Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Suck. Here’s How to Make It (Kind of) Fun

Sushil Cheema enjoys gelato while making a run to the ATM in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder
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Ketchup and ice cream.

Swimsuits and snowstorms.

Personal finance and fun.

You’re right: None of these traditionally go together. We’re not going to top off a perfectly good scoop of ice cream with ketchup. Nor will we try to bare a snowstorm in a swimsuit. But we are going to make personal finance SO. MUCH. FUN.

Seriously, though. Managing your finances is a serious chore. It’s not exactly something we’re jumping for joy to sit down and do. In fact, many of us opt to procrastinate. But if you add a little fun into the mix, it isn’t so bad… right?

Use these tools to add a little spice to your personal finance life:

1. Start Gambling

Just kidding. That’s not very Penny Hoarder-esque. Or healthy. But you’ve got to admit: There’s something oh-so satisfying about those gas station scratch-off tickets, even if they do ruin your nails.

Instead of spending money on a piece of paper that doesn’t guarantee you money, download a free app called Lucktastic.

Each day, it releases a new assortment of digital scratch-off tickets. Lucktastic says instant wins range from $1 to $10,000. You can also earn tokens, enter contests and play games.

No, it won’t make you rich (unless you hit the jackpot), but it’s a fun way to try to earn money in your free time.

2. Watch Your Spare Change Add up

Remember when you were growing up, you’d go on hunts around the house for loose change to feed your piggy bank? Dig through the couch cushions, check mom’s car, sneak into dad’s office…

You’d feed that little piggy until it was full, then roll the coins — or, if you were a ’90s baby, you’d hit up the Coinstar kiosk at the grocery store. Watching the change add up was such a thrill.

Good news: You can still experience that excitement today — no loose change or coin roll wrappers required.

Download the Acorns app instead. It’s a savings and investing app that rounds up your credit and debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the remaining change.

Buy a $2.40 cup of coffee? Add 60 cents to your Acorns account. A $31.32 charge at the grocery store? Drop another 68 cents in. It’s kind of fun to see just how fast your digital change can add up.

Then, Acorns does the rest of the work for you, investing it into your chosen portfolio.

Sign up for the Acorns app, and, after your first investment, you’ll get a $5 bonus.

3. Get a New Start Through Refinancing

Ready to tackle your debt to the cold, hard ground? That sounds fun enough, right? Try consolidating it.

It could substantially lower payments you’re already making on your debt and help you save more money each month.

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Fiona, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

4. Stack Cash Rewards Each Time You Shop

Spending money — especially on necessities — is never truly fun. So why not turn it into a game and see how much cash back you can stack? Without clipping a single coupon.

We’re talking about Ibotta, a cash-back app that’s partnered with more than 50 retailers to reward you for, well, shopping.

You can even turn it into a bit of a cash-back game by inviting friends and creating a team. You’ll see who’s made how much — and where you rank.

For example, I’ve earned more than $120 in cash back through the app. When I tap “My Earnings” and scroll down, I can see I’m ranked seventh among my connected friends. The top placeholder has earned more than $350 in rewards. (Holy cash cow, Kath!)

If you want to join in on the competition, sign up for Ibotta. When you upload your first receipt, you’ll nab a $10 bonus. As soon as you collect $20, you can cash out.

5. Negotiate Your Internet Bill (Without Saying a Word)

If you’re like me — 100% passive, allergic to conflict — negotiating is no fun, especially when it comes to big purchases or monthly bills.

But when I was slapped with a huge internet bill, I was peeved. So I turned to Trim, an online personal assistant that actually negotiated the bill on my behalf.

The process was simple: I signed up (for free) and uploaded a PDF of my most recent internet bill, which I grabbed from my online statement. Then Trim let me know it was getting to work. Several days later, it let me know it’d gotten me $10 back.

Since then, it continues to check in on the status of my bill.

