Great Games to Teach Children About Money and Personal Finance (and Math!)
As we head into the holiday season, many are looking for gift ideas for the children in their lives.
Today I’m going to share some great games we have played with our children, and in some cases also played while growing up. In my opinion, each of these games help teach important lessons about money and personal finance. In their own way, these games have helped shape the financial decisions – both smart and dumb – I have made, and continue to make, in real life on my path towards financial independence and early retirement.
Plus, each of these games is a lot of fun to play!
The fairly realistic looking play coins and bills in The Lakeshore Allowance Game are attractive to children. At a very basic level, this game teaches kids about earning interest on bank deposits and investing in a business (a lemonade stand) to generate future income. There’s also lots of counting and making change when they earn money for chores like washing the car, mowing the lawn, or babysitting, as well as when they spend money on things like ice cream, bubble gum, or at the mall. The results are entirely up to chance, so the youngest family member has the same chance of winning as anyone else. If you want to get your children working on math skills while thinking about the costs and benefits of spending and saving, Lakeshore Allowance Game is a great introduction to those concepts! Ages 5+
To be honest, this game is about math, and not personal finance. So why include it? First, I wanted to include some games appropriate for younger children. Second, it’s my list! Third, and most important, Sum Swamp does a great job teaching basic addition and subtraction, as well as even and odd numbers, in the context of a fun game that doesn’t take too long to play. Those initial mathematical concepts are used in a more sophisticated form in most of the other games on this list. As well as in daily life! Ages 5+
For younger children, Money Bags is a great option. The plastic coins and paper money in the game are similar in size, shape, and color to the real thing, which is fun for kids. Players are constantly earning money and making change as the game moves along, and children don’t even realize they are learning how to count while they are having fun! One neat feature is a spinner that excludes a certain type of coin from being used when collecting your earnings (for example, a player may need to count out 54 cents without using quarters). The winner is based completely on the luck of the die, but that just evens things out for younger participants. If you want to have some quick family fun while working on basic math, Money Bags is an awesome choice! Ages 7+
Aspiring merchants and traders could do much worse than Pit for their first foray into the world of finance. Each hand, your goal is to corner the market in one of eight commodities, which all have a different value. The winner is the player who gets to 500 points first, which requires many hands of play. Do you try to corner the market on the most valuable commodity against several rivals, or collect something less valuable where there may be less competition and a higher likelihood of success? Paying attention to what commodities other players are trying to collect and discarding can definitely improve your chance of victory, and you might need to completely change your strategy in the middle of a hand. Pit is definitely of the rowdier and more engaging games on this list! Ages 7+
I have lots of great memories (and some not so great ones!) of playing Monopoly with family and friends while growing up. Yes, luck is very important in the granddaddy of board games. If you don’t land on the right properties at the right time, or you happen to land on the wrong properties at the wrong time, it’s pretty difficult to win.
That said, there’s more to Monopoly than pure luck. Negotiation skills are critical to success when you start trading properties, and paying for properties and collecting rents helps develop counting skills. Calculating probabilities comes into play when its time to build houses and hotels and you want to deploy finite resources as efficiently as possible. Heck, there are even times when its more strategic to stay in jail than it is to get out of jail. While luck is important, there are lots of dimensions to consider while playing this all-time classic! Ages 8+
Like Monopoly, The Game of Life has been around for as long as I can remember. At the beginning of the game you are faced with the decision to start earning money immediately, or to spend money to go to college and (hopefully!) find a higher paying career for the remainder of the contest. Throughout the game there are other similar decisions, like choosing to go to night school, purchase a home, or start a family. Meanwhile, there are lots of unexpected events that can have positive or negative impacts on your finances. Towards the end of the game, as you get closer to retirement, you have the opportunity to choose between safer and riskier routes as you head towards the end of your career. I view “Risky Road” as similar to putting your life savings into a penny stock and hoping for the best. There’s a chance it will work out – but it probably won’t end well! Ages 8+
A relatively new addition to the ROMT family’s toy chest, but quickly becoming a favorite for a quick game with the kids after dinner. Think UNO meets personal finance. The goal is to get rid of your debts as quickly as possible, and the winner is the player with the highest net worth at the end of the game.
Net Worth gets children thinking about the basic building blocks of accounting statements, like assets and liabilities, and helps reinforce that a positive net worth is a good thing! My only complaint is that oftentimes multiple players finish the game with a negative net worth, but even this ends up helping teach children about adding up negative numbers. Ages 8+
If you like Monopoly, but it’s no longer sophisticated enough for your refined tastes, Triopoly may be the answer. There are multiple levels of play available for up to eight players. Game play is similar to Monopoly, but there are a lot more dimensions involved. Instead of building houses and hotels, you construct gas stations, shopping malls, and skyscrapers. Instead of being sent to jail, you spend time waiting at the airport terminal. There’s also a lot of chance involved when playing the stock market, winning the lottery, and gambling in cities like Las Vegas and Monte Carlo. If you like Monopoly, but have gotten bored with it, Triopoly may be worth a, well, try. Ages 10+
When I was growing up, I enjoyed playing Avalon Hill’s “Bookcase Games”. Many of these games introduced me to fairly sophisticated financial ideas, such as inflation, business strategy, foreign exchange, gold, and the stock market.
My favorite, however, was Stocks & Bonds. In this game, each player invests in a portfolio of individual stocks and bonds. Some of the stocks deliver volatile returns, while others are steadier. Returns are also impacted by whether you are in a Bull Market or a Bear Market. The dividend stocks and bonds in the game help teach the importance of income, in addition to capital appreciation, when building a portfolio. As you might expect, the winner is the player with the most valuable portfolio at the end of the game! Ages 12+
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