One of the highlights of our weekend was playing Monopoly as a family. We have always liked the game and used to play it on nights spent visiting with friends and drinking a few adult beverages. One of the wedding gifts that we registered for was a fancy wooden version. In more recent years, our weekends have been spent at home with the little ones. We just assumed the kids would have to be older to really play with us, but on a whim, decided to give it a try this past weekend. They did alright, for a five and three year old. The best that we were really hoping for was the kids staying interested, rolling, and counting spaces. Goofball was also doing pretty good with adding and subtracting dollar amounts. We had a good time, but afterwards I found myself thinking about what these games teach the kids about money. I want to make sure that they grow up with a better financial education, so they don’t make our mistakes.
Our game is still in progress. Goofball has a ton of properties and Tornado is holding a giant stack of cash. Of course, she started off the game by asking Daddy for all of the money in the bank and wanting to go to jail. I’m not too worried about them learning good or bad financial lessons from Monopoly just yet. It is a competitive game and there are different ways to play it. As they get older, they can become more involved in the game. They can choose between saving money, buying properties, and/or improving the properties. As I pondered these options, I found myself thinking about another popular board game, The Game of Life.
At the very beginning of Life (created way back in 1860), you have to make a choice that can have a huge effect on you for the rest of the game. If it’s been a while since you played, here’s a little refresher. The first thing you have to do is to choose whether you want to go to college or start working. If you go right to work, you don’t get to pick your career, you pick a career card from the face-down deck. If you choose to go to college, you take on an automatic $40,000 loan. Then, when you finally reach the “Job Search” space, you pick up three career cards. You can flip them over and choose the one that you want. I know, I know – it’s just a game, but my problem is the fact real life isn’t just about choice A or choice B.
I want my children to know that there are always other options.
They don’t have to live their life like a board game, following along one path and picking from the standard choices. I was raised believing that you couldn’t be successful without attending college. While I still consider education important, I now think it should be a personal decision, not an automatic one. I would like my children to attend college, but only when they have a specific goal in mind. I want them to learn and have fun, but the investment should also be instrumental to the big picture of their lives. On the other hand, maybe college won’t be necessary for them to follow their dreams – it wasn’t for Mr. Smith.
I will definitely encourage my children not to take out huge loans to fund their education. The average student loan debt for 2015 graduates was $35,000. Once again, the problem comes from following along a standard path – graduate high school, go directly to a good college, and take out loans to pay for tuition and living expenses. There are other options. If it serves their goals, there are two year colleges. There are scholarships. There are work-study programs. There are high school jobs to save up before college. Students can work part-time and make almost $18,000 over the course of four years.
I always worked during college, but still took out plenty of loans. I didn’t live within my means. There may have been some meals of Ramen noodles, but there were also shopping trips and travel to Spring Break. Everyone else was doing the same thing, so I didn’t question it. I worked during high school too. All of that money went towards buying crap I thought I needed and having fun. I should have saved at least some of that income to help pay for college. If I had done so, and kept to a budget, my loans could have been greatly reduced. Instead, we are still struggling to pay back the cost of my education, on top of our other debt.
It’s smart to encourage kids to do things like save up, seek out scholarships, and stick to a budget. However, that’s only the beginning. I want to my kids to question everything. I want them to design their own path. Perhaps it will make the most sense for them to go to trade school. Or, maybe they can start off at a community college and transfer to a bigger university. They might decide to just start working and invest their money. I don’t want them to be sheep, following along with the herd because they think it’s what they’re supposed to do. It wasn’t until my thirties that I started to realize the existence of options beyond the work-till-you’re-old consumer. Just imagine how successful they could be, growing up with this knowledge.
To my kids: please use your brain when it comes to money. This plea goes beyond strategizing about higher education. Whenever you’re about to make a decision that involves money, ask “why?” and really think about it. Are you about to do spend money on something because you perceive it to be “normal?” You have other choices, make the right one for you.
For now, my little ones, we’ll focus on having fun playing the games. I won’t tell you how to play, but I’ll try to help you figure out all of your options.