Play monopoly with your kids and they might even learn a bit about money!

I’ve never bothered to really investigate legitimate sources for it, but there’s a commonly held theory that the money habits of parents can really be passed on to their children. If your parents are terrible with money then there’s a good chance that they’ll pass this on to you as well, and if your parents are very frugal with money then you may very well end up the same. I’m starting to wonder about how I can influence my own children when it comes to money, starting with exposing them to the the classic game of Monopoly…

Monopoly - old school wisdom that plenty of people seem to have never grasped? Or maybe they were just paying attention to the fancy car, nice shoes and purebred pets that you use for tokens?

Monopoly – old school wisdom that plenty of people seem to have never grasped? Or maybe they were just paying attention to the fancy car, nice shoes and purebred pets that you use for tokens?

Our oldest kid is six, but a couple of years back we started playing Monopoly with her when she found the board game in a box full of random stuff in our living area. At the time I remember thinking that it’d be hard work with a four year old, and it turned out to be right, as I quickly realised that we were in for some challenges. Despite these challenges, when I look back on it there really were a lot of parallels between this classic board game and the lessons that people need to learn (but often don’t learn at all) in order to deal with the tool that can have such a huge influence on their lives (that’s money if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

Rolling the dice

For starters the concept of rolling the dice was a real problem, since she could count just fine, but trying to get her to count dots on each die was a confusing concept for her. So we quickly got rid of the second die so that there were only six potential numbers to deal with, but that was OK because the game still works just fine like that.

The next problem that we ran into was the concept of counting the spaces as we went, as she’d constantly be moving onto the next space before actually saying a number, often resulting in her moving six spaces when she was only supposed to move five. Much of the focus of the game, which is really about money, was taken away when we were instead focussing on counting the right spaces instead. That’s OK though since it was all part of the learning curve, and she eventually got over this problem and was soon counting through the spaces like a pro. It does make you wonder though how many people don’t even learn the most fundamental lessons about money (e.g. the equivalent of counting spaces, which is the most basic part of the game) from day one. In this game if you can’t even count how far you are moving through the month then how will you even be able to plan for when your next pay day is (i.e. when you’ll pass Go and collect $200)?

Perhaps there’s also a parallel to “rolling the dice” in gambling, but I’ll probably have to save the lesson of why gambling is a tax on the stupid for another day.

Parallel between the board game and real life locations

Before I go any further, I should note that playing the game proved quite fascinating for her because we had been to just about all of the places on the Monopoly board during Our London Adventure. Obviously there are different versions of Monopoly for different countries, but in Australia we just use the British version. I’ve never really looked into it too much, but googling for Monopoly pictures for this post has shown different versions with locations that I’ve never even heard of.

After talking about the first couple of locations we needed to give a running commentary on every space as well as bringing up a picture of it on Google before we could move on. It certainly proved to be a good way of lightening up what could otherwise be considered a relatively dry topic for a six year old!

Buying things, collecting stuff

While the counting of spaces was a little frustrating, it was OK because at the same time we were learning about the concept of buying properties that we landed on. The exchange of money for these properties was initially a bit confusing for her, what with her preconceived notion up until that point that money was just some sort of limitless resource that Mum and Dad provide. The concept of collecting the cards for the properties in exchange for money was quite enlightening for her though, as it finally dawned on her that it’s customary in our society to exchange money for things, in this case little cards with pretty colours on them.

As well as the need to exchange money for things, she also learned at that time that if you run out of money, then you can’t buy any more things. The first time that she landed on a property but was told that she didn’t have enough money to buy it, I almost thought that she was going to cry. It was obviously a very sad moment for her, but at least she was learning that there’s a limit to what you can do. Now I’m not saying that people need to give up easily, but I often wonder if people struggle with the concept that there can be limits placed upon them. Or that they might have to place limits on themselves. The adult equivalent of this issue is that you run out of cash to buy stuff, but we’ve “countered” (in a screwed up way) this problem by just putting it on a credit card, but she hasn’t learned about that so far as it’s not really part of the game as we played it. I’m actually happy about that, since we can just stick with the concept of “if you don’t have enough money for something then you can’t buy that something”.

Getting paid, that’s why Mum and Dad go to work

An ATM: This is where my six year old thought money came from. Just go back any time you run out, there's an infinite supply!

An ATM: This is where my six year old thought money came from. Just go back any time you run out, there’s an infinite supply!

There was another light bulb moment when she first passed go and was given $200, but didn’t know why this was. I’m not sure she actually understood this the first few times, but I repeatedly drew the parallel between the concept of receiving more money after time and what Mum and Dad go to work for. And by this I mean that we get more money by going to work, but that money only comes in so often so we need to make it last. Now of course we aren’t anywhere near the breadline, but she doesn’t know that, so it’s best to let her think that we have only so much money to spend in a given time period. Over time as she got a greater appreciation for this concept, it’s really helped reduce the whining and complaining for takeaway food for dinner, although that doesn’t mean that it’s gone entirely (she is a kid after all).

