Creating an autumn savings fest with savings reminders

Reminder emails, Special "savings event"
Experiment Type
Field Experiment
Save more
Increase short-term savings
Focus Areas
Marketing & messaging
Behavioral Concepts
Salience Default bias Present bias
IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union
Partner Type
Bank/Credit Union

What Happened

It partially worked. While difference in timing of message did not affect the overall amount of people who decided to save, it did lead to differences in the amount saved.

It's unclear. Without a group of employees who did not receive the intervention, we cannot say how this intervention compared to a business-as usual approach. What we can say is that more than 20% of employees saved over the intervention month.

Lessons Learned

Reminders to save may be most effective a few days out from payday when people are less likely to already be planning what to spend on and in turn willing to put aside more.

Savings events may encourage employees to start saving.


Annual bonuses and tax refunds represent important moments when people have a relatively easier time saving because the windfall gives them more liquidity and slack in their budget. Although important, these savings moments are irregular. They don’t help people smooth their income to match the ups and downs of expenses in the same way regularly setting aside some part of a paycheck might.

There are opportunities for employers to play an influential role in helping their employees engage in positive financial behaviors like setting aside savings. This not only has benefits for the employee – some research suggests that improving financial health positively affects work productivity as well. We partnered with IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union (IHMVCU), which is based in the Quad Cities, to explore how an employer might encourage positive financial behaviors like savings.

Key Insights

Recent research has found that people tend to spend more immediately after payday. The inflow of income makes sustaining self-control and not giving into temptations more difficult. As a result, many people have a tendency to splurge when they get paid and then have little left over at the end of the month to save. This project drew on two aspects of behavioral research to help encourage savings:

  • Previous research shows that reminders can help people sustain their self-control. This body of research also suggests that the closer a reminder is to the desired behavior, the more potent it is.

  • To overcome our bias for the status quo, people often need a shock or something that feels special or out of the ordinary to break the inertia of our habits. Creating a new or special context can make it more likely for people to adopt a new behavior.


We hypothesized that creating a special “savings event” would encourage more employees to start saving. We also hypothesized that aligning reminder emails with an employee’s payday would make remembering to save easier. Together with IHMVCU, we created an “Autumn Savings Festival” where employees were encouraged by senior leadership to save a little bit each week in October. Each week, employees received a reminder email prompting them to save.

Employees were randomly assigned to either receive a reminder email on Monday or on Thursday, which is when employees are paid each week. Embedded in the email were randomly generated entries that employees could use each week to play a lottery for a $25 gift card. Employees could win the gift card regardless if they saved or not – all they had to do was record if they saved that week.


More than 20% of all employees reported saving at least once during the Autumn Savings Festival and employees saved more than $18,600 in total. The median savings contribution was $50, while the average was a bit higher at almost $90. There was no statistically significant difference between Monday or Thursday reminders on whether people decided to save or not.

Interestingly, however, people receiving reminders on Monday saved about $30 more than those receiving reminders on Thursday. We expected that aligning reminders with payday would encourage people to save more, but they actually saved less.

It could be that on Monday, people feel close to their next paycheck and are willing to put aside more. On Thursday, people may already looking ahead and planning for the weekend and therefore more conservative in their savings amount.