The hotels are cheese wheels!” my fourth grader announced cheerily. I would have been more amused if he wasn’t the only one with hotels on the cheese-themed playing board on our Monopoly game for the Wii.
He was crushing me. But at least he was getting the hang of the game…and of investing and spending the way it used to be, back before the mortgage crisis ate a chunk of his college savings. In fact, Monopoly is more than a game. It’s a lesson in spending no more than what you actually have.
I admit that I never really used to play Monopoly by the rules. When my brother and I played as kids, we’d put all the money owed from Community Chest and Chance cards in the middle of the board. Anyone who landed on Free Parking could take the cash. Worse, my husband and his siblings used to put houses and hotels on individually owned properties, thereby missing the entire point of the word “monopoly” altogether.
But you can’t cheat on Monopoly for the Wii. You have to play by the rules, and the rules say you can’t buy something if you can’t afford it. If you don’t have enough cash to purchase Boardwalk (or on the cheese-themed board, Camembert Place, or whatever), you can sell houses or mortgage a property for a set amount. But you can’t borrow what you can’t afford. If only it had been like that in real life these past few years, then maybe we wouldn’t be in a recession.
“I’m not going to buy another house until I save up some more money,” Christopher, 10, said before clicking his Wii controller to signify the end of his turn. I was about to take advantage of this teachable moment, but I thought the better of it. My son was learning about money management just fine, thanks to the video version of a 70-year-old board game.
An unemployed heater salesman invented Monopoly in the 1930’s and sold it to Parker Brothers. At first, the game was considered too long and too complicated for children to play, but it soon became an American tradition, largely because of its get rich quick theme, or so say game reviewers. I think it’s more of a get rich while making smart decisions and wise deals without overspending game. In other words, the popular board game invented during the Great Depression is a perfect primer for this recession.
There are no sub-prime loans in Monopoly. No credit cards, no home equity loans and little debt. If you want to secure an income-producing monopoly, you can offer trade deals to other players, who can accept or decline based on how lucrative the deal or how desperate their situation. You can’t take on debt that you can’t afford, and you’d better save up money in case you land on someone else’s hotel (or, in our case, cheese wheel.)
In the end, Christopher won the game. He’d amassed and built up enough properties to put all us other players into bankruptcy. As he watched the little Monopoly man race around the virtual game board under a fireworks display while each and every property reverted to his possession with great fanfare, he smiled.
“I love this game,” he said.
Me, too. Thanks to Monopoly, my kids are learning about spending within their means. And I’ve learned that, next time, I’ve got to beat Christopher to Camembert Place, or whatever.
Full disclosure: We got the Monopoly video game for free, but the idea and the blog are are mine.