To me, one of the best parts of being a kid was being able to play all day while other people worked, cooked my dinner and cleaned up after me, all while I was in blissful ignorance. One of my first shocks growing up was discovering I had to do all that for myself.
But did I really? Absent winning the Lotto, could my early adult life have been more about fun and less about drudgery? Or is growing up simply the process of giving up the best part of our lives, while doing our best to make sure that our kids get a chance at childhood heaven for a few years before they, too, must surrender to the evil but inevitable monster we call adulthood?
The subject of kids and teens slowly assuming adult responsibilities came up while I was explaining money management to my kids. And the way I presented the subject grew out of the philosophy that I learned this past Spring in California, at a one-week training and certification course for running financial education camps for kids. The camp was Camp Millionaire, and the tool they used was The Money Game.
The Camp Millionaire program certifies adults to run multi-day or week-long fun camps for kids where they can use The Money Game to learn all the stuff about money management that none of us adults ever did (unless we were lucky).
The goal of The Money Game is to teach kids to manage their money so that they can reach their personal life goals. The kids can win when they can pay all of their game “bills” solely out of their passive game income.
We received instructor training, and then we were thrown right into a real camp with real kids.
Our camp was held over a long weekend. Each day we introduced the kids to new ideas, concepts and attitudes about money. They were invited to uncover their own preconceived attitudes about money, and were then encouraged to consider other points of view. All of this interspersed with games and activities that made sure the kids were having too much fun to notice they were learning.
While playing The Money Game, in order for the kids to live off their passive game income, they learned about savings and investment. And in this way they also learned about the consequences that come from the decisions they make everyday about when and whether they choose to spend or save their own money.
At the start of the weekend a lot of our camp kids just wanted real money handouts from us adults so they could buy fun stuff to play with. As the camp progressed, they realized that money was much more than a way to get stuff – it was a form of power that could change the way they lived forever, if only they understood how to manage it.
Each “round” of the game the kids received a “paycheck” of pretend money. Then they had to spend percentages of that money on things like rent or mortgage, car payments, utilities, food, etc. At the end of each round they had money left over that they could spend on “fun”, savings, and finally “piddly stuff”, which was everything else. At the start of the game, most kids wanted to spend all of their money on piddly stuff, but that wasn’t an option here. Still, it was their choice what they did with their excess. Some kids chose to buy piddly stuff. Others saved it.
The kids were encouraged to spend some money on “fun”, because a lot of people start savings programs by going off the deep end, saving like crazy, then finally breaking and blowing it all on a new TV or something. It’s the same way a lot of us (me included) tend to do dieting – starve ourselves, then binge and finally, give up. You know, “All work and no play …” An unrealistic plan is designed to fail. And this kind of insight built into The Money Game impressed me.
After a couple of rounds of the game, we introduced the kids to investments. We used three types of investments to keep things simple: real estate, stocks, and small businesses.
The game comes with a deck of cards that the camp leaders pull from. Each round they are allowed to spend savings on investments and stuff, but also warned that they should probably keep some cash for “emergencies.” The game may throw them curves, such as “car dies, $500 repair bill this month.” Nevertheless, the investments earn them more money than they lose from surprises. Those who started the game buying piddly stuff quickly learned to stop that and buy investments. Partly to keep up with their friends, but also because even these ten to fourteen-year-old’s now understood the power of investing to improve their lives.
Eventually, they owned so much real estate, stocks and businesses that their monthly salary wasn’t that important. And, once their investments covered their lifestyle costs, they were set. And they had won the game.
The cool thing about The Money Game is that there wasn’t one winner. We were all rooting for everyone to win. It was more fun that way. Nobody wanted anyone else left behind. And that was an inspiring attitude to watch.
Yes, the game was rigged. Investment return varied randomly, but nobody got wiped out in a “housing bubble” or anything like that. Obviously, we wanted the kids to get a taste of victory. I think that’s what we parents are supposed to do. If kids don’t experience a taste of a great future, why would they work hard to get there?
When I returned from this training program I explained The Money Game to my kids. Not having gone through the experience yet, they only half listened. It was only later, when we happened to talk about chores and all the stuff that adults have to do that little kids don’t have to do, that I explained the value of The Money Game principles in terms that everyone understood.
I explained that, as adults, once they “won” The Money Game for real, they could then stop working for money and go back to playing while other people worked for them, cooked their dinner and cleaned up after them.
All at once, everyone understood.
In that moment they suddenly saw that mastering money could be just the tool they needed to stay kids forever.
I thought that was a very interesting way of looking at it. I mean, who really wants to grow up anyway?
All the best,
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