yourself spend that money guilt free.

Another thing you can do to gamify the act of not spending is to create a wish list. Having a wish list that you actually enjoy adding to can help reduce impulsive spending and make the choice of choosing not to spend a little more rewarding or exciting. You can create a Pinterest wish list and add pins to it of things that you want to buy. Or this could be a simple note on your phone or notion board. I will do this with my notes app. You know how on Apple now with your photos you can like cut out a piece of your photo? I will do this with like things that I want to buy, like clothes or shoes. And so it kind of pulls out the little sticker of like the shoes or the piece of clothing. And I add those to just a note on my notes app on my phone and I’ll like put the link to what it is. But it’s cute because you have, I wish I could put a visual up right now, but you have this little note with like the little cutout images of the things and then the links to them. And I find that is like extra dopamine inducing.

I also love window shopping on Facebook marketplace and just saving items that I really love and eventually want to buy for myself. And that can kind of act as a wish list as well. Adding stuff to my wish list doesn’t give me as much dopamine as spending does, but it does still give me something and I feel less sad about not spending because instead of just not getting the thing I want, I feel like by having it on my wish list, I’m going to have it eventually. And so there’s more of this, like hope that even though it’s not feasible for me to buy, say, these new shoes right now or go on this vacation right now, it’s on my wish list and so it’s going to happen eventually and so there’s a little bit of excitement and anticipation around that.

Lastly, for spending, I’ll mention the Dopa menu again. This is an amazing tool that can help you choose an alternative source of dopamine that won’t hurt your wallet. I walk through this tool in my episode called it’s not you, it’s the dopamine deficiency.

Next, let’s talk about gamifying your savings. The goal here is to make the process of saving more enjoyable so that it’s easier to continue doing it. One easy thing you can do here is create separate accounts or buckets for your savings goals and give them fun names. I am not the best at this because I’m not super creative when it comes to naming things. It took me forever to come up with my table of contents for my book, like the chapter titles which I’m super proud of and I think they’re really fun and creative, but that took me so long. So thinking of fun account names also tends to take a long time for me. But if you’re good at this, this is definitely a fun one. And also adding like emojis and things like that. And some financial institutions even let you add a picture to your account as well. So like when you go onto your online banking, you can see like a little picture above the account. So that can also make it more exciting. If you’re saving for something to have like a picture, a visual of what you’re saving for.

I definitely also suggest setting up some sort of reward system for your savings goals. This can be done in a few ways. You can build in rewards throughout the process. So let’s say your goal is to save $1,000. You could reward yourself every time you save $100. And the reward does not have to be a monetary reward. It could be cooking yourself your favorite meal, or spending an afternoon however you want, or treating yourself to your fancy tea. Anything you can dream up. Just make sure that the reward feels special and motivating to you. Whatever it is, I suggest that you come up with these rewards ahead of time so that you’re not trying to pick a reward on the spot, because first off, having the reward ahead of time can act as a motivator. But secondly, if you are picking it on the spot, I don’t know, it might end up where you’re giving yourself a bigger reward than you normally would for these smaller milestones. So I think just having it ahead of time helps keep you on track there.

I personally love using a sticker chart as a reward system. So I would break out my savings goals into really small milestones, and then each time I saved $25 or $50, that would be worth a sticker. And I would put the sticker on the sticker chart, and then once I reached a certain number of stickers, I would get a reward of some sort. And I also want to note here that these rewards can be monetary if you want it to be. I think you just want to be careful that the monetary reward isn’t going to undo the savings progress that you made. And one way you can kind of get around this is you can build in the cost of your reward into your savings goal.

So let’s say if we go back to the example of you want to save $1,000, and maybe you’re going to say, okay, if I reach that goal, then I’m going to go out for a nice dinner, and that’s going to cost, I don’t know, $60. So then your savings goal would actually be $1060. And then once you reach that, you can give yourself the reward. So that’s like one way to kind of get around that without throwing off your savings progress.

You can also reward your behavior instead of rewarding certain financial milestones. How this works is every time you do a certain behavior that you want to do, you give yourself positive reinforcement by putting money into savings. And this behavior doesn’t have to be finance related at all. For example, maybe you’re trying to go to the gym more consistently. So every time you go to the gym, you could transfer $5 into your savings.

And if this is a system that works for you, this could even be your entire savings strategy. So instead of having a goal of like, I want to save $1,000, your goal could be, I want to go to the gym X amount of times and you pick how much each time equals in dollars, and that adds up to $1,000. It’s like a different way of thinking about it. And that way your actually relying on achieving, going to the gym rather than saving money. And it’s just happening as like a by-product if that makes sense.

