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Seven Money Lies from Monopoly

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MonopolyWhen it comes to games, Monopoly is probably one of the most iconic. While I haven’t played a game of Monopoly in years (the last time was on a cruise to Bermuda many years ago), the game and its rules are still fresh in my mind. Nowadays all the board games we play are slightly more complicated than Monopoly (games like Settlers of Catan or Dominion) but Monopoly still holds a special place in my heart.

If, however, you were to look back at the game itself and compare it to real life, you’d find a lot of differences. Some of the differences are inconsequential, like the prices for properties ($400? $120?) because they reflect both and earlier time and a need to improve playability (no sense having people count out $50,000 in $500 increments, a bill that itself doesn’t exist anymore). Others are more subtle and, if a child were to use Monopoly as a proxy for the real world, really misrepresent the world. They, in short, lie.

Bank Error In Your Favor

Bank Error In Your FavorBank errors in your favor almost never happen and when they do, you have to return the money! When a bank or another customer makes an error and gives you money by accident, you aren’t entitled to it. Possession isn’t 9/10ths of the law in this case (or any case, that’s just a crazy saying) and in the event you don’t report it, you may be liable for stealing.

This happened to Christopher Wink back in August of 2008. He discovered an extra six grand in his bank account. Fortunately the bank discovered it in time, before he could accidentally spend it, and pulled it out in a “retrieval withdrawal.”

Pay Cash For Property

Monopoly MoneyIn real life, how often do people pay 100% cash for their homes and property? Almost never. In Monopoly, you can’t take out a mortgage on a home until after you’ve paid cash for it.

Free Parking

Free ParkingSimply does not exist in real life. Enough said.

$200 Salary

Monopoly GoWhenever you pass Go, you collected $200. That’s the amount you collected at the beginning of the game and that’s the amount you collected near the end. It didn’t matter how hard you worked, what schooling you received, what skills you had, everyone who went around the block got a cool two hundred bills.

Real life doesn’t work like that except in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and look how that turned out. In real life, your hard work will be rewarded. While we don’t like to believe that financial fat cats deserve their big paychecks, the reality is that for most people your salary is a translation of how hard and how smart you work. If you don’t work hard and don’t take schooling seriously, the road forward becomes much harder.

Income Tax Is Simple

Income TaxIncome tax in Monopoly is dead simple – 10% of your assets or $200. In real life, taxes are far from being that simple and you don’t really get much of a choice in how you pay. Income taxes in real life aren’t based on luck either, as you can only land on the space once per trip around the board.

Also, how you are taxed is a big departure from real life. You either give up 100% of your salary or you pay 10% of your assets. Those are assets, presumably, that have already been taxed. 100% of your salary seems a bit excessive, don’t you think?

I’ve also read that in the newer versions there is no 10% option, it’s a straight up $200 tax no matter what your assets are.

As an aside, ever notice how populist the game is? There’s a luxury tax (with no test on what counts as luxury, other than dumb luck) in the game!

Jail Is A Good Thing

Monopoly JailIn Monopoly, going to Jail is great, especially in the later rounds of the game, because it offers you a reprieve from potentially landing on your opponent’s hotel-stacked properties. People long for jail time in that game because you can still collect rents from your opponents while in the slammer.

In real life, jail sucks. It doesn’t matter how you try to portray it, being incarcerated and having someone else tell you what to do every hour of the day cannot be a pleasant experience.

Bankruptcy Is The End

Poor TaxThe game of Monopoly ends with a declaration of bankruptcy. When you can no longer meet you obligations, you have to declare bankruptcy and you are out of the game. In real life, bankruptcy is certainly not the end. In fact, people and businesses declare bankruptcy all the time and it can end positively.

Take Donald Trump for example. You might have read in the news that he’s filed for bankruptcy several times, but he, personally, hasn’t. His corporation has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy which allows the company to reorganize its debts and, usually, renegotiate them. This lets the business get more favorable terms on the debt and survive to fight another day. Personally, Trump is better than ever.

Finally, and while this isn’t a outright lie, chances are you wouldn’t win 2nd place in a beauty contest. 🙂

(Photo: Monopoly by harshlight, Bank Error in Your Favor by Parker Brothers, Monopoly Money by mtsofan, Free Parking by alancleaver, Go by billselak, Income Tax by shaynekaye, Jail by 427, Poor Tax by oh02)

{ 33 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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33 Responses to “Seven Money Lies from Monopoly”

  1. I haven’t played Monopoly in years. I guess it does teach some false lessons about money. Hopefully parents will take the time to explain that to their kids.

