Money challenges: Why I’m OK with them, and a few of my favorites

By Kristin Wong

Published: Wednesday, May 7 2014 9:40 a.m. MDT

I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks. But if the sole purpose of a gimmick is to save some extra cash, I guess I’m OK with it.

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Editor's note: This article originally ran on the personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly. It has been reprinted here with permission.

I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks. But if the sole purpose of a gimmick is to save some extra cash, I guess I’m OK with it.

We talked about this recently, but there seems to be a heightened interest in frugality lately. Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed a whole crop of money-saving challenges popping up all over the Internet, from personal finance blogs to Pinterest.

And then, the other day, my boyfriend asked: “Have you heard of this thing called the 52-week challenge”?

I was a little surprised. My boyfriend doesn’t spend much time on the Internet and he doesn’t keep up with personal-finance trends. Turns out, a friend of his mentioned the challenge during a recent hangout, as he and his wife are giving it a go.

It looks like the latest frugal gimmick has transcended the Internet and made its way into my real life. And I’m all for it.

Why I like money-saving challenges

I know, I know. These challenges are, as I said, gimmicky. And gimmicks are usually passing trends. As financially savvy people, we’re supposed to focus on slow and steady, not new and trendy.

But the topic of personal finance could use a little more attention. Our culture could stand to be a little more aware of frugality and our finances. So if it takes a gimmick to get people to realize saving is important, I’m OK with that.

Another reason I like these challenges is they promote accountability. A lot of people who take on the challenges share their progress online, or they take them on with a friend. We’ve mentioned this a couple of times in the past: Keeping like-minded company is important on the road to financial security.

So I welcome these money-saving challenges. And, as a frugal geek who enjoys looking for new ways to save, I have to admit, they are kind of exciting. I have my conservative saving habits, sure. But what’s so bad about adding a little fun to saving? And maybe even saving a little extra in the process?

The jar challenge

Growing up, my parents kept a water cooler jug full of spare change in their closet. I have no idea where the jug came from, because we never owned a water cooler. I think it was a leftover from my stepdad’s bachelor apartment.

Anyway, all three of us — my mom, stepdad and I — would feed this jug all of our extra change. It took years to fill it up. Well, maybe not years. Time moves slower when you’re a child, so maybe it was more like months. Whatever the time frame, it was a challenge in patience to wait for that jug to fill up. My parents always said we’d use the money to buy something special. But, for me, the reward wasn’t even what made it fun.

Truthfully, I have no recollection of anything special we bought with that money. But I do remember coming home from school, excited to roll quarters and nickels and dimes, and then do the math. Hundreds of dollars. For that brief period, I felt like we were rich.

Pinterest is rife with creative spinoffs of the jar challenge. And, of course, Bank of America has an automatic program for this — Keep the Change. You can easily replicate Keep the Change by using only bills to pay for your expenses. When you get change back, put it in a jar.

You can give yourself a time-based goal — How much change can I save in three months? Or you can give yourself a visual goal, like we did with the water cooler — How much will I save when this puppy is full?

Buy nothing year … or month