Who says you can’t work and play simultaneously? One of the best ways to learn about life in general, and about investing in particular, is to play the kind of game that will hone your skills in the real world. Monopoly is one such game. It’s time to learn how to play if you’ve never done so, and if you’re already familiar, it’s time to play with a different mentality.
These are six ways Monopoly can teach you about life.
1. Monopoly Will Teach You About Capitalism
Mike Curry takes a dim view of Monopoly. He writes:
“Ohhh, let’s play capitalism on a board and spend 6–8 hours trying to bleed your friends dry so that one person emerges with all of the money. Mortgage, rent, utilities, jail — sounds like a blast, can I be the boot?”
I mean, he should tell us what he really feels, right? 🙂 If you happen to live in a capitalist society, doesn’t it make sense to learn to navigate your environment? But, this is going to be a matter of interpretation.
For whatever it’s worth, the problem with Monopoly is that you are dealing in limited resources. There are only so many houses to hand out, for example, but the up side to this arrangement is that it forces you to think more strategically about maximizing what you do have. Too often we fall into a trap of believing that we never have enough to succeed. Have you ever found yourself thinking life would be better if you had…
2. Monopoly Will Teach You About Socioeconomics
The outcome of the game could be decided in the first quarter. Landing on the more profitable squares early on could set you up for financial success. One could argue this is reflective of the card you are dealt in life. You can no more control the family you are born into than you can control the outcome of your rolls, but just because a player takes the lead with the more lucrative blue properties does not mean they will know how to manage their resources. A person could build too fast, diminish their funds, and find themselves trapped when someone else’s hotel takes a substantial bite out of their collection. It is hard to become wealthy, but it can be just as hard to maintain that wealth. Someone is equally able to come out ahead from a weaker position, as I’ll explain in a moment.
3. Monopoly Will Teach You to Budget
In the beginning, your goal should be to buy everything you can. Unlike real life, you want to spend down, because unlike real life, your money is not earning interest. Therefore, coming out of the gate, your objective should be to control the board. Similarly, young adults should invest their money somewhere, almost anywhere, rather than keep it stagnant in some low yield account, or worse, under a mattress.
As you slip into the middle third of the game you want to strategically build houses while juggling the possibilities of paying income tax, paying assessment fees, paying for the opera, and all the little surprises built into the game. In real life you want to save as much as you can, but you can’t completely forget about rent, electric, groceries, cell service, and yes, even entertainment, because you will become bitter if you only focus on being frugal.
As you head into the last third of the game, however, you want to maintain a sufficient reserve of funds to survive a steep hit from someone else’s astronomical rent collection. It’s hard to keep things steady if you have to pay $2,000 to Boardwalk, or Mayfair if you’re on the British board. This is reflective of the emergency fund you should always keep tucked away to soften life’s unexpected blows.
4. Monopoly Will Teach You About Market Cycles
In one roll, you could find yourself paying $1,200 to Pacific Avenue/Regent Street. This could send you into negative figures. You start considering the properties you will need to mortgage to remain afloat, but in the next roll someone ends up paying you $1,000 for the rent you collected on Illinois Avenue/Trafalgar Square. The figures here are arbitrary, but the point is that your value will drop and sore without your control in much the same way the housing bubble popped in 2008. At other times the impact on your value could fluctuate similar to the effects of COVID-19, where properties outside of crowded coastal urban environments started looking more appealing. Don’t be afraid to take risks, especially if you have comfortable reserves, but understand your value could be swung by macro factors outside of your influence.
5. Monopoly Will Teach You About Building Relationships
Trading in Monopoly is essential. I can’t think of a scenario where a person could win a game without trading properties to get ahead. Every transaction should be strategic. Don’t complete someone else’s set unless you will complete one of your own sets, or unless you are desperate. Regardless, you should always be a good sport. No one has to accept your deal. The more considerate you are, the more likely someone else might take pity on you later and cut you a lucrative transaction to help keep you afloat. But, don’t be so nice that you just prolong the game. Eventually someone must win.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice we were taught when I was going through training in my current job was to be nice to everyone. You never know when someone might become your boss.
Think of it a different way. You should always find it in your heart to give to the homeless. Life is full of unexpected twists. You never know when it might be you doing the begging.
6. Monopoly Will Teach You to Think Long-term
Different people will recommend different strategies to win Monopoly. I think the strategy you choose will depend on the specific round: the number of players, their style of investment, the quality of properties you collect early on, etc., but I will give you two pieces of advice:
First, do not pass on properties you can’t build on like utilities and railroads. There is something to be said for slow but reliable success, especially if you can monopolize these sectors.
Second, do not turn your nose up at less expensive properties. The same logic about consistency applies here, but I’m sure there is a lesson in there about not judging a story by its title. I conquered one of my recent games by, among other things, building out my light blue and purple streets on the American board.
To apply this to the real world, certificates of deposit, or CDs, may not yield the greatest returns. If you were to stagger your savings across three or four different certificates in a CD ladder strategy, however, these slow savings vehicles could help you enjoy stability while keeping pace with potentially higher interest rates.
Because I am a competitive player, losing at drawn out games like these can almost feel demoralizing. Dramatic? Absolutely. Who wants to lose after investing so much effort at creating what you think is a good strategy? It should just be a game, and while I am congratulatory toward the people who soundly beat me, I walk away from the round contemplating the various ways I could have done better.
I believe this mentality will serve me well as I work to rebuild my capital. My divorce dealt me a blow on multiple levels. Although the conditions are different, this is the sort of financial setback you are likely to experience on the board. Losing at Monopoly is part of the experience. The question is: What will you do to adopt the lesson from the loss in your next game? Even if you lose again, hopefully you will take steps to not lose in the same way.
If you don’t have a Monopoly set in your home, you can grab one from Amazon. This is an affiliate link and helps this blog earn a little change.
You can also play online using RS Games. Blind or visually impaired users can either use the desktop client or one of the mobile apps. Sighted users should use the browser. On-screen text is not visible otherwise. While you’re there, consider making a donation to reward the good job those guys are doing at keeping the service running.
What do you think? I’d be curious to hear what your experience with Monopoly has been. Also, please suggest any alternative games you think others would appreciate if they like Monopoly.
And if you enjoyed this post, sign up for my newsletter to get future posts delivered straight to your inbox!