• Gabriella Garcia

QuantHumanists week 5: the pleasure of saving money

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

I love the idea of behavioral interventions, so this assignment's requirement to design and adhere to one was totally engaging! I stuck to analog tracking for my intervention, more an exercise in tracking the intervention than designing an interface for it, which gave me the space to practice what unique value sets I could measure and how they could influence change in behavior.

Pleasure Principal

Penalty has rarely been a motivating factor for me, perhaps stemming from (or cause of) my lifelong anti-authoritarian/establishment temperament. Reward, however, has been a measurably consistent harbinger of positive behavior change, even if it's literally just earning gold stars on a chart of daily tasks/standards. Sometimes it's even just about framing... "if you exercise three days this week, treat yourself to a drink on Friday" versus "you're not allowed to drink this weekend if you don't exercise regularly." It's weird. Those are the same intervention by different names. So by very nature of my being, my intervention had to include reward, or at least reward-framing.

Most recently, money has weighed heavily on my mind, as I am, like many grad school students, going for broke in all the ways. I wanted to create a multi-layered intervention that would reward me for better behavior, and also help me save money. I decided to pursue a micro-habit creation system that uses financial incentives much like Beeminder, which incentives you to keep on track with health and lifestyle goals by holding your money hostage. Obviously, hostage-holding my finances would fall squarely into the "penalty" camp, so instead I created a piggy bank module that would save toward an item of self-care or indulgence, like a massage or vacation.

Investing in future pleasure. Pleasure Principal.


Considering my dedication to micro-habit creation, I focused on evolving toward more fiscally-sound choices. Here were my parameters:

1. For every meal I cook for myself instead of eating out/purchasing, I bank a dollar.

2. For every time I biked instead of taking public transportation or a cab, I bank a dollar.

3. For every time I took public transportation instead of a cab (a very rare indulgence for late nights, heavy loads, and bad weather) I banked a dollar.

Some of these parameters had dual health benefits, which was extra-incentivizing! It's interesting to define parameters oriented on consistent past behavior.. rewarding for a choice of public transpo over cab for instance had to be oriented against the fact that I generally don't take cabs, so I wouldn't reward myself every time I took public transportation, but rather when the choice reflected a choice against convenient indulgence. I also extended the "cooking" parameter to include meals I didn't pay for, either by going over to a friend's house for dinner/potluck, or when treated.


This was actually a super-successful intervention experiment... in the ten days active, I ended up piggy banking $30. More importantly however, I saved around $300 thusly netting $270 of savings. Here's a spreadsheet detailing the activity, used for data flexibility in case I want to visualize or manipulate the outputs in the future. Here's a sample of how I documented my choices:

There were some estimations on money saved, including money I did not spend on cabs (estimate based on cost estimate of ride via Lyft app), and exactly how much I'd spend on a meal (I chose an estimated average of $10, which is somewhere between the $2.50 slice of pizza and the $15 ordering delivery, and the $25 I could spend on dinner with drinks). Cooking is where I saved the most money and definitely incentives me to do so more in the future. Also in consideration is how to self-evaluate/orient the intervention against past behavior, as noted above.

Final thoughts

Yep, it's super old school budget tracking with a twist. It gave me the space however to think about reshaping an intervention by questioning what keeps me from using similar methods currently available. The intervention mirrors goal tracking apps that donate your money to non-profits and charities for missing a goal—which is actually a really weird way to shape the way you think about giving now that I think of it—or worse, just take it like Beeminder literally does. With Pleasure Principal, you can't really lose. I can also see where this could b2b connected to products and services, where you pledge your bank toward participating businesses.

© 2020 Gabriella Garcia

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