  2. J. Money says:

    What? I’m not beautiful? I believed everything you said except Goethe
    end. You’re the liar 😉 (that was actually the best post post I’ve read in quite some time my friend, thoroughly enjoyed it. And read it!)

  3. Daniel says:

    Wow, it takes a great post to get me to click over from my reader, but you’re dead on with all of those. Just once I’d like the bank to accidentally make an error in my favor. If they asked for it back, I’d tell them I have a maintenance fee of $50 and tell them that the complaints department is currently assisting another customer.

  4. zapeta says:

    Jim, you’re right…I always win first place in the beauty contest!

    As for the income tax, I think they took the 10% option off the board because its too confusing for most people. Most of the time when I hit that I know the 10% is probably going to be less than $200, but I pay the $200 just to avoid the time and effort of calculating the 10%.

    • Jim says:

      It only makes sense in the first or second go around the board. You start with $1500 so 10% is only $150. Your cash converts to property 1:1 so you don’t have to worry about that, you only need to remember any net changes in your cash… which mostly comes from passing Go that early in the game.

      C’mon Zapeta…. it’s not that hard. 🙂

    • Fred says:

      And this is one way Monopoly IS like real life. I’m sure there are folks out there who just take the standard deduction rather than itemize, because it’s “easier” to do that. You don’t have to keep charitable giving receipts or analyze W2s for state taxes. Of course, in real life that might cost you $1000s, as opposed to $50.

    • Ali says:

      Zapeta-really? I hope you are only in the third grade. If not, our school system has failed big time. To calculate 10%, move the decimal place (that is the dot) over one spot to the left. Then you have your 10%. It’s pretty simple…

  5. cubiclegeoff says:

    I would say there is free parking in some places, although following some rules, it usually doesn’t pay out a lump of cash (unless you find a random lost wad of cash on the ground).

    As for the salary. Although most salaries increase over time, they don’t necessarily increase a lot, even if you work hard. The point of the game is that rent really pays out, salary is just an extra bonus. I’d say that can have it’s own lesson. Real estate can be lucrative, but as the game shows, it can also put you in ruin.

    • Marilyn says:

      I was going to say that there’s plenty of free parking–there wouldn’t be any suburbs without free parking. But no one ever gets $1600 for pulling into a free parking space.

      And I really don’t agree (with the OP) that salary and income reflect how hard you work or your education level.

  6. cdiver says:

    Lessons on jail…I think this depends on if you are an honest hardworking person or a crook. If you are a crook, it is like freee housing, food, gym membership, and education, both criminal and civil.

  7. billsnider says:

    I actually ike to paly Monopoly Junior with the grandkids. It has an actuall ending.

    I remember playing with friends for days. It was exhausting at the end and we all wanted to see it over.

    Bill Snider

  8. Marilyn says:

    I play Monopoly fairly regularly with my stepson. I played with my ex’s nephews too (including one who started at age 2!). My whole family played as kids, sometimes keeping the game going for weeks until two players emerged with equal monopolies (at which point, Mom and Dad broke up the monopolies to start a new game).

    So, with my decades of experience, I’ve learned: always pay the 10% tax or at least calculate it. It actually takes a long time to build from $150 to $200 dollars and by the time you get there, your properties may be mortgaged, which lowers your tax liability. If you’re especially devious, you can offer to calculate the 10% for other players for a small fee.

    Going to jail is never good, not even in Monopoly. While you sit in jail, other players continue to buy property and build up their advantage over you. You get out, you land on all of the properties they just bought.

    S/He who wins the pot of free parking, generally wins the game.

    Boardwalk has a high rent but no one lands there. Of course, one landing on Boardwalk developed with housing and hotels can demolish the cash flow of a weak player, wiping out one of your opponents.

    • Fred says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Boardwalk is actually *more* likely to be landed on than other properties in the game… There’s a chance card that redirects a player directly to boardwalk.

      What is true is that Boardwalk and Park Place are only a two-property monopoly, whereas most others (aside from Baltic and Mediterranean) are three property monopolies. So they seem to get “hit less” than the others.

