After my son begged for a PS4 Profor like, forever”, Santa finally delivered last Christmas! My initial assumption was that the gift was for the little guy in my life…But as it turns out, my husband is enjoying our newest electronic gadget just as much! On weekends, they love to retreat to the Man Cave (a fancy name for our unfinished basement) and morph into two dudes, drinking soda and yelling at the TV. Before you cast judgment on the hours wasted, let me first tell you that renowned game designer, Jane McGonigal, argues that playing video games together actually strengthens family relationships. In her TED talk she says, “When we play a game…we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we we’re more likely to reach out to others for help.” McGonigal delves further into this topic in her book, SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully, in which she discusses how you develop a gameful mindset when you play games (video games, sports, board games, puzzles, etc.), and that this gameful mindset changes how you respond to stress by building more resilience.

What if you took McGonigal’s advice and applied it to your family’s finances, looking at your family’s budget like a game you’re going to master?

Gameful Mindset: Approaching a task (in our case, the family budget) with an attitude that is playful, but oriented toward achieving goals, trying out different strategies, and taking on new challenges.

To look at your family budget with a gameful mindset, you’ll need to experiment with the following three ideas:

1. Orient your planning toward achieving goals

Gamers are goal oriented…and you can be too! When exploring your family’s financial goals, it’s important to put a time frame on what you want to achieve. Break it down into two defined categories — Long-Term Goals & Short-Term Goals. Putting a time frame on a goal allows you to keep your eye on the finish line. Can’t exactly start saving for your kid’s college education the summer before they head off to college…umm, that should be a long-term goal!

Once you’ve designated a time frame, the next step is to make a plan and be specific. How many of us have made the New Year’s resolution to lose weight? And how many of us have actually been successful without a specific plan in place? Not many, I’m guessing! It’s the same with financial goals. If you want to make something happen, then break it down into smaller, doable steps.

Finally, build in mini rewards along the way as you make progress. Back to our weight loss example…as you reach milestones on the scale you can reward yourself with a blouse, manicure or a day off from parenting (Who are we kidding? That’ll never happen!). Built-in incentives along the way will help to keep you motivated.

2. Try out different (budgeting) strategies

The next task to master the budget using a gameful mindset is to try out different strategies in order to figure out which one works best for your family. Trying new games can be fun, challenging, and even educational…so can trying out different budgets! Over the years, we’ve approached our family’s budget in a few different ways in order to find the one that’s the best fit for us. Below are the most tried and true types of budgets.

  • Traditional Budget — Define your income and then set spending limits for each expense category. The goal is to not exceed the spending limit in each category. When you hit a category’s limit, you stop spending until the next month.
  • Cash Only — This one is the most tangible way to teach you how to follow a budget! You set up an envelope for each category in your budget that is variable (things like groceries, entertainment, clothing – NOT things like retirement savings and the mortgage). Then stuff each envelope with a predetermined amount of cash. When the cash is gone, you’re done spending (unless you move money from another envelope).
  • Zero-Based — Every dollar has a job. The idea behind this budget is to be intentional with your money, defining where each dollar will go ahead of time, like BEFORE you actually spend it. The formula is simply income minus outflow equals zero for a set time period (monthly is most common).
  • Priority-Based — Pay all your priority bills first (however you define ‘priority’…hopefully all that important stuff like rent, 401k contributions, charitable giving, loans, etc.). Whatever money is leftover is free for the taking to spend on fun stuff (like entertainment, travel, clothes). Hopefully you save some too!

3. Take on new challenges

When you are ready to implement a change in the family budget, it’s important to do it a little at a time. Pick one facet that needs attention and hone in. (Hmmm…Are you spending like a madman on groceries and need to reign it in?) By focusing on one area, you’ll be ensuring the highest probability of success because you can direct all your energy there. If you try to tackle everything at once, you’ll spread yourself too thin and likely won’t find much long-term, sustainable success. Once you’ve perfected one particular area of focus, then you can move on to the next one. Once the grocery spending is dialed in then you can turn your attention towards the eating out category of your budget…baby steps!

Next time you tackle your family’s budget, look at it through the lens of your favorite game and supercharge your approach to finances! Turning something into a game makes it more fun, more challenging, and just a wee bit competitive. Don’t shy away from trying something new…you can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. If you want your family budget to change then YOU are going to have to do something about it. And who knows, that gameful mindset you’ve adopted just might catch your children off guard when you challenge them to a game of NBA2K17 and smash ‘em!


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