Richard Quinn

I AM THE FIRST TO admit that I’m no star when it comes to math. I was so enthralled with calculus in college that I took it twice. To make matters worse, math keeps changing. Just ask a 10-year-old to show you how to multiply.

I am not alone. At the high school from which I graduated in 1961, the current math proficiency rate is 2% The national average is 46%. The lowest ranked state is at 22%. With those numbers, is there any hope for financial literacy?

The lack of basic math skills is not new. Some years ago, before I retired, I was working on budgets with some employees. I was shocked when they couldn’t calculate percentages. If you don’t know that 10 is 10% of 100, how well are you going to do with rates of return, let alone compounding? While shopping, a person—who shall remain nameless—frequently asks me if a $10 coupon on a $25 purchase is better than 30% off the same amount.

Could this state of affairs have anything to do with why so many people mismanage their money, including spending too much and saving too little? I think so—and I think it’s going to get worse. Which brings me to Monopoly.

Monopoly is a strategy game that involves buying, investing, selling and keeping track of money. There’s a banker who oversees transactions. After you purchased all the lots on a block, you can buy houses and then a hotel. The rent charged soars with the number of buildings owned. The game can go on for hours, sometimes days. Making the wrong moves can result in bankruptcy, not unlike in the real world. Along the way, there are subtle lessons to be learned about simple math, the value of money, risk-taking, strategy and negotiating. As fellow HumbleDollar contributor Adam Grossman noted a few weeks ago, Monopoly can be a great way to teach kids about money.

Unless, that is, you’re playing the newfangled, high-tech version of Monopoly. No math, buying and selling, or money-handling skills are required. They have even done away with the banker, the money, the houses and the hotels. Just roll the dice. No thinking required.

The cards and the titles to properties have bar codes. You simply scan the cards and the scanner does all the math, calculates the rent due, tells you what to do and, presumably, will even tell you if you’re bankrupt. You can’t figure out your financial state on your own, because you can’t see if you’re out of the nonexistent money.

I recently played this high-tech version with my grandchildren. They think its cool. I think its boring. The only skill required is correctly placing a card on the scanner. It took me a few times to get that right and then only with the assistance of an eight-year-old.

Hey, I’m all for technology, I use my phone to check out groceries as I pick them off the supermarket shelf and I use my Google Nest Hub to find recipes. I even check my heart rate via my phone. Which, incidentally, did not increase while I was playing Monopoly.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Last StopThe Late Show and For Your Benefit. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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