      If we assume that the odds of landing on any space are 1/40 (not quite true b/c of chance & community chest card redirects), we could develop a weighting that would show that Boardwalk and Park Place (the Blue Series) with Hotels are financially equivalent to the Yellow Series with Hotels, and slightly behind the Green series with Hotels. However, to get the Green series to have hotels you would have had to spend more money – the return on investment for all three of these end up being similar 🙂

      • Jim says:

        This site lists all the probabilities so you don’t have to guess. 🙂

        • Fred says:

          Love it! So many statistics to geek out on… Looks like boardwalk is in the top half for landing probability – not bad.

        • Anonymous says:

          Glad you gave the link to the site. “Go directly to jail” via the space on the board (just before the 4th side) and in Community Chest and Chance reroute a lot of players before they even make it to the 4th side.

  9. CreditShout says:

    I wish life was like Monopoly! Still, it’s a great game to play with friends even though it isn’t that realistic.

  10. daenyll says:

    what about the loss of learning basic budgeting and money handling skills lost with the introduction of the new “plastic” versions where they don’t even use play money anymore

  11. Shirley says:

    I remember a young grandson demanding that his opponent share his money “because you have a lot and I don’t have hardly any”. Now THAT was a conversation starter!

  12. eric says:

    lol i like this and not only because i played it a few weeks ago 🙂

  13. Interesting look at this great game. I love playing this game, but it always takes soooo long to finish a game off.

  14. Squirrelers says:

    I absolutely enjoyed monopoly as a kid. When I was very young, I actually bought a book on how to win at Monopoly. Needless to say, after that I almost always won.

    My favorite part was trying to trade properties with people. Since I knew which properties were most likely to be landed on, and which were the most profitable to invest in, I usually ended up profiting from the deals!

    In real life…I haven’t done anything remotely like that. I’m not dominating the world of finance, though I’m now a personal finance blogger. The real world is much more challenging than Monopoly – that “easy” way to invest, make deals, and win is not so realistic. It was kind of a lie, or misleading at the least!

    Wouldn’t take back the times playing the game though. Good times.

  15. I love that you’ve written about Monopoly over 5 times before. It’s such a solid game, but it always takes so long. I think I’ve only finished 8% of the games I’ve ever started.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I play monopoly with my kids– the various childrens versions, as well as, a special one that was made for Bear Stearns back in the day… The message is clear, invest in real estate– over the long run it tends to be a good thing. Anyway, as usual a very entertaining post.

  17. Russ says:

    For the person who “only finished 8% of the games” they started, it’s probably because you’re not playing with the correct rules.

    Free Parking is just that, “free parking”. It doesn’t pay out any money, you don’t put any of the fees/fines from Chance/Community Chest on the Free Parking space. Doing so only significantly increases the length of the game, and makes it even more subject to the random forces of rolling the dice.

    If no one buys a property, it immediately goes up for auction.

    Some of the “problems” with the game come from the fact that everyone uses their own house rules, most all of which just make the game much longer.

    But in the end, I’d rather play other games, as the original author mentioned, games like Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Princes of Florence, etc, etc.

  18. Anna says:

    Great post! Made me smile. Maybe we need a post-recession version of Monopoly, or perhaps we all just like dreaming that it’s great to go to jail!

  19. monkoverboard says:

    Monopoly 2010:

    Community Chest: “Your corporation just received a government bailout! Collect 20% of every other player’s money.”

  20. Hayden says:

    Funny thing is, this argument does not matter at all. Monopoly is a game.

  21. George says:

    I love Monopoly. I have been playing it for over 65 years with my brothers when I was about 8 or 10 years old and then with my children and now with my grandchildren but there are a few gripes I have.
    First there should be a way to keep the money organized. While trying to concentrate on the game watching who is buying what property and who is landing on your property the money tends to get mixed up and some of the bills end up underneath one another in the wrong piles. It also makes it hard to check how much money you have if you want to by some property. Some people put the money partially under the board but it still gets all mixed up. Sometimes it ends up to far under the board where it’s impossible to get it without having to lift up the board disturbing the playing pieces and the houses and hotels.
    Second when you use the banker boxes the slots for the money are two close together and not deep enough. When you place money in or take it out of the box you can’t help but disturb the other adjacent bills and they fall out or it is hard to find the correct slots to put the money in. The banker tray is no better.
    Another one of my gripes is when rolling the dice when the board has a lot of houses and hotels on it the dice usually knocks them off and you have to straighten them out.

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