Playing Games

Don Southworth

REUBEN KLAMER, one of my greatest financial teachers, died last month. I never knew his name until I read his obituary. Klamer invented The Game of Life—the one that’s played with a spinner, a small plastic car full of blue and pink stick people, and lots of money.

I grew up in the 1960s, long before the internet or video games. Board games were what we played when it was rainy outside or when we had family gatherings. Two games taught me about money more than any book or class: Monopoly and The Game of Life.

Monopoly was my Economics 101 class. I learned about real estate, rental income and mortgages. I chose to be the banker whenever I could because I had access to more money—and could occasionally embezzle. I bought everything I could, mortgaged myself to the hilt, and reveled in the wheeling and dealing that started when people couldn’t pay their rent. Making deals was more fun than bankruptcy. Especially when I was the one coming up short. I learned about taxation, going to jail and the randomness of it all.

The Game of Life was my advanced economics course. It was more comprehensive than Monopoly. I had to worry about education, family and the poor farm. I got a job and its value was in my annual salary, which was much more than the $200 I got when I passed Go. The more blue and pink stick people in my car, the more worry and joy I had. The money had bigger numbers and was more exciting. The roulette wheel replaced the dice. My favorite part of the game was that you could win it all, even if you were broke, by hitting the right number at the end of the game.

I wonder how many people’s financial outlook was informed by Monopoly and The Game of Life. The latter was more risky and more fun. Monopoly seemed more stable and secure. Maybe it’s no surprise I became a compulsive gambler.

I understand The Game of Life has evolved over the years. You’re now rewarded for philanthropy, and have more options and possibilities for life that entail much more than money. I wonder if I would have liked today’s game as much as I did the 1960s version.

Looking back now, I know Monopoly was a better financial teacher than The Game of Life. Slow and steady wins the race, they say. But it’s important to have fun and take an occasional financial risk or two along the way. Do both. That’s how we’re most likely to win the real game of life.

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