The Five Greatest Financial Board Games #5: The Game of Life

To celebrate the week before Christmas (and give you a few great last minute gift ideas), The Simple Dollar is reviewing five board games that not only are a blast to play, but teach valuable financial lessons as well. All of these games should be easily found at a department store or a gaming specialty shop (check your local yellow pages).

The Game of LifeThe Game of Life
Milton Bradley

Life is one of those “standard” board games that are often found in the back of a grandparent’s closet, pulled out once every few years to be played by the kids during holiday get-togethers. Yet hidden behind this simple facade is a game that teaches a number of valuable and interesting lessons about the progression of a person’s financial life.

How the game works The board consists of a long path of rectangles, most of which refer to specific life events, such as having a child, having a home fire, collecting stock dividends, and so forth. You’re represented by an automobile with a small peg in it (representing you) and room for many more pegs (representing your family). You move along the board using a spin-dial, moving the number of spaces represented by the dial, and perform whichever action is prescribed by the space.

So what does the game teach players about personal finance?

Random events Over time, random events can greatly help or greatly hinder your personal finances. You might buy a great stock and make a truckload of money, or you might lose a lot of your money to a long hospital visit. This can be used to demostrate the usefulness of an emergency fund; in fact, spending all of your money in the game is a very, very dangerous strategy.

The use of insurance The game allows you to purchase insurance against various calamities. This insurance is inexpensive and can be purchased early on. If you buy the insurance and hit one of the “disaster” spaces later on, you won’t have to pay the steep cost, but if you hit that space without insurance, it’s terribly expensive. Of course, there’s a good chance you won’t hit a disaster at all because of the “chance” factor. Is insurance worthwhile? This game can generate a good discussion on the topic.

The progression of life events – and what they cost As you move through the game, you might get married, have children, get divorced, and so on. These choices have financial consequences within the game, but can also have benefits depending on the path that you follow throughout the game and which spaces you happen to land on. Life events affect future life events and can have significant and unseen costs and benefits.

Setting individual goals and meeting them Although the official rules of the game state that the goal in the end is to have the most assets, the game allows people to set their own goals. I used to play with a young girl who would believe that the winner was the person with the most children at the end, because having a big family was the best life you could have. The game lets people figure out what’s important to them, whether it’s money or not.

Different lives have different issues If you’re not as rich as your neighbor, it might be because you chose different jobs, had different numbers of children, and had different life events. Even if you measure your success within the game as the amount of money you have at the end, the game reveals that different life paths can mean different levels of financial success and that having money is a mixture of good fortune and good choices.

The Game of Life is a simple game that can be played in an hour and provides great insight into many of the financial issues that an average life can have. Throughout the game, there are countless opportunities to learn about and teach key personal finance issues. Plus, it can be a lot of pure fun, and you can engage relatively young children (second and third graders can handle it with some occasional reading help).

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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