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How To Use Games To Teach Your Children Valuable Money Lessons How To Use Games To Teach Your Children Valuable Money Lessons
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How to Use Games to Teach Your Children Valuable Money Lessons

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  April 6, 2015 | Home and Family

By Sarita Harbour

While the media is full of advice on how to build wealth to leave an inheritance for children, there is much less information available for parents on how to teach kids about money management. Yet when respondents to the National Federation of Credit Counseling’s 2014 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey are asked where they learned the most about finances, the No. 1 response for the past seven years has been “from my parents or at home.”

One way moms and dads can teach their kids about finances—and make learning fun—is through games that offer valuable money lessons.

When to Start

Introduce the topic of money as early as the preschool or even toddler stage, said Neale Godfrey, president and CEO of financial games app developer Green$treet Commons. “When little ones start becoming aware of their world, start talking to them about money.”

Godfrey, author of multiple books on parents, kids and money as well as children’s financial literacy curricula, noted that for many children this occurs around the age of three or four years, but for some kids it’s younger. “When they start saying ‘I want,’ it’s a good time to start the conversation,” she said.

For the smallest children, recognizing coins and the value of each is a good place to start. Education.com’s Money Activities for Kids includes basic games parents can play at home using materials they have on hand, like spare change.

Use Tech Tools

Today’s kids are digital natives, with some being introduced to smartphone apps and tablets before they reach preschool. There are a wealth of tech tools out there to help parents introduce money concepts to even small children.

Some free online games, such as the U.S. Treasury Department’s Perry’s Pennies, are simple enough for preschoolers to play. The game teaches coin recognition while promoting the concept that saving money is good—the goal is to save more than $2 in 10 seconds by clicking on “falling” coins.

“Game playing gets them involved,” Godfrey said. Her company combines money management basics and environmental awareness through financial game apps for children ages five to eight years. The games, featuring characters developed by Tom Hester, creator of Shrek, let players “earn” money through green, money-saving activities such as using “junk” to build things or by planting gardens. The earned money can then be used to free and care for the endangered animals in the game.

While the kids are playing, they’re actually learning valuable money management skills, Godfrey said.

“They’re learning about goal setting, saving money and the importance of giving to charity,” she said.

Explore Board Games

For parents who prefer a more low-tech approach to teaching kids about money, board games are a tried-and-true option, as well as an activity the whole family can take part in. The classic example is Monopoly, which teaches children how to manage cash flow, make real estate investment choices and plan for financial emergencies (such as posting bail when they get thrown in jail).

Another board game that focuses more on managing monthly cash flow is Pay Day. Like Monopoly, players take turns moving around a board and make decisions about how to divide up their “paychecks” to meet expenses, bill payments and financial emergencies.

On the more sophisticated end of the gaming spectrum, Cash Flow 101, developed by Robert T. Kiyosaki, author of the bestselling book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, can teach both older kids (age 14 and up) and their parents about the basics of investments, financial statements and personal accounting. In the “Rat Race” stage of the game, players select a financial goal and move around the board making investments to build a passive or portfolio investment stream to fund their expenses, tracking their progress with financial statements. In stage two, the “Fast Track” players race to reach their financial goal of $50,000 in monthly income.

Teaching Older Kids About Money

Teens, just a few short years away from taking full financial responsibility for their lives, have an even more pressing need to learn money management skills. In the Visa 2012 International Barometer of Women’s Financial Literacy survey, women were asked how well they thought teens and young adults in their country understood money management and were well equipped to manage on their own. Of the 27 countries surveyed, the United States placed last.

However, talking to some teens about anything—not just money—may be tough for some parents. So instead of lecturing on the importance of not wasting money at the mall, Godfrey suggested focusing on activities that feel like games.

“Even getting an allowance can be turned into a game—Work for Pay,” Godfrey said. “You decide what you’re willing to pay for, and have them work for the rest.”

Godfrey also recommends putting older teens on a budget, suggesting that parents do a little research to discover how much a basic clothing wardrobe will cost for the season, then letting the teens know that is how much they’ll have to spend. It’s important to keep the figure low enough that your teen will come back to you asking for more money. And when they do? “Negotiate,” said Godfrey, who pointed out that this is a great way for kids to learn how to hammer out a deal.

Whether online games, apps, board games, inexpensive activities or a combination of them all are the best fit for your family, the trick is to make learning about money fun. Financial games help keep kids’ attention while teaching important lessons about saving, spending, budgeting and investing that will last a lifetime.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.

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