The 'Gamification' of Personal Finance

These sites aim to educate, entertain, and motivate people to get their finances on track.

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Another potential pitfall in using games to teach personal finance is that some lessons don't translate seamlessly from the virtual to the real world. "In a game, if you don't want to work to earn the points, all you have to do is throw dollars down and the problem magically goes away," says Zichermann. "That is a true statement about most of the economy, but not a good financial philosophy."

Gamification is also a hot topic in health and wellness, as tools like Pact and Humana Games for Health use game mechanics to incentivize positive lifestyle changes. Some health insurers have begun using these tools themselves, and health and personal-finance converge in CakeHealth.com, a gamified platform that helps users track healthcare spending.

Zichermann predicts that in the future, businesses and the government could create more real-world incentives to influence behavior. "For instance, if you file your taxes early, you don't get punished but you don't get positive reinforcement," he says. "It's in the government's interest to have you file early so they should incentivize that behavior. If you maxed out your IRA or 401(k) and you're under 30, the government should give you a bonus for that because it reduces your reliance on Social Security."