Rewards, Punishments, and Finding Financial Motivation

Reward or Punishment

I recently trained for and ran my first half marathon. As most hard things are, it was awesome and awful at the same time. While I was training, I swore to Johnny that getting through the 8, 9, and 10-mile runs had everything to do with employing psychological warfare on my own fragile mind. As I shuffled along, wanting to die of exhaustion, I’d imagine myself succeeding on race day or I’d tell myself I’d go buy a huge sugar cookie after my run. Typing it makes it seem so silly, but I tell ya what, it really, truly, actually worked.

The longer Johnny and I venture through our personal finance journey, we find ourselves increasingly fascinated by how much psychology plays a role in the success or failure of our budget. I think us humans have a tendency to look at our position perched at the top of the food chain and overestimate our brains’ abilities. Don’t get me wrong — we’re all plenty smart. But if we were all as smart as we think we are, we probably wouldn’t get into debt and we probably would avoid watching The Bachelor like the plague and we’d probably know better than to give another Nicholas Cage movie a chance.

It’s okay to admit mental weaknesses. It’s also okay to use tricks to reinforce (reward) or deter (punish) certain behavior. And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying more of recently to reign in some of our spending.

As we mentioned a few months ago in this post, we’ve been using Qapital to set up recipes that reward us for good decisions and fine us for bad ones. For instance, for the month of October, I set up an IFTTT (If This Then That) recipe to fine me anytime I came within a 100-foot radius of Target. It’s like a human version of a dog shock-collar. While I love Target, it has its way of lulling me into a state of I-want-no-I-NEED-this-itis. It used the GPS location from my phone to trigger a withdrawal from our checking (and specifically, our personal spending budget) and deposited it into our emergency savings (borrring). And strangely enough, it worked really well. I didn’t go to Target once (although I did drive too close to it one day) the entire month. I’m now one month stronger.

And while a punishment is the right dose of medicine for some, others prefer something a little more positive for their efforts, like a reward. A few months after Wynn was born, I created another Qapital “recipe” to inspire me to shed some of my post-baby weight and train for my half-marathon. Whenever I logged miles into Nike+, the app would automatically reward me by putting money into a post-baby wardrobe savings fund. It has worked so well that Johnny’s giving it a try this month. Each time he goes to our community center and exercises, Qapital automatically puts money toward a suit fund for him. He’s been needing a new suit, but he hasn’t been able to justify buying one up until this point. So with this recipe in place, there’s an added carrot for Johnny to keep his health and fitness top of mind.

Here are a few other reward and punishment IFTTT-integrated recipes in Qapital that we’ve poked around with:


  • Reward yourself every time you check an item off your to-do list
  • Reward yourself when you reach your distance goal
  • Reward yourself for time spent reading
  • Reward yourself when you get enough sleep


  • Fine yourself when you don’t catch enough sleep
  • Fine yourself when you give into your coffee shop habit
  • Fine yourself if you don’t exercise

So we’re interested to hear whether you think you’re more financially motivated by a punishment or a reward. As is the case on many a topic, it appears that Johnny and I agree to disagree. I’m more on Team Punishment, Johnny’s feeling Team Reward.

What about you? Do you think you’re more motivated by financial rewards or punishments? Do you have any in place that you’d care to share?

And just a friendly PSA that if you download Qapital here, you’ll get $10 deposited in your account after setup — free.

Just a heads up, this post is part of a sponsored campaign we’re doing with the folks at Qapital. This should go without saying, but all opinions are our own and came straight from our own noggins.

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  • Reply carlotta November 20, 2015 at 10:26 am

    to decide I need to understand. when you’re fined, where does the money go?

    • Reply Johnny November 20, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Depends! In Qapital, the money is just transferred from your budgeted spending money to your savings. So it stays yours, but it puts it toward a savings-oriented purpose. But other punishment “fines” we’ve used before actually require us to lose that money. Joanna has done it with DietBet (if you don’t hit your savings goal, you lose whatever money you ponied up), and then we’ve also done it where the fine goes to a charity.

      We try to avoid completely “losing” the money (like giving it to a charity), if at all possible. But for some folks, the only way for it to have real teeth is truly losing it. Maybe another tactic we should try is having to give the fine money to the political candidate we hate most. 🙂

  • Reply Amy G. November 20, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Hey guys, this sound great! I already went ahead and signed up to see if this will be a helpful tool for me. I also wanted to let you know that I moved my blog to a new URL in case you still wanted to keep up with my goings-on. 🙂 (Click on my name, I guess. Hope all is well, sounds like it!

    • Reply carlotta November 24, 2015 at 3:22 am

      alright thanks.
      I’m very bad at this. I’ve sign up for pact, (don’t know if you know it) and I’ve lost so much money…because i constantly forget to log in. so I do the stuff and i can not prove it…so I deleted my account, 50 euros short.
      I still need to find a way, but another of my problem is that i have all the money in the same place, so it’s kind of difficult to decide that some amount goes here or there.
      I will figure it out!
      thanks 🙂

  • Reply Melanie December 26, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    This is such a unique concept-might have to try it!

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