Gamification of finances

I am a big fan of gamification.  FitBit has done it with physical fitness.  Tripadvisor has done it with reviews.  I’m sure there are other examples, but these are the best known.  I have often thought it would be a great idea for personal finances.  Something like but as you add goals you get badges for reaching those goals.  Since no one has made that happen yet, I am just making something up for myself.  Nothing fancy, just setting some goals and celebrate when certain targets are hit.  While not exactly what I had in mind, there is a site you can learn lessons, take quizzes and earn points and badges.  Better Money Habits is a partnership between Bank of America and Khan University.  Sign up for free, pick a topic and learn something.  Even if it is a repeat of what you already know, it’s good to help keep you motivated.


Recently I have been listening to the M.O.N.E.Y. show which inspired me to re-read the Total Money Makeover.  All this information has me wanting to jump straight into action.  The problem is I get paid once a month.  While I can plan, budget and scheme, I can’t really do much which leads to the downtime and me wondering what I can do.  I reached out to J Money…the comedy of the MONEY show, who also runs and asked his advice.  His suggestion was blog.  Find something you love and write about it.  As it happens, I have had a blog for a long time now.  It’s never really had a focus, hence the “James the Generalist”.  This has always been more like an online journal with all of three people who might read it. :^)  However, this also has its benefits since I can chronicle what I’m doing, get some of the thoughts out of my head and maybe…finally…define my goals enough to start making some solid plans.

My current interests are:
  1. Traveling.  I like traveling alone, but now that I have an amazing travel partner (my hot wife Kelly) it’s way more fun.
  2. Travel points.  With travel, I have tried really hard to travel cheaply.  Using points, flying Spirit, etc.  The obvious problem with this is you usually have to use credit cards which is always a slippery slope.
  3. Travel writing.  Sort of.  I use Tripadvisor anytime I hit a town, even one I am familiar with.  You generally get both good and bad reviews of a place from travelers and locals.  I take the time to rate and review places I find, have been recommended or that I frequent at home.
  4. Camping. I have purchased some great gear from REI, much to my wife’s chagrin, but it makes being outdoors all that more fun.  She doesn’t camp much, but I have friends that do and my daughters also love it.
  5. Real Estate.  I have always had a fascination with buying and selling homes.  I worked for Dream Homes, a build on your lot builder, before they were purchased by Jim Walter Homes.  That sparked my interest and I read all kinds of books, attended seminars and did precisely nothing with that knowledge.  Now that I have a solid career, I am revisiting that interest.
  6. Eliminating debt.  I’m not sure if this is an interest or obsession.  I have tried more than a few times to dig out of the hole, but it seems like there is always something to pull you back in.  Travel, camping gear, points collection…:^}  This one is usually in conflict with the others because I’m impatient.
That seems like a pretty good list to get started working on.  We’ll see what catches on.

What’s important?

Apparently, to make goals more achievable they have to be specific, measureable, written and you need to be accountable.  That is what this entry is about for me.  I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions.  I’ll make some experience objectives that are important to me.  I know it is just semantics, but it works for me.  For a start date, the Chinese New Year is arbitrary enough and starts on February 10th.  In the coming year I am going to (in no particular order of importance):