At the same time as we were working out the concept of being paid for going to work (and that’s how we put food on the table), she also came to the realisation that you don’t just go to the bank to get more money when you run out. She had obviously seen my wife go to the ATM occasionally at our local Westpac bank to get money, and therefore assumed that it was just a free-for-all where you could repeat the process an infinite number of times with no consequence. Now that I think about it a bit more, plenty of adults don’t understand this concept, for example these people who knew that their account had been incorrectly credited with cash, but just withdrew it all and fled the country anyway. What did they think was going to happen?! Idiots!

The concept of rent

Now we all know that Monopoly is about acquiring real estate so that you can earn rent from your fellow players, thereby enriching yourself (and of course impoverishing them) in the process. Initially, the concept of rent was just too difficult for her to grasp, so the first half dozen times that we played we just ended up collecting cards. She seemed to be delighted with the concept of collecting these cards, not because of any real value, but that it was like an anti-minimalism crusade to see who could collect the most junk. Not too dissimilar to how the typical hyperconsumer accumulates mountains of pointless crap to fill their house, and then continues acquiring to fill their offsite storage shed as well.

Fortunately we were able to introduce the concept of rent, which gave the cards a lot more meaning, but it was still confusing for her to understand why someone would own more than one house. Why would you need that? What’s wrong with the house that you live in? She knew that we owned another house (our renovation/extension project that will become our main house soon), but hadn’t fully grasped why we let some other people live there. And if those people paid us rent, but we were going to kick them out eventually, where would they live then?

Does a knowledge of Monopoly put her on a path towards greater financial smarts than a typical hyperconsumer?

All of this is of course rather simplistic, but her grasp of the issues is probably about as complex or sophisticated as that of many hyperconsumers who have never even heard of investing or think that it’s a waste of time.  And those hyperconsumers are supposed to be adults and have been dealing with money for a long time!

After all of this new information she’s been exposed to the concept that you can buy more and more properties or investments and have those investments pay you an income, but it’s also made her realise that some people don’t have as much money as others (why don’t they own their own house, why do they need to pay us to live in one that we own?). From what she can see, we wouldn’t be some of the people that have more money than others (some of her friends live in brand new houses out in new housing estates), but they probably don’t have any real net worth. Perhaps everything isn’t as it appears on the outside after all?

As confusing as all of this might be for a six year old, it’s really made me think that there’s a lot that can be learned from a classic board game like this, and I’d certainly encourage others to expose their children to similar board games at an early age. I told some of my colleagues at work and I could tell that they thought I was mad to be pushing my six year old to play such a hard game, but I shouldn’t be surprised that they view things differently than me. After all, I’ll be retired before the age that they ever made partner, and they’ll need to be working until they’re 60+ even on their very high incomes!

Have you ever played Monopoly or other board games with young kids? Or am I the only one?


7 thoughts on “Play monopoly with your kids and they might even learn a bit about money!

  1. I got Monopoly as a Christmas present from an Uncle when I was about 8. I was addicted to it after that. Was definitely my best present of all time as a kid. I wouldn’t doubt that Monopoly lead me on a career path in accounting/finance.

    • Hey Fervent, why am I not surprised that you’re a monopoly fan from way back? I’ve always liked the game as well, although it can cause a bit of friction when you refuse to sell someone the property they need for their monopoly! My brother was also a notorious monopoly cheat when we were younger, but that probably just taught me to be on the lookout for scammers!

    • Yeah, the electronic money thing is a tricky one, as without the physical notes or coins it’s way harder for them to understand. I’m not sure how we’ll explain that one, but it’s not an issue for now as our version of monopoly just has the paper notes!

      Someone also gave us monopoly junior which just has $1 notes, but at least that’s still better than the electronic (credit card) version. We still don’t play that version very much though since it’s just not the same!

  2. This is the first article I read on your blog. It is a very cognizable.

    We actually play kids monoploy (The frozen version) with our kids (almost 4 and 6). They like the game.

    I am nt sure thy fully understand everything, but is is obvious to them they need money to buy stuff and pay rent when you are using things from someone else. The oldest one already figured out the power of the change card: get things for free or loose money.

    I sure hope your opening statement is true: It would be great if our kids picked up behavior from us and get into investing really soon! And live on a budget

    • Hey Amber Tree, thanks for commenting. We have Monopoly Junior which is probably a bit like your kids version, simplifying many of the concepts but teaching them about the concept of money all the same.

      I genuinely believe that kids pick up our own behaviour – I already see that they sometimes talk about strange shopping habits of their grandmother (my mother) after they have spent the day with her! If they notice the bad habits then I just hope that they notice the good habits as well!

  3. Hey IA, I completely agree that good habits can be passed subconsciously onto kids. Monopoly is a good one. I learned a lot from the PC games I played as a young person – Railroad Tycoon, Age of Empires and Simcity. All great at teaching financial success really helps achieve your other objectives (it shouldn’t be the MAIN objective though).

    I loved monopoly. But I also loved lots of other strategic games like Risk.


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