Although I’m a passive person, there’s no better feeling than reclaiming some cash — and sending a little bit of a “hah” to my internet provider.

6. Make Saving Fun Again

Saving? Fun?

No, no, no. Saving money isn’t fun — nor is it easy.

The best way to save is to do it without noticing. What?

Digit is an app that automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

These amounts are based on your spending habits and your income, which means you’ll never spin into overdraft. If Digit sees you can’t afford to tuck money away one day, no worries. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing; read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 100 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

7. Earn Gift Cards for Healthy (Financial) Habits

This app kind of rules them all: MoneyLion is an all-in-one app for managing your personal finances.

Basically, it offers the financial services you’d typically get from three or four different banks or providers, and they’re all bundled into one place.

MoneyLion connects with all of your bank, credit card, student loan and other financial accounts. Based on your income and spending patterns, it offers personalized advice to help you save money, reduce your debt and improve your credit.

One of our favorite things about this app is the rewards feature.

Targeted at the financial middle class, MoneyLion offers rewards to help you develop healthy financial habits. The rewards program gives you points for taking actions like:

  • Connecting a bank account.
  • Signing up for credit monitoring.
  • Paying your bills on time.
  • Keeping your credit utilization low.

The points can be redeemed for gift cards to retailers like Amazon, Apple and Walmart. It’s like giving American Express-style rewards to middle-class customers who may not have a points-earning credit card.

8. Conduct a Free 401(k) Analysis

Got a 401(k)? You’re on the right track.

Now, you just need to make sure it’s doing what you need it to. However, tapping into that account and deciphering the information — or lack thereof — can be hard.

There’s a robo-advisor for that. Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.

It gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.

After that, the tool is $10 a month to use to continue to monitor your retirement account. Let Blooom know your target retirement age, and it can help you get there by investing more and less aggressively.

9. Strike up a Budget

You’re rolling your eyes right now. I feel it. Budgeting isn’t fun, you say. But it kind of is, if you turn it into a personal challenge. And if you have a type-A personality. (Ahem, me.)

I recently started a super simple budget in an Excel spreadsheet. Nope, I have zero knowledge of Excel, but I poked around and worked from a template and within a few hours, I had just what I needed.

With the spreadsheet, I track my spending manually, which holds me more accountable than an automated app. Each month, I try to decrease my spending and increase my savings. Sure, sometimes it’s a total pain and absolutely disappointing, but other times it’s kind of fun to see just how much I can save.

In case you’re not sure where to start with a budget, I loosely followed the 50/20/30 method.

10. Continue to Learn!

The best way to feel more comfortable about your finances is to continue to educate yourself. If sitting in a classroom isn’t your thing, don’t worry. It’s not our thing either.

Some ways of learning about personal finance are actually kind of fun, including (cough, cough) reading The Penny Hoarder.

But seriously. You can find all sorts of information on the internet these days. Take, for example, “Get Your Money Together,” an illustrated “purrsonal finance” workbook. It includes everything from pictures of cats to designing a budget to investing to… more cats.

There are also a ton of personal finance podcasts out there. These are fun and easy to listen to, and you’ll often feel like you’re having a conversation with a good friend — even if you are just hanging out with your cats.

Bonus: Find Buried Treasure… (Sorta)

Did you know state treasuries throughout the U.S. have more than $43 billion in unclaimed funds? Just sitting around!

In 2017, one South Carolina man hit the jackpot. He got a phone call from his state treasurer letting him know he was entitled to $763,000 in unclaimed money. That’s, like, 63 years of rent.

We advise you to be careful of calls like this; chances are, it’s a scam. But you can take matters into your own hands and see if you have any unclaimed money floating around.

Start by checking with the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Click your state on the map, and it’ll redirect you to your state’s search site. You can also check with Missing Money.

All right, friends. It’s time to put the fun back into personal funance… I mean, finance.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She makes managing her finances even more fun by popping open a beer before getting started…