Lessons From Childhood Games

(As I try to get ready for my mid-terms and prepare for other tasks this last week of school before Spring Break, I find myself a bit pressed for time (to put it mildly).  So, in order to provide you with a new post while still enabling me to get in my needed studying, I present a guest post I wrote for My Life ROI at the end of 2009 about the financial lessons that childhood games can teach.  Enjoy, and be sure to check out the original posting on MLR’s website.)

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.

Of course, as with any activity, there was 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…


By Hasbro
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 Monopoly, 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 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 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 in exchange for goods, services, or money from them can serve 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 (or more) 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 can leave you in much better financial shape than attempting to tackle everything alone.


By Tiger Games
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 path (a few rolls of the die, rather than decades of hard work), there were numerous life lessons to be found in Careers:

*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 in just one area.  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 desired ratio or adapt to our 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) your job, frequently multiple times throughout your life.  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
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 success.  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 the changes made to the game.  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.

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!

7 Responses to Lessons From Childhood Games

  1. I love games too! One of the biggest lessons isn’t really a lesson, it is socializing. I played various games my entire life and making small talk is important. Another overlooked lesson may be just learning a new game. It stimulates your brain. I fondly remember many Saturday and Sunday playing games with friends, family and others. Those experiences has materially affected me in a good way.
    krantcents´s last blog post ..If Not Now- Then When

  2. @krantcents: Yup, games are a great deal of fun, and learning how to socialize is a useful skill. Learning new games is nice, as well; you can gain all kinds of skills and have fun at the same time. I’m definitely glad you enjoyed your weekend games; I have plenty of fond memories myself of playing with my family members.

  3. Good post!There are some great lessons to learn from playing games. I have been teaching my kids to Cash Flow from Robert Kiyosaki. They love it! I thought they might be too young but teaching about money and how it works is a subject they were very interested in. It is a little like monopoly as well but there are some choices that you have to make correctly to succeed.
    Keith Dennis´s last blog post ..IRA Income Protection Strategies for the Not So Safety Conscious Investor

  4. @Keith: I’ve read and heard quite a bit about Cash Flow, although it always seemed a bit pricey to me. That and the fact that I’m a bit ambivalent to some of the lessons that Kiyosaki wants to teach, and I’m not that it’s quite the game for me. Thanks for the recommendation, though.

  5. I love this post. Monopoly is one of my favorite childhood games. I plan to play the game weekly with my children. I wonder if Carlos Slim played monopoly.

    Hasbro made a new computer banker monopoly but to me, the fun aspect of monopoly as you mentioned in bargaining and all the ad-hoc rules people played with (e.g.: all the fines goes under free parking — land on free parking and all that money is yours)
    Charles´s last blog post ..5 Creative Tips to Save on Entertainment

  6. @Charles: Yup, Monopoly is a great game. Good luck playing with your children. Yes, part of the fun of Monopoly is being able to make your own rules (or modify the ones that exist). My family did the same thing, putting all the fine money on the free parking space. We even put $200 there after each person landed on the spot, so there was also a reason to land on the land on the Free Parking spot. It was a fun, fun time.

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