Another great way to gamify your savings is to implement visual trackers. These could be apps or printable sheets or digital templates. Now, I personally don’t enjoy using money apps myself. I just don’t find they work for me. So I’m not the best person to ask for this, but I have done quite a bit of research on it and you know, asked clients how they liked it after trying it and things like that. And the ones I’d recommend here are capital with a q, so spelt Q-A-P-I-T-A-L and Loot app. And Qapital is an app that allows you to link savings goals to other goals, like fitness goals. So this would work great for the rewarding behavior technique that I just covered because you can link the goal of going to the gym to the goal of saving money.

And then the loot app looks like a virtual money jar. It’s essentially a savings tracker with goals and reminders, but it’s on your phone instead of it being like a color in physical tracker. And I will link both those apps in the show notes so you can check them out.

If you’re looking for a pre made tracker that you can color in. I have my Taylor Swift savings tracker which you can download for free using the link in the show notes. There are also a ton of free savings tracker templates on Canva that you could use and I personally also love using my bullet journal for savings trackers. I just draw in my own template. I often use like Pinterest or just Google what other people have done for inspiration and then I will slowly color it in as I save. There are also lots of great digital templates on sites like Etsy. If you’re looking for more of like a spreadsheet type visual tracker and my budget template that is releasing very soon will also have visual savings trackers. So keep your eye out for that.

My last tip for gamifying your savings is to participate in or create your own savings challenge. You can tackle these on your own or recruit someone else to compete against and keep each other accountable. These could be time or money based. So you could do something like let’s see who can save more money in three months, which would be time based. Or you can do something like who can save $1,000 first which would be more money based.

When it comes to gamifying your debt repayment, many of the strategies we just covered for savings will also apply like the reward systems and the visual trackers. Now, especially for debt repayment, I definitely suggest having some sort of tracking system to remind yourself of your progress and to implement rewards along the way.

I did actually get a question on my Instagram recently asking what if you don’t like visual trackers? And I think I’ve already given a lot of other examples, if you’re not a huge fan of visual trackers. But even if you don’t love visual trackers and they don’t seem to really work for you, I still recommend having some sort of tracking system. Does not have to be a color and tracker does not have to be super visual. But for something like debt repayment or a savings goal, like you want to have some way to measure it and to know that you’re on track. I think without any sort of tracker, you end up in that out of sight, out of mind where you aren’t as connected to the goal that you’re doing.

If you’re looking for app suggestions for debt repayment trackers, I would suggest Debt Payoff Planner. That’s the name of the app which helps you outline a debt repayment plan and keep track of your progress. I also suggest looking into Habitica. I think that’s how you say it. It’s spelled like habit and then ICA, which is not a debt specific app and it could be used for any sort of goal actually, because it’s really just based on habits. But I do think it would work really well for debt repayment.

This is a cute gamified app and I actually tested this one out and I think it’s really awesome. Basically, you get a little avatar character. You get to like customize the character and then you earn rewards for completing habits so you can customize your objectives and rewards. You have like a little health bar at the top and a little experience bar. And you can also use their rewards that they have, which are like different accessories that you can add to your little avatar. You gain experience points as you achieve different tasks and check things off. It’s super fun and I think it would be great to track debt payments, but also to use as like rewarding yourself for not impulse spending or not putting more on your credit card, etcetera. And again, you could mix in other habits, like going to the gym, like drinking a certain amount of water, like whatever other habits you’re trying to implement, you could add those into this as well. Yeah, I just think it’s, it’s a great app.

I also think when it comes to debt repayment, adding in a friend is really helpful. Whether you join an accountability group or get your partner to help you on your debt payoff journey. It’s more motivating to do it together. And if you are someone who knows that you benefit from external accountability, then definitely finding some way to mix this into your financial goals will be really helpful.

Lastly, let’s talk about how to gamify your budget. A lot of people don’t realize that there are two major components of a budget. There is the allocation of the money itself, aka how you’ve decided to spend your money and where your money is going. So like the general plan of I’m going to put this much of my income toward this, this much of my income toward that. Like there’s that allocation, but then there’s also the system that you are using to stay on track with this spending plant. So a budget itself includes your plan for how you want to spend your money and the system that’s going to keep you on track with that plan.

So in terms of the money allocation, you can gamify this by thinking about what things would make you excited to use your money on. Having an allowance is also a way of gamifying your spending plan. And another thing to try is the concept of unbudgeting.

Unbudgeting is the process of removing limits for very specific expenses. So basically, you unbudget a category or even just a smaller specific expense, and you don’t give yourself any rules or restrictions around how much you can spend on that category. I first learned about the concept of unbudgeting from Bridget Casey, and I actually have a financial sidebar box dedicated to this concept in my book.