  1. Meet more celebrities.  This is pretty easy since it only requires me to get to more genre conventions. I can’t call them “comic conventions” since there might be comics, but there will also be toys, science fiction and fantasy, written and filmed, games, etc.  The really need a new name. The push: I will attend all the conventions put on at the Irving Conventions Center and at least one outside the DFW area.
  2. Sew more.  I enjoyed the near mental breakdown of trying to assemble something that have vague instructions.  My poor wife, being an introvert, assumes my cussing, fussing, grumbling and exasperation are signs I am not enjoying myself.  You’d think after 14 years of marriage she’d know.  This is too vague of course, so I will complete AT LEAST three of these:
    • Revised Voyager jumper
    • Star Trek: Next Generation uniform
    • DS9/Nemesis uniform
    • Star Trek Original Series uniform  (all in science blue/green of course)
    • Battlestar Galactica original viper pilot
    • Battlestar Galactica recent bridge officer
    • Old West Sherriff
    • Ren Faire garb
    • A contemporary suit
    • A contemporary shirt
    • The push: I know of at least two people who are photographers.  I will complete a photo shoot in one of these outfits. 
  3. Date my wife more.  I do pretty well with this, but I need to make sure we get time weekly.  Not just going out since that would make me poor in a hurry, but separating ourselves from the kiddos for at least an hour.  We have a 12 year old and a TV.  I’m sure they can manage.  The push: put it on the calendar with reminders. 
  4. Go out with friends more.  I will say yes every time a friend or SUITup Gents gets together unless an important prior engagement is on the calendar or I’m sick.  I need to get out more, pretty simple and my wife needs a break from me dating her all the time.  The push: If you know me, you read this and you need another person along, let me know and I am there.
  5. Shape my back yard oasis.  I will do one thing a month to start shaping my little slice of heaven.  I have been talking about it for too long.  It’s time to start breaking some ground.  The push: the annual Stines Halloween party is officially on.  I need to have the yard ready for you costumed critters.
  6. Organize photos.  I have two comic short boxes full of photos.  I have a box of pretty boxes to put them in.  The two need to meet already.  The push:  I have a blank space where I moved the games down from over the TV for the kids.  I need something in that space.
  7. Play my trumpet more.  I will pull out the trumpet at least once a week and play some tunes.  I scarified years of work and cash for that thing, I should get some continued use out of it.  The push: put together an ensemble to play at…(senior citizen home, school, night club, I dunno).  It will largely depend on the mix of instruments.
  8. Get outside more.  I think many (most?) women agree a man looks good in a suit.  I know I look good on SUITup Mondays.  I’m damn hot.  But if it looks like your inside all day playing video games, you lose some of that manliness.  To that end, I plan on getting outside more.  I will go camping at least four times this coming year at least once by myself, hike a 10 mile trail and walk every day.  The push:  Tell the kids I’m taking them camping.  I’ll never hear the end of it until we actually go.
  9. Remove expectations.  How often do you look forward to something, build it up in your mind only to be let down when things don’t go the way you want them too.  I think we miss out on more than a few opportunities by being blinded by what we think should be happening.  I know this seems contrary to making objectives like the preceding, but I would argue it’s in harmony.  The objectives give me a direction to start going while a lack of expectation would allow me to change course and follow that path that presents itself.  To go with the flow, you at least have to walk in to the river.  The push: …only the flow.
  10. Get to 195 lbs and be at least a comfortable 36”waist.  When I finished school for the last time, I was at my heaviest of 235 lbs.  Once I got my degree, my stress levels plummeted and I lost 15 lbs within the year doing almost nothing different.  I have been 210-215 since then regardless of how much or how little I do.  The push: have a “before” photo taken in all it’s embarrassing glory and have a trusted friend hold it.  If this objective is not achieved in six months, that photo is release on facebook. (shudder)
  11. Expand my professional network.  I need to leverage synergy and grab the low-hanging fruit.  My objectives need to be value-added and actionable with a clear strategic fit with my new paradigm.  OR I could take my peers out to lunch.  I will take out a vendor or customer who is roughly equivalent like controller, credit manager, CFO, etc. to lunch once a month.   It never hurts to learn from others or know people in your industry who have seen you face to face.  The push: have a simple, but thought provoking question.  Tell my boss I’m doing it and have him follow up with me.

That is a pretty good list to get me started.  If I achieved even half of that I think I could count it a success.  I have a couple of other personal objectives but it’s not necessary to have all one’s cards shown.  If you know me and you read this, hold me accountable.  Ask how I’m doing on something.

Congrats! You made it! Now what…

How many of us have worked hard, REALLY hard, to get to some point, achieve some goal only to actually make it?  We find ourselves at the end of the long road of single minded devotion faced with a very large open field that spans in all directions as far as the eye can see.  There might be a lot of trails, but no defined roads.  Mostly likely the road you were just on is gone, since there is no going back.

That is how I felt upon hearing my predecessor was finally retiring and I was given the accounting department.  I have two people working for me and a lot of expectations to live up to.  Until now, I was a task guy.  Each day I had a stack of tasks to do and I’d get them done.  I am very good at making things more efficient, making daily tasks quick and easy to finish.  Now I am expected to take those tasks and delegate.  At the moment, I can just teach the task and work out future procedures to pass on.  However, at some point I will need to teach others to work out the problem.  This is not something I have done a lot of, but it looks like my new challenge.

It seems like the old way of doing things was to learn a job and make yourself invaluable my making sure no one else could do your job.  That way, no matter how incompetent you were, it would still trump other peoples’ ignorance.  My philosophy is to see just how much I can get off my plate and into the hands of others.  I think it would be very hard to teach my way out of a job, and I am still very good at problem solving, so the end result should be a group that just gets better.  I suppose we’ll see what kind of teacher I am.

So, here I am in the middle of a wide open field.  I think I’ll head left for a while and see where that goes.