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Funny Money: What Our Favorite Board Games Taught Us About Money

Who among us didn’t learn our first lessons about capitalism and greed from Monopoly?

Board games to teach you about money.Before money was in your life, there were board games. From the instant your parents trusted that you would no longer swallow game pieces and allowed you to compete against them, you were subconsciously learning lessons through the games about life, loss and that most important lesson of all — how to guilt people into letting you win.

It also stands to reason that board games taught you stuff about money, possibly before you even fully realized what money was. Let us count the ways:

Chutes and Ladders

If you learn nothing else by traipsing through the cheery, glossy board, it’s that no matter how great you have things going, they can always take a turn for the awful.

It’s a key early lesson to learn that managing unexpected highs and lows is a key to financial survival. If you shoot up a ladder and jump out to a big lead, you’re just a poor spin from tumbling into last place. And once you do hit rock bottom, you must learn that shouting and throwing the game board on the floor are no replacement for perseverance.

Knowing that hubris and depression alike can derail your financial plans will help you stick to them. Also, that one way to wipe that smirk off your big brother’s face is to stay the course, wait for momentum to shift, then smugly gloat as he’s the one who throws the board on the floor in frustration.


Screwing with a solid foundation is a surefire way to turn a strong structure into an embarrassing mess. As you pull out blocks and stack them high, you evaluate potential sacrifices that are worth making to build your wealth. The stronger your pile is at the bottom, the more likely you’ll be able to build.

Also, because Jenga is as cooperative as it is competitive, you’ll have to adjust to the harmful decisions your partner makes along the way. Jenga basically teaches you to never, ever get married.


Your tiles are your investment portfolio, and it’s important to maximize your resources by using your big-points tiles where they’re likely to make the biggest scores. You also learn that you don’t have all the time in the world.

Hold on to a rare, high-point tile for too long, and you not only squander potential points but have them deducted from your score. Strategies of early-game aggression and late-game conservation will pay off, just as they will in retirement. Unless Social Security dies, corporations raid your pensions, financial institutions render your 401(k)s worthless and you’re forced to take a job at Walmart in your 90s.

Hungry Hungry Hippos

As Gordon Gekko proclaimed, greed is good. When it comes to going out and getting yours, manners and decorum fall by the wayside. What wins the day as much as skill and precision is the unashamed hunger to improve your standing by competing for finite resources.

There are only so many plum promotions out there, and those who do what it takes will get them. While it’s best not to live your life entirely like a Hungry Hungry Hippo, the animals’ gluttonous drive is something to keep in your back pocket for when you need it most.


The game primarily teaches that vast sums of real estate can be had for $1,500. Not really, but more so that inflation really is a demon beast, if those prices were accurate in 1934.

But the most important financial lesson the game teaches you, in addition to all the junk about mortgages and rent, is that money makes people mean. Your best friend will sell you out for pennies and your own mom will foreclose on you just to be able to build a new hotel. When it comes to cash, sympathy is too expensive for most.

Published or updated on July 2, 2013

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


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  1. Mike says:

    Good point about Hungry Hungry Hippos. That game certainly teaches you to hustle – a key component in career / financial success!

  2. […] grew up playing board games. They may be passe right now, but a lot of those games did a lot to teach us about money. Remember […]

  3. Ivan says:

    This is a refreshing take on how board games and money are related, Phil! I agree that all these childhood games you’ve mentioned teach us many life lessons – money being an important one.

    Another game to add to the list is chess. Just like investing in the stock market, you’ve got to have a game plan in chess of what you want to do so you don’t just react to whatever your opponent (or market) is doing. At the same time, you’ve got to be able to change your strategy on the fly if things aren’t working out in your favor.

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