Bank deposits don’t get people’s hearts pumping, but scratch-off tickets do. The average American household snaps up about $500 annually in lottery tickets, whose appeal is especially strong among those with lower incomes. Some estimates suggest that more than 80 percent of lottery revenue comes from households making less than $50,000 a year — the very people who have the hardest time saving. In fact, 38 percent of people earning less than $25,000 a year think the lottery is the most practical way they’ll accumulate a few hundred thousand dollars in their lifetimes, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
To redirect that money, the credit unions explored how they could blend the excitement of the lottery with the certainty of socking away cash. After all, both are about pursuing aspirations. (One is just a much more fun way to do it.) In January 2009, the credit unions declared that for every $25 someone saved, the saver would earn an entry into a drawing for a $100,000 prize one year later. At the same time, they gave out monthly prizes of up to $100. The credit unions also hoped to attract new members and expand their deposit bases. So as part of the program, people could join a credit union and open an account to bid for the prize at the same time. […]
Yet Save to Win produced stunning results. More than 11,000 Michigan residents opened accounts through the contest, saving $8.6 million throughout 2009. People can open the accounts — they’re like certificates of deposit — with as little as $25. They need to keep their money in for at least a year and can make deposits as small as $1 as often as they like.