Unbudgeting can help reduce feelings of scarcity and is really helpful for introducing some freedom and autonomy back into your budget. How you practice unbudgeting is by picking one or two areas of your budget to completely unbudget and remove all restrictions. So you want to think of the expenses or areas of your spending that you could technically overspend on and still not throw off your whole budget. This might be an entire category of your budget, or this might just even be a micro portion of your budget.

I’ll give you a personal example. For me, buying coffee is an unbudgeted area because I cannot overspend on this. And that’s because I don’t often buy coffee out. Like, I have my own coffee set up at home. I have all the syrups and like the fun stuff. I think my coffee is delicious that I make at home. I also work from home, so I’m not like going out to an office. I just don’t have the opportunity to really buy coffee out that much. I typically do buy it out once a week, but even if I were to buy it, say, three times a week, three times a week, times four weeks in a month, that amount still isn’t going to put me over my spending budget for the month. Right?

So this is an expense that comes off my allowance card. And even if I were to buy coffee three times a week, I’m not going to spend my whole allowance ones. That’s an example for me. Obviously it’s going to look very different for everyone.

Another category that is unbudgeted for me is buying books, which might sound surprising because books can be really expensive if you’re buying a lot of them. But I get most of my books from the library or I thrift them. I rarely buy new books, and so I know that I won’t be buying enough new books to overspend on.

A future goal of mine is to completely unbudget groceries. Right now, my partner and I still have a budget amount that we try to stick to each month in terms of how much money we’re spending on groceries. But to me, the ultimate luxury and goal is to be able to not even have to track or think about how much we’re spending on groceries and still know that we couldn’t go off of our budget. And obviously this will have to be when we are making more money. But I think it’s like fun to just think of these areas that you can unbudget, and I know that once I reach that level, that to me, will feel like true financial freedom.

Once you’ve gamified the allocation portion of your budget, you can move on to gamifying the system. Consider how you can make the system you’re using to follow your allocation plan more fun and exciting. Remember, it’s all about finding what works for you, so this might take some trial and error, especially if you’re someone who hasn’t tried out a lot of budgeting templates and systems before.

I personally have been loving my own budget template that I created on Google sheets—which will be for sale soon—because it’s so brightly colored and dopamine inducing, and I’ve been able to customize it to have exactly the features that I want and to track the things that I want.

Other budgeting systems could also be an app like you need a budget, rocket money or fortune city. My favorite of those is Fortune city because it’s this really fun game where you get to slowly build a little village as you track your expenses, you could also budget with a notion template, a bullet journal, or a printable template that you fill out by, you know, pen and paper.

A budget method that is fairly popular on TikTok is the cash envelope system, also called cash stuffing, where you take out your monthly budget money in cash and then separate it into envelope envelopes that represent each category of spending. I can definitely see how this system would be really helpful for a lot of neurodivergent folks, especially those who struggle with conceptualizing their spending and like, seeing the tangible amount in their hands.

But unfortunately, it’s just quite impractical in today’s world. Many places have stopped accepting cash altogether, and it also relies on you remembering to bring the correct cash from the correct envelope. Or if you’re like carrying it all around with you, you might risk having it be lost or stolen.

However, if you are a fan of this system or you feel like it might be helpful for you, you can recreate it using my five account system and monopoly cash. Let me explain. Check out my podcast episode called my five account system, which explains how to set up what is basically a virtual envelope system using different accounts for your various categories. And then once you have that set up, you can also utilize monopoly cash to represent your budget it for the month. So this way you get the best of both worlds and can conceptualize your money and visually see it while also still having your money be digital and easier to use day to day.

If you are going to try out the system, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using envelopes for your monopoly cash. I would actually keep it more visual or this is like, maybe a bit extreme, but I think it’d be so fun to have like a little mini children’s cash register and like, have money in there. Like, that would be so cute. But obviously, please don’t go impulse buy a cash register. You don’t need it. Okay, I’m de influencing you. Don’t go impulse buy a children’s cash register.

If you are looking for monopoly money, you can definitely find some monopoly games at your local thrift store. I feel like this is like one of the most popular board games ever, and you could probably go to a small thrift store and get a monopoly game for under $5. Or you can also order just the cash off of Amazon for quite an affordable price.

I hope you’re feeling inspired with how to start gamifying your money systems. I suggest starting with the aspect of your finances that you’re struggling with the most and apply the SFVD acronym so how can you spice it up, make it fun, keep it visual, and inject dopamine?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with just small tasks so you don’t have to start with, like, gamifying your whole budgeting system. Just start with one little area, like, how can you gamify tracking your expenses for the week? Get creative and think about things that you already love and enjoy that you could apply to the boring or challenging parts of managing your money.

Remember, the key is not to force yourself to do anything, but instead, make everything something you actually want to do.

All right, friends, that is it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening to dopamine dollars. And remember, you’re not bad with money, you just need to make it more fun.