ROSELLE PARK, NJ — What would you do if you won $10,000? How would you feel? Roselle Park resident Tara Siragusa is now faced with these questions and she said she couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve told every single person that I’ve ever met to join,” Siragusa said in a phone interview on Thursday, Dec. 17, regarding SaverLife, an organization based in San Francisco that specializes in savings and finances and which has given her the $10,000 Super Saver of the Year award.
“SaverLife is a company that was created in order to help people save money,” Siragusa said. “They help you hold yourself accountable to when you make promises, when you make your goals. They’re there to lift you up when you do well, when you don’t do as well and not give you a hard time. They’re there to just kind of be there, every week, every month, as a constant reminder of saving money, week after week.”
Siragusa said SaverLife is like a friend with whom she can discuss money.
“Money is such a taboo subject. You want to learn how to cook, you take a cooking class with a friend. You want to lose some weight, you go to the gym with a friend. But it doesn’t work like that when you want to save money. You can’t really save money with a friend. SaverLife is my friend that I save money with.”
SaverLife PR team member Rick Popko further explained the nature of the organization.
“SaverLife is a nonprofit,” Popko said in a phone interview on Thursday, Dec. 17. “The sole reason for its existence is to help lower-income people become better at saving money. The research and studies out there have shown that even just having a small amount of savings, such as emergency savings, between $400 and $500, can make a world of difference for someone who is possibly living paycheck to paycheck.
“For example, all of a sudden, you realize that you need four new tires on your car. That’s where, if you have that savings cushion, you can use that, get new tires for your car and then start replenishing it again afterwards, so that you always try to have that $400 to $500 to fall back on. Because without that, people end up going further into debt, such as credit card debt, and then they’re paying off interest on that credit card debt, which is putting you into more debt, and then you’re using other methods, such as predatory lending practices, where you go in and get money for a super-high interest rate and things like that.”
Popko said that’s what SaverLife is really all about. He said it’s there to help people get a minimal amount of savings going, so that, in the event of a major expense, they don’t slip further into debt.
“SaverLife meets members where they are financially,” President and Chief Executive Officer of SaverLife Leigh Phillips said in a phone interview on Thursday, Dec. 17. “We’ve given away more than $3.6 million to help our members save. With SaverLife, members can benefit from savings challenges and get rewarded for saving, learn from a supportive community of like-minded savers, and have access to financial articles and tools created by experts.”
A member of SaverLife for two years, Siragusa explained how the organization works.
“They try to inspire you to save at least $5 a week,” Siragusa said. “When you save $5 a week, they give you a scratcher to win another $5. It’s a week-by-week thing. I’ve been a member of the website for about two years now. Every week, I try to log on, at least once a week, and I save $5 every week and, when you log on and you’ve saved, they see that and they give you your scratcher card.
“I didn’t even know this contest was going on until they emailed me, saying that I was a finalist. I was just working so hard to save the money, and, all of a sudden, they said, ‘We’re trying to give away this prize to the most active member of our community.’ I know I am a very active member of the community, but I had no idea I was in the contest until I was a finalist.”
Siragusa was a top pick, eventually becoming the winner of the Super Saver of the Year award.
“My name was one out of a pool of people,” Siragusa said. “I think that they searched their most active members of their community, who saved the most money throughout the year, and then that kind of went into the judging part of the contest, and then SaverLife went through and they interviewed many people, talked to them and got their story. From that, the finalists were weeded down, and then I was the winner, from what I could tell. I was reading the official rules afterward. That’s when they detailed the judging criteria and how it has been going on all year. So I didn’t even know.”
Phillips said the Super Saver of the Year award is part of SaverLife’s three-part Holiday Savings Boost.
“This is the first year of an annual contest to recognize our members who have worked hard throughout the year to save and improve their finances,” he said. “This has been an especially hard year to save, but we’ve been blown away by the resilience and hard work of our members. This $10,000 award was part of a larger $200,000 Holiday Savings Campaign that we’re wrapping up, to reward our members for saving in incredibly challenging circumstances. We’ve had more than 1,000 winners.
“Winners were chosen based on a combination of factors, including savings, consistency, engagement with SaverLife and more. Excluding Siragusa, there are four runner-up winners, who won $1,000 each. All prize money comes from private philanthropy.”
According to Siragusa, the scratch-off tickets and other incentives help make saving become a habit for members.
“If you don’t save money, you can still rack up points and redeem them for the scratch card to win $5,” Siragusa said. “Every month, they have a race to 100, where, in that calendar month, you try to save $100. If you save the $100, you go into a pool, and they pick 10 winners that get to win another $100, from what I can remember. They usually have simultaneous things going on and different ways to help people find the accountability to sign in and save money.”
Siragusa said SaverLife has changed her perspective about saving money.
“These were the first people that were actually encouraging me and telling me that I can do it, and showing me how to save,” she said. “Now, I have a big savings account, and then they just gave me a prize for being involved. Words can’t even describe how it’s changed my life. It’s incredible.”
Popko said this is the intent of the organization.
“SaverLife, a nonprofit, gets its funding from other larger organizations out there,” he said. “The whole idea is to help people save their money by basically turning it into a game, sometimes referred to as gametization, hence when Tara was explaining how you get the scratcher, where you have the opportunity to win another $5, if you save $5. So that sort of gets people in that game mode, where they say to themselves, ‘If I can win $5 one week, maybe if I did it for another four weeks, I can have more.’
“It encourages people to save that money. Tara is a great example of one of our members who has been with us for two years and has used the platform to help bolster her emergency savings fund.”
Siragusa recounts how she felt upon finding out she won the grand prize.
“I wasn’t aware of the contest until they told me,” she said. “They sent out the email and talked about the Super Saver of the Year. When they were announcing their $200,000 Holiday Savings Boost email, I was aware that it was around, but I wasn’t aware of how to participate or how to be involved until I got the email that I was potentially one of the finalists.
“After, I went on a Zoom interview with the marketing people at SaverLife, she interviewed me and she was interviewing all of the potential finalists. Tuesday, she got back in touch with me and she told me about the local news crew, LocalSource, wanting to do an interview on being a finalist. I told her, ‘That sounds great.’ I went outside on Tuesday and they surprised me, shouting, ‘Surprise! You won.’
“Being surprised like that felt overwhelming. I was completely thrown off guard that I was tricked, at first, only to be told I had won. It was unreal.”
Siragusa said she is looking forward to giving back.
“I very much love animals,” she said. “I specifically love rhinos, and I collect rhinos, so the timing of this is perfect because, since last year, my favorite zoo, Potter Park Zoo, in Lansing, Mich., has a baby rhino. Christmas Eve is the Rhino’s first birthday, so I’m going to use some of my winnings and send Jolly the Rhino a birthday gift.
“I am going to send some money over to the zoo and donate. That is the thing that I’m most excited about. This has been the craziest week of my life.”
SaverLife has changed Siragusa’s life.
“I can’t even begin to describe how they’ve changed my life,” she said. “This is incredible. I have trouble following through on things, and they’ve helped me to follow through. Money is so hard and money can be so flooring to so many people. I don’t know what to say but, ‘Thank you, SaverLife.’”
“We are humbled by the stories of our members,” Phillips said. “They are strong, they are hardworking and they are resilient in the face of unprecedented challenges. It’s very rewarding to know that we’ve been able to help our members save this year and even provide financial support. We’re proud to have given away more than $3.1 million just this year, to help our members.”
Photos Courtesy of Rick Popko