How Online Games Can Help Millennials Manage Their Money

Kimberly Palmer

Millennials like to play online games. The typical millennial spends almost 12 hours a month on gaming, compared to 2.6 hours per month on managing their finances, according to Financial Finesse, a financial education provider. Liz Davidson, founder and CEO of the company, wants to use that gaming habit to help young workers adopt better financial habits.

One challenge for millennials is that unlike some of their grandparents, they don't have pensions to count on. "The onus is on them," Davidson said in a recent webinar on the subject. Auto-enrollment programs can help, but typically millennials have to take some initiative in signing up for and then managing their retirement funds. And they're not doing too well in that department: The 2014 Financial Finesse Generational Research Report found that just 17 percent of millennials say they are on target to replace at least 80 percent of their income in retirement.

That's where games come in. Millennials have grown up with social media; they enjoy comparing themselves to others and viewing certain aspects of life like a video game that you can "win," Davidson says. That's why the company wants financial education for millennials to incorporate more social media and online gaming, even with a competitive thread. "If we could combine gaming and finances, we could help them focus on their financial future," Davidson says.

When Financial Finesse launched a competition for the National Football League Players Association a couple years ago to share "the best thing I never bought," players shared all kinds of ideas, like forgoing fancy cars in favor of greater savings. It helped elicit conversation and reflection among players on smart spending.

For gamification of financial education to work, Davidson says it's important to build a community (the football players could share their stories on a private community page, for example) and to provide ongoing mentorship and coaching to help transform those discussions into smart money choices.

Other ideas include inviting millennials to ask questions over Twitter or YouTube; hosting Facebook discussions on money topics; and launching competitions or quizzes among millennial communities over financial questions or topics. The point is to get millennials focused and engaged when it comes to managing their money.

The 2014 generational report also found that millennials are so focused on paying off student loan debt and not losing money in the stock market that they are failing to invest and manage their money in a way that will maximize long-term growth. Their focus on the short over the long term puts their financial security at risk, Financial Finesse concludes. It's hard to blame 20-somethings, though, when they carry an average student loan balance of over $25,500.

The good news for millennials is that they are not as financially stressed as older generations, particularly Generation X. That is likely because Generation X faces more financial pressures and responsibilities, including children, college tuition and mortgages. The Financial Finesse report concludes that overall, millennials are actually doing better financially than Gen X, even though their media household income is lower ($35,000 to $59,999 compared to $75,000 to $99,999, respectively.)

In the survey, millennials were more likely than Gen Xers to say they have a handle on their cash flow each month and have a plan to pay off debt and pay bills on time each month. Gen Xers were slightly more likely to report paying late fees regularly and not paying off credit card balances each month. Millennials also reported knowing more about financial aid and being more likely to check their credit report once a year than older generations.

Still, the survey revealed that millennials are not saving enough for retirement, perhaps because budgets are tight and retirement seems so far away. "The concept of retirement is so far off into the future that it's not even a relatable term for these young employees," says Linda Robertson, financial planner at Financial Finesse.

Unlike older generations, millennials did not name saving for retirement as one of their top priorities. A lack of emergency accounts also puts millennials at risk for emptying retirement accounts in the event of a layoff or other unexpected event, the report says.

Davidson says social media and online games can help millennials embrace retirement saving and investing more enthusiastically. Since millennials are used to sharing details about their lives with friends online, the social aspect of games can also encourage them, she adds.

Of course, millennials -- and consumers of all ages -- have to be careful not to share too much on social media, since scam artists also comb the sites for information they can use to break into bank accounts and steal personal information. But as long as people keep personal details and bank information offline, there's nothing wrong with sharing information and stories about money with an online community, especially if doing so inspires better financial choices.