unicorn vs 401k

Laser-Shooting Unicorns vs. 401(k) Match: Our Real Motivations to Save

Here’s my beef with money. It’s boring. And it’s especially boring saving it.

“Hooray, you earned an extra $1.09 in interest because you put away over $1,000 in your ‘high-yield’ savings account! Don’t you feel satisfied for all of your hard work, for cutting back on lattes and for putting away that money for an entire year?”

No. No you don’t.

Anyone would rather be buying something tangible with that cash, like a sweet new iProduct-type thing or a box of fancy gourmet cupcakes. That’s rewarding. That’s satisfying. $1.09 in interest is not.

But what about my employer 401k match? That’s cool!

Sure, there are some ways to earn a little more than a measly interest rate on your savings. If you’re extra lucky, you work for an employer that will match your contributions to your retirement account. That could be a few thousand dollars a year. That’s a decent reward to save money.

And yet, thousands of Americans leave this free money on the table every year. Why? It’s still boring.

It’s hard to get a thrill from getting a few hundred dollars each year from work that you have to wait 40 years to spend. That’s the ultimate form of delayed gratification. And I have limited capacity for delayed gratification.

I’m like a kid when it comes to rewards. I want something now. I want something I can get excited about. I want to win something mind-blowingly awesome that makes me feel good about being a saver.

I want the equivalent of a unicorn with laser-shooting upgrades.

The Argument for Unicorn-like Incentives

Imagine how ridiculous and incredible rewards would impact the way you managed your money. What if you could unlock mythical, magical creatures the more money you saved in a money market account? What if you could earn points for a kitten or puppy every time you put money away towards retirement? What if you could win a rocket-powered jetpack if you paid down your debt?

Lasers and unicorns may be a little farfetched, but the idea of awesome incentives aren’t. There are actually some websites out there trying to reward people with kick-ass prizes for saving money, like SaveUp. If you sync your bank accounts to SaveUp, you could win an iPad, a vacation, or an Amazon gift card just for paying down your loans or saving money in a linked account. Even a few credit unions are getting in on the act, offering lottery scratch off tickets to savers through the Save-to-Win program.

You can read more about SaveUp and “Prize-Linked Savings” here.

That’s a great start. But why stop there? Let’s take it up a notch. Let’s figure out a way to make mind-blowing savings incentives for everyone, especially kids.

What if kids could win a trampoline for saving their allowance? What if there kids could unlock bad-ass secret weapons in World of Warcraft based on how consistently they saved money? What if they won some rare, brag-worthy item that they couldn’t help but save money?

The Challenge

Here’s the challenge to the financial service industry, the gaming world, and anyone else involved in teaching people how to save: let’s motivate the hell out of everyone by thinking way outside the box. Provide an incentive that’s so totally badass and awesome that kids will line up at the bank like a Justin Beiber concert. Something where kids compete and brag about how much of their money they’ve saved. Something that will turn a spend-happy child into a frugal, goal-driven, savings-crazy super kid.

Something as incredibly amazing as a laser-shooting unicorn.

What crazy ridiculous incentive would encourage you to actually save more money or contribute to your retirement account?

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