With Strings Attached

Typically, when something sounds too good to be true, it is. If someone offers you free money, embrace a healthy dose of skepticism. Start looking for the string. It’s attached somewhere. You just need to find it. But every once in a blue moon, the string will surprise you. On very rare occasions that string doubles as a rope, a lifeline allowing you to pull yourself to financial security. When that happens, do you grab it? That is the question EARN is asking the Bay Area.

EARN is one of the first nonprofits I came across while researching for In Lieu Of. I entered a search on GuideStar for highly rated charities in the San Francisco area. Voila, EARN. It was one of many entries that popped up, but it caught my eye for two reasons. One, EARN had a platinum rating (always a good sign). Two, it was listed as the “nation’s leading microsavings provider.” I was familiar with microloan providers, but I had never even heard of a microsavings provider. I was intrigued.

EARN works to address an issue I hadn’t given much thought to: America’s savings problem. The problem is…we don’t do it. Forty-seven percent of Americans are considered “financially fragile” and do not have the savings to cover an unexpected $400 expense. That means if a car breaks down, a family member gets sick, a pet needs surgery…47% of Americans run a serious risk of going into debt, missing housing or utility payments, or even being evicted. It’s a vicious and repressive downwards spiral that could be avoided if the savings problem was properly addressed. Enter EARN.

EARN helps low-income families achieve financial security through research-backed savings interventions. The interventions incentivize and educate, but leave the ultimate decision to save to the individuals. That control is key. By putting the individuals in the driver seat and allowing them to earn their own savings, positive financial habits are more likely to stick.

I reached out to Audrey Gyr, EARN’s Development Manager, to learn more. As luck would have it, my timing couldn’t have been better. Alongside Treasurer José Cisneros and the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment, EARN recently launched a new initiative in San Francisco called SaverLife. The goal of SaverLife is simple and stays true to EARN’s mission – create a savings habit amongst low-income Bay Area residents. How do they aim to accomplish this? With an offer to good to pass up – free money.

SaverLife participants earn $10 every month that they save $20+. The program runs for six months, allowing participants to rack up $60  in incentives. The only requirement is that they start saving a little bit each month. Participants get in the habit of setting aside a little bit of money each month, grabbing the lifeline and pulling themselves up.

At Audrey’s suggestion, I joined SaverLife to give it a spin. I signed up, linked my bank account, entered my monthly savings goal, and am now well on my way to being a habitual saver! It’s a little too early to tell if the habits will stick, but I feel good about it and here’s why – EARN is exceptionally good at what they do. Every piece of their program is backed by research. My SaverLife homepage features a gamified bar to track my savings progress, nudging me towards unlocking my next $10 reward. The online platform is accompanied by an expertly curated financial education campaign. While the goal-driven platform satiates my need for instant gratification (I’m a millennial, it’s not my fault!), the education campaign plants the seeds for my future.

Most encouragingly, I’m not SaverLife’s only fan. Far from it. The program initially launched in June targeting 1,000 members by September. They hit their goal in just three weeks. Based on overwhelming support, they are looking to expand the program and open enrollment to a larger number of Bay Area residents. In Lieu Of is helping them do just that.

This week, In Lieu Of members are supporting EARN, giving Bay Area residents the opportunity to grab the lifeline and pull themselves up. Every $60 donated allows a new person to join SaverLife and start saving. Let’s put people on the path to a brighter future.


In lieu of buying ridiculously expensive coffee, join the ILO Club and donate $5 per week to a new nonprofit making the world a better place. It’s good karma on autopilot. To join the club, click here.