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Personal Finance Lessons From Some Board Games

I don’t know about you, but one of my absolute favorite activities from my childhood was playing games with my family members. I have lots of fun memories of playing everything from card games to board games, and everything in between. The number of evenings that we spent as a family, sitting together and playing one of the many games we acquired over the years, is uncountable.

Of course, as with any game, there were plenty of lessons for life that worked their way into our games. Some of the best money lessons I’ve ever gotten I actually learned as a result of playing games, particularly some of the board games I played with my sisters. Now, I shall pass on the money lessons I learned (such a while ago). We’ll start with the most famous money-related game of all…

Monopoly

By Hasbro

Of course, we could hardly start off our exploration of the money lessons from board games without an examination of Monopoly. The classic real estate collecting and trading game is easily the most famous board game in the world (to say nothing of being used by McDonald’s for their yearly contest). There are several lessons we can learn from this game (especially if we can make it all the way through a full game):

*Luck can affect our goals with money:

In Monoploy, the roll of the dice will determine what properties you’ll have the opportunity to buy. With good luck, you could end up with a useful set of properties in a good location without much trouble; with bad luck, you can end up with a few properties scattered all over the board. In life, luck can also have a strong influence on our fortunes. While there are many things we can control (or at least influence), other events can come out of nowhere and alter the progress of our lives. In the game, the best you can do is push onward and try to bargain your way to good fortune; while in life, insurance is a good option for smoothing out the wrinkles in life.

*Bargaining is a key to victory:

Unless you have the fantastic luck mentioned above, you’ll need to bargain your way into a better position in the game. There’s plenty of potential bargaining chips you might try to use to tempt the other players: property, money, even those elusive ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Cards. In life, there’s also plenty of opportunities to bargain your way to better fortunes. Trading goods and services with those around you can provide you with ways of saving money on the things you need and want in life. Offer to swap some of your old stuff or offer to do some extra work with your neighbors as a method of saving money (to say nothing of getting know them better.

*Cooperation can win the day:

One of the best ways to improve your chances at Monopoly is to throw your lot in with one of the other players, forming an alliance in order to improve your chance of overall success. Of course, what happens when it’s down to just you and your ally is a whole different story… In the real world, cooperation is also important. You’ll need to work with your spouse or significant other to build a life together, with your coworkers to accomplish goals at work, and with society as a whole to keep things running smoothly. Being willing to work together to leave you in much better financial shape than attempting to tackle everything alone.

Careers

By Tiger Games

A popular game around my house (more popular than Monopoly, although that might have been due to the shorter game length), Careers had you going around a variety of different careers, attempting to achieve your own personal success formula. In spite of greatly underestimating how long it takes to complete a career (a few rolls of the die, rather than decades of hard work), there were numerous life lessons to be found in Careers, as well:

*We all have our own definition of success:

Careers enabled you to choose what combination of attributes you think would satisfy your game piece alter ego. You made up a formula that involved fame, fortune, and happiness (basically, the warm, fuzzy feeling you would get from pets or raising a family), and then attempted to achieve it. You could opt for an equal mix, lean heavily towards one or two attributes, or even go all out. Similarly, what satisfies me in the real world may not satisfy you; you may want fame and fortune while I’m happy with nice quiet home life and enough money to get by. We all have our own needs.

*What we want is not always what we get:

On the subject of defining our success, if you play Careers often enough, you’ll likely find yourself in situations where you could win, if you had only opted for a different success formula. Perhaps you’ve got too much money (a problem we’d all like to have), but not enough happiness, or a surplus of fame when you need more money (*Insert a joke about MC Hammer or your other favorite bankrupted celebrity here.*) In the game, the only option was to push on ahead, doing what you could to get your formula back in line, while in the real world, we can either try to bring things back in line with our ratio or adapt to current set of circumstances, and find a way to declare success with what we have (which in the game is called ‘cheating’, so don’t try it.)

