Motivated by Money

Larry Sayler

“WE BEHAVE BETTER when we know others are watching—so be sure to tell friends if you’re aiming to exercise more, lose weight or save more.” I love the pithy sayings that appear each day at the top of HumbleDollar’s homepage. This statement appeared Oct. 19.

A few years ago, when I was still working fulltime, some colleagues and I adopted this philosophy. Suppose one of us had a goal, such as losing five pounds by the end of the month. We could have simply told our coworkers the goal. But being type-A personalities, we took it to an extreme. We decided it was more effective if we backed our intentions with money. “If I don’t lose five pounds by the end of the month, I’ll give you $20.”

None of us really wanted to take a colleague’s money, so we soon changed this to, “If I don’t reach my goal, I’ll give $20 to a charity of your choice.” This led to some interesting discussions. If we were of the same political party, had the same views on abortion or shared the same religion, the penalty for not meeting the goal was to give a contribution to an organization we both supported.

That wasn’t much of a penalty. Someone pointed out it would be more motivating if the loser had to make a financial contribution to an organization with which he or she disagreed. If we were a staunch member of one political party and we lost our bet, we had to give $100 to the other major party. Now, that was motivating.

Maybe we were exceedingly cheap, but the person always met his or her goal. I don’t recall anyone ever paying a penalty. Of course, we were on the honor system. The person making the contract simply self-reported at the end of the month.

In January, my wife and I are going to Israel for three weeks. In preparation, this fall we’re both taking two college courses: Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey. I also decided it was time that I read every book in the Bible. I won’t get that done by January. There are 66 books in the Bible, with a total of nearly 1,200 chapters. If I read seven chapters a day, or about 200 chapters per month, it would take six months. For me, that’s a reasonable goal. After I complete each chapter, I summarize the main points of that chapter. When I finish a book, I also write a summary of the whole book and its major themes. This helps my retention.

One of my former colleagues now lives in Northern Ireland. When I told him what I was doing, he immediately said that if I don’t have this done within one year, I owed him $1,000. I accepted his “offer” but also told him not to plan on getting the money. With that penalty hanging over my head, I know I’ll meet my goal.

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