According to a recent Reuters article, the worlds of personal finance and computer gaming are increasingly co-mingling. Financial firms are striving to create games that can be played online or on one’s mobile device. The object of the games? To teach kids and even some adults how to be better managers of their own money
Given this country’s pitiful savings rates and overall financial fumbling, it shouldn’t come as a jolt there are a lot more gamers than savers in this land. In the Reuters story, reporter Lou Carlozo quotes Rick Mason, president of corporate markets for ING, as declaring: “More people in the U.S. meet the definition of active gamers than those who save for retirement.”
How many more? There are nearly twice as many gamers (141 million) as retirement savers (81 million). According to T. Rowe Price’s latest “Parents, Kids & Money Survey” of more than 800 youngsters aged 8-14, 85 percent believe they could better master personal finance if lessons were reinforced by online video games.
Not a bad idea, given still another figure. That is that owners of Smartphones play games 15 hours a month. Think of the benefits gained if just a fraction of those hours were instead spent mastering some basics of saving and investing.
As a service to FCN readers, let’s first look at some of the online and mobile app finance games being introduced these days. Next, acknowledging financial video games didn’t exist when today’s adult consumers were coming of age, let’s imagine what kinds of video games, had they been around, might have spurred the loony and often self-destructive personal finance decision making of recent vintage.
Fun and finances
Here are a few of the new computer games you can easily access to help teach your kids the foundational fundamentals of fiscal finery:
- The Great Piggybank Adventure from T. Rowe Price and Disney. Goal setting, wise spending, diversification and the effects of inflation are among the financial concepts explored in this game, based on an exhibit at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center. The free online game can be found here.
- Tykoon.com is a game partner of Amazon.com, in which children track their progress on charts as they attempt to accumulate virtual currency. That currency can be spent on big-ticket items in categories of their parents’ choosing. The kids’ achievements can be shared with family and friends through Tykoon.com’s own social network.
- Financial Football is a free video game from Visa designed for middle and high school students. It blends the rules and structure of the National Football League with questions about personal finance. Available as a free iPhone and iPad app.
- CountMyBeanz is free and available at www.countmybeanz.com. The entrepreneurial idea of bookkeeper and mom Susan Osbourne, CountMyBeanz gives children the chance to establish savings and checking accounts into which a fictional currency called “Beanz” can be deposited by their parents. The Beanz deposits are rewards for positive activities completed by the account holder kids. Once some Beanz are stashed away, they can be redeemed for items the children desire, or donated to charitable organizations.
- JA Finance Park, a free online game from Junior Achievement and Capital One, can be found at www.jafinancepark.ja.org. This game gives kids the opportunity to imagine themselves grown-ups grappling with such challenges as working within a budget, funding household expenses and pursuing careers.
Now let’s imagine a few fictional video games for kids that, had they been around in the 1970s and ’80s, could have later taken the blame for the lack of financial savvy displayed by the same kids once they reached “maturity.”
- Dollar Dumpster. In this primitive, Carter-era video game, players vied to see who could toss more of their hard-earned greenbacks into a huge, institutional-grade trash receptacle. They accomplished this goal by making, in the time allotted, all the senseless purchases they could muster, from trans-fat-larded junk food to soon-to-be-obsolete electronics. Extra points were earned for boneheaded acquisitions of the era’s most ill-starred products, from Betamax machines to AMC Pacers.
- Tech Train Wreck. Gamers were asked to visualize a futuristic universe peppered with such improbably wild terms as “dot.com stocks,” “social media giant,” “tech start-ups” and “IPOs.” The object of the game was to invest as much as possible in newly launched technology-based firms about which the gamer knew nothing. The exciting final round often saw gamers bidding up an entity called “Book of Faces” to twice its true value.
- Risk Yer Roof. Conceived by a tech whiz kid who decades later would pocket $50B shorting the sub-prime mortgage market, this game tempted players to view the biggest investment of their lives as a giant piggy bank. The goal was to put the one thing you needed, a home, at great jeopardy, so you could burn up money on things like jet skis and Atlantic City gambling junkets. The more competitors based moves on the idea home values could never decrease, the higher their points totals skyrocketed. In another version of the game, players maneuvered their joysticks to try to nab the highly-sought interest-only mortgage “teaser rate,” letting them turn annual income of $9,700 into a 30-room beachfront estate in the Hamptons.
Anyway, I’m glad we now have games teaching kids financial responsibility.
And if anyone tells you money management can’t be viewed as fun and games, tell them they don’t know Beanz.