*You’re probably going to take on several careers:

Talk about being ahead of its time: in spite of being released back in the Fifties, Careers could only be won in most cases by going through 2, 3, 4, or even more career paths, trying a variety of different forms of employment. In our modern economy, you’re quite likely to be fired, or end up quitting, or have a midlife crisis and opt for a completely different career. In any event, these transition periods are the perfect time to re-evaluate your life, to determine if you are enjoying what you do and whether you should continue on in your current career path. Luckily, if you are interested in being hired quickly, there’s plenty of advice out there to help you.

Game of Life

By Hasbro

The Game of Life (not to be confused with Life Cereal, Life Magazine or Life Insurance) had you going through a truncated version of well, life. You played a little plastic peg in a car, and as you moved through the game, you would get a career, a spouse, possibly a few children, and plenty of money. That last part is especially important, as how well you did in the game was determined by your final net worth. What lessons could you learn from condensing the entirely of a person’s existence into board game form? Let’s find out:

*Whoever dies with the most money, wins!:

Hey, I never said they were all good lessons. But the Game of Life did have the advantage of stressing the importance of saving, investing, and even having insurance, all good pieces of advice for any would be financial expert. Plus, the person (or ‘family’, if we look at the little car with all its little pegs) with the most money heading into retirement was the winner, which is not a bad approach to take with our own retirement portfolios.

*Stuff Happens:

How many games involve purchasing insurance? How many games make it possible that purchasing insurance is one of the best moves you can make? One of the good lessons from the Game of Life is that sometimes, bad things just happen. Take the time to prepare yourself for the worst, and you’ll be in much better shape if they happen to you.

*People Dislike Change:

This is less a lesson from the game itself, and more a lesson from people’s reactions to the ‘new’ version released in the early nineties. A short perusal of the comments on Amazon shows that more than a few good old fashioned Life fans are disappointed with how the facility rebelled over the changes they made. In the real world, people can be just as scared of change, and many will attempt to avoid facing the chances that surround them. But learning to tolerant change, whether in our board games or our lives, is an important part of growing as human beings.

Other Board Games That Taught Lessons?

There you go; several lessons from of the more most money-related games in existence.

What lessons did you learn from the games you played? Am I forgetting any big lessons from these three classics? Has anyone reading this actually played a game of Monopoly to completion, or did everyone else’s family also quit about three hours into each game?

Inquiring minds would like to know!

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Roger is the author of The Amateur Financier. He is in his mid twenties, does tutoring work for side income, and just got engaged!


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30 Comments For This Post

  1. Kyle Says:

    You made the point with Monopoly but it is true about most board games that luck is a key component. Life throws you curve balls and sometimes you get lucky and it helps you out. Decisions play a big part in your future as well. Sometimes it is worth it to trade boardwalk for a couple of monopolies elsewhere on the board.
    .-= Kyle´s last blog ..26% Off MyFico Standard – Coupon Code =-.

    [Reply]

  2. David/Yourfinances101 Says:

    Very creative post.

    All releveant and true lessons.

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    Thanks

    [Reply]

  3. Kosmo @ The Casual Observer Says:

    Hmm. I have a degree in accounting (but work in IT) and hate Monopoly and Life. That seems a bit odd. I’m more of a Trivial Pursuit guy (have ~ 7 version). I guess I could apply one financial lesson from Trivial Pursuit – leverage your strenghs as much as possible. I always use the “Sports” category to bounce around the board (until I can land on a spot that would earn a pie piece – using the standard rules of the game).

    /tangent
    .-= Kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Are College Football Coaches Worth the Money? =-.

    [Reply]

  4. Wojciech Kulicki Says:

    i pick up pennies had an interesting post today about Monopoly. I think it’s a good one to read following this post, as it presents a whole different perspective we rarely think about.

    http://ipickuppennies.blogspot.com/2009/12/blame-monopoly.html
    .-= Wojciech Kulicki´s last blog ..A Personal Finance Reading List =-.

    [Reply]

  5. Roger Says:

    Thanks for including me again, MLR, and thanks to everyone who read and commented!

