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8 Personal Finance Lessons I Unlearned From Monopoly

Posted By Jim On 10/02/2007 @ 7:35 am In Personal Finance | 14 Comments

The Monopoly lessons post I wrote last week, 8 Personal Finance Lessons I Learned From Monopoly [3], was very well received and as I teased in the last “lesson,” there was going to be an 8 Lessons Unlearned post coming soon – this is it.

As much as you can learn from Monopoly, there’s plenty that you must unlearn whenever you start dealing with the prospect of Real Life. For example, in Monopoly, the point is to win right? You must bankrupt your competitors until you’re the only left standing. However, does it truly make sense to reach the top by stepping on those around you? By defeating them? Often times no, so that’s an example of a lesson one must unlearn (some never do) when dealing with others in real life.

Unlesson #1: Expensive Isn’t Necessarily Better

Boardwalk is the most expensive piece of property in Monopoly, but it’s actually not the best monopoly to have in terms of the probability of being landed on. In probability studies [4], it’s been shown that the ‘brown’ properties (St. James Place, Tennessee Ave, New York Ave) are probably the best of the bunch to get. However, when you play Monopoly, unless you’ve done the math, it’s easy to understand why people believe Boardwalk is the best. If you have a hotel on the property and someone hits it, it’s likely game over for that player. In real life, you’d guess that more expensive things are better but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it takes a little more analysis to discover whether a particular product or service truly is the best, just because it’s more expensive.

Unlesson #2: Money Doesn’t Solve All Problems

The only time you ever visit the hospital in Monopoly is if you pull the wrong Community Chest card and the solution is to pay a few bucks and move on. In real life, all the money in the world can’t solve some medical issues. Money is nice but it’s not the answer to everything. In fact, as my Grandfather once said, if money can solve the problem you have, count yourself lucky.

Unlesson #3: You Don’t Need Luck

How many times have you hoped to land on Free Parking and scored some free cash? From there you probably moved on and had the funs to snare a good Yellow, Green, or Blue property on the back end, right? I know I have. In Monopoly, you will need a bit of luck to succeed and beat out your competitors. It’s the nature of the game and unavoidable. Very rarely will someone grind it out and end up the winner. However, in life, there are plenty of people who are grinding it out every day and very content doing their own thing. See, they’ve unlearned the first pre-unlesson, that life is about beating everyone else. They’re happy not seeking to “win” and are content to simply be “winning.” It’s a subtle distinction but one that could ultimately lead to your long term happiness. You don’t have to be the best of the best, you just have to be doing well. Ultimately, do your children really care whether you’re a Vice President? Do they care what your salary is? No, they love you because you’re their daddy or mommy… not because you’re VP Smith or VP Jones. So, what’s more important? More zeroes in your salary or the love and admiration of your children?

Unlesson #4: Going To Jail Is Not Awesome

This one is a bit tongue in cheek because I never ever believed going to real jail was awesome. In the game, going to jail meant potentially three turns of avoiding monopolies while still collecting the rent, it was seen as a good thing. In real life, going to jail means a whole lot of other things, all of which are horrible. While I’ve never spent a night in lockup, the stories I’ve heard make me certain I never want to (and hopefully never will).

Unlesson #5: Unfortunately, Not Everyone Plays By The Rules

There’s a reason why there are jails in the first place, people break the rules (known as laws in the real world). When you play Monopoly, usually everyone plays by the rules (unless you’re playing with miscreants who take it too seriously), but in real life there are people who are willing to sacrifice everything in return for probably not all that much. Why do people commit fraud or break the law in other ways to advance themselves financially? They do it because they take life too seriously, they want to “win” at all costs and so ethics is the first out the window (please excuse the generalities).

Unlesson #6: Bankruptcy Is Not The End Of The World

In Monopoly, bankruptcy means you’re finished. In reality, bankruptcy isn’t the end of the world but more like a do-over, except not entirely Tabula Rasa. Donald Trump’s businesses have been in bankruptcy over and over and over again because it’s a sound business practice (it allows you to take risks, restructure your debts, and re-enter the game). If you’ve made some poor financial decisions, sometimes bankruptcy is the only way to go but it’s not the end of the world. Your credit will be toast for a long time, your life will become much harder from a financial perspective, but it’s certainly not the darkness that is bankruptcy in Monopoly. Also, bankruptcy, while negative, doesn’t mean you lose. You aren’t finished, you merely have to start over, albeit behind a little, but your life hasn’t ended like it would in Monopoly.

Unlesson #7: Life Isn’t About Winning

This is akin to unless #4 about luck in that grinding it out may not be “winning” but that’s perfectly okay. In Monopoly, the game ends when one person has all the money and everyone else is living in the streets. The problem with believing that life is about winning is that life isn’t about winning. It’s not about beating all of your opponents and the moment you realize that life isn’t a competition is the moment you will truly find happiness. You don’t need to be better than everyone else around you, you just need to be better than you were yesterday and constantly be moving forward.

Unlesson #8: Income Tax Is Awesome

Oh wait… no, that wasn’t a lesson I unlearned. Today, I hate income tax as much as I hated it in Monopoly (except in Monopoly, you could get lucky with the dice and not pay; no such luck in real life!).


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[3] 8 Personal Finance Lessons I Learned From Monopoly: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/8-personal-finance-lessons-i-learned-from-monopoly.html

[4] probability studies: http://www.tkcs-collins.com/truman/monopoly/monopoly.shtml

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