The slow, methodical process of saving money is a challenging concept for the kind of people who sigh when they have to wait for a sluggish Internet connection.
Would a little incentive make a difference? Say, a chance to win $2 million? How about winning $100 for gas, or $5,000 donated to your favorite charity?
SaveUp thinks it might.
This iOS app and website, from a San Francisco company of the same name, is based on the idea that people will save more money if there’s something in it for them — in addition to the money they’re saving over time, of course.
I found SaveUp enjoyable to use, but it currently lacks the truly useful tools to help people get better at managing their finances.
Whenever you do something that’s financially smart, like paying down your debt or putting money into your savings account, SaveUp gives you credits that can be put toward chances to win prizes. Some of these are lottery-style, like a drawing I entered to win a $100 Home Depot gift card; others are instant wins, like a Mystery Picks game I played that let me click on three suitcases to try to win a donation for the Boys & Girls Club of America.
To get started, SaveUp prompts you to link your bank, credit card or loan accounts to your SaveUp account. It uses bank-level security and, behind the scenes, runs on Intuit’s technology for connecting to financial institutions; Intuit owns TurboTax, Quicken and Mint.
One goal of SaveUp is to get people coming back to the app or website to interact with their finances on a regular basis.
Mint.com, the financial management site and app, was also designed in the hope that people would use it often. I’m a Mint user, but I rarely use the app or website unless I need to check an account. SaveUp’s playful nature motivated me to open the app more often so I could see count my latest credits, enter drawings and play games for prizes.
But I found myself wishing that SaveUp had more Mint-like visuals to help me understand my spending and finances. Mint’s simple, colorful pie charts and bar graphs illustrate things like spending behavior over months or years. SaveUp is limited to basic lists of transactions, sorted by date and account. And you can easily play games in SaveUp without ever looking at your money: Skip right to the Prizes section in the app and you’ll never so much as glance at your account balances.
Another aspect of SaveUp that I wasn’t crazy about: It defaults to publicly sharing your activity with other users, allowing them to view and comment on that activity. I turned this off via the SaveUp website once I noticed it was on, but I couldn’t find a way to turn sharing off via the SaveUp app.
SaveUp’s CEO, Sammy Shreibati, confirmed that the app doesn’t offer a way to turn off sharing. Not only is that frustrating, but if you started using SaveUp on its app, you wouldn’t even know your data was being shared on its website, nor would you know how to turn that sharing off.
I was pleasantly surprised to earn SaveUp credits without doing a lot of work. For example, I received one credit for every $2 paid on my credit card account balance whenever my monthly automatic payment was made. You’ll also be rewarded for adding accounts or sharing the app with friends. These credits can be exchanged for “plays” — trade in 100 credits for a play.
On the SaveUp app, prizes are divided into three categories: Drawings, which list the grand-prize amount and days left to enter; Jackpot, which is $2 million, and asks people to choose six numbers between one and 73; and Instant Win, which are games that each list the grand-prize dollar amount, and include prizes like a $5,000 Best Buy gift card and a $25,000 Paris vacation for two.
In the app’s settings, I turned on a passcode lock for the app, to keep my finances private from whoever might be browsing around on my phone.
The SaveUp website is more in-depth. It sorts prizes into Personal Prizes (“win your dreams”) and Charity Prizes (“play for your favorite cause”). It also gives users a place to submit suggestions for prizes, and they earn 1,000 credits if their submission wins the most votes from other people. Everyone who uses SaveUp votes on prize ideas, so the prizes will be truly tailored to users’ desires (if, that is, the voted-up prizes are implemented).
For users who don’t want to leave prize-collecting to chance, there’s the Rewards section on SaveUp.com, which lets users collect and redeem stamps. This is a little confusing, since stamps are awarded at random. The site encourages you to use SaveUp, and to play for prizes to collect more stamps.
But remembering how to collect credits, plays and stamps could get confusing.
Rewards range from things like 10 percent off one item at the Discovery Channel Store (cost: five stamps) to a one-year subscription to GQ Magazine (20 stamps).
SaveUp’s big sweepstakes, like the $5,000 and $2 million prizes, are insured and bonded by a promotions company that charges SaveUp a premium every time someone plays. If someone wins big — like the $2 million jackpot — the promotions company pays the winner. SaveUp makes money by using sponsors and running ads on its website.
SaveUp’s app is currently limited to iOS, but the company is working on an Android app.
Though SaveUp can stand to improve its financial education offerings, it’s sticky enough to keep users coming back. That alone is more than most finance-managing websites and apps have achieved.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.