    @Kyle: Yup, luck plays a big part of all three games (along with any number of other games); I just didn’t want to keep rehashing the same point over and over again. Plus, bad luck in Monopoly gets particularly annoying, at least when you’re the one who has it. You’re right about trading Boardwalk, as well; sometimes the showy, big name investment should be traded for something less well-known, but with more potential for growth (yet another lesson we can gleam from the Monopoly board).

    @David: Thanks for the compliment; it’s amazing what you can learn if you just look around a little.

    @Kosmo: I never much cared for Monopoly, myself; it takes too long and requires you to be too diabolical (to family members, no less) for my tastes. Trivial Pursuit is more my taste, as well, although sports are far from my forte. Good strategy, though.

    @Wojciech: I read that post; it definitely had an interesting take on Monopoly. A surprising number of bad habits you can learn from that game, most of which hadn’t ever occurred to me.
    .-= Roger´s last blog ..Small Business 101: Funding =-.

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  6. Financial Samurai Says:

    Good analogies Rog!

    I don’t like to leave too much to chance, so I create my own board game, establish the rules, and keep my eye on the prize.

    [Reply]

    Roger Reply:

    @Financial Samurai, Heh, good point. Personally, if you can establish the rules to your own game, I think you’re in pretty good shape already.
    .-= Roger´s last blog ..Small Business 101: Funding =-.

    [Reply]

  7. Hank Says:

    I love both Monopoly and The Game of Life. They are both awesome! I heard that there were tons of other ones too though….PayDay, Modern Art, Acquire, Decisions, Classic PIT Corner of the Market Card Game, Easy Money, Money the Board Game, Money Matters, Container, etc.
    .-= Hank´s last blog ..Don’t Forget That Benefits Are A Large Portion of Your Paycheck =-.

    [Reply]

    Roger Reply:

    @Hank, Wow, that’s quite a few money related board games; not terribly surprising, given how important money is in the modern world. I’m just a little surprised I’ve never heard of many of them before. Now I have a few more things to add to my Christmas list! (Well, maybe next year, since it’s less than a week before Christmas.)
    .-= Roger´s last blog ..Book Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad =-.

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  8. baby footprints Says:

    Very interesting take on how to go about understanding your finance. I guess they do somewhat emulate some real life scenarios in our financial world.

    [Reply]

  9. wireless outdoor speakers Says:

    I learned first hand about spending and saving when I played Monopoly.
    .-= wireless outdoor speakers´s last blog ..Choosing The Best Wireless Speakers for Your Needs =-.

    [Reply]

  10. Jake Says:

    We all know that the most popular game board since then is monopoly. Every kid knows how to play monopoly. As a matter of fact, it’s also available online. I never heard about LIFE and Career too.
    .-= Jake´s last blog ..Education at home: More important than a complete and expensive home security system =-.

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  11. Green Armour Says:

    Wow this is really hard to believe, when I started reading this I thought it was a joke. Way to go, fooled me. :)

    [Reply]

  12. NLP Says:

    You can learn a lot from random things if you pay close enough attention.

    [Reply]

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  14. Merimbula Accommodation Says:

    Monopoly was and will be a game of good decision and finance , because like in real life if you do a mistake it will get to you sooner or later.

    [Reply]

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  16. William Says:

    What I learned from playing Life is that teachers make almost nothing.
    Which I then went out and confirmed in real life, of course! ;-p

    Hank mentioned Modern Art; that’s actually one of my favorite games and I strongly recommend it. Acquire I’m not really big on, but it is similar to (and better than) Monopoly.
    William´s last [type] ..The Admiral is a Cylon!

    [Reply]

  17. traffic plan Says:

    I play Monopoly and I like playing it a lot. I enhances my decision making strategies and I get to cooperate with the players that jins me playing it.

    [Reply]

  18. gracia Says:

    I really love playing monopoly, it helps you sharpen your mind, its a strategic game..
    gracia´s last [type] ..Auto Insurance Quotes Comparison

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I'm MLR. After graduating from college debt free, I decided to write a blog encouraging people to adapt responsible and sensible personal finance rules.


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