Friday, June 15, 2012

The Dangers and Benefits of Monopoly

Have you ever played Monopoly? My family banned the game from our house years ago; it seems to bring out the worst in all of us and negotiations soon go from the usual trades to people issuing threats sugared with real, not Monopoly, money. I actually don’t think we ever finished a game, though my dad was a Monopoly champion in his youth. Whenever you add money to an equation, tempers rise, negotiations harden, and the fun tends to drain from each interaction.

This is why I started to laugh when Gabe suggested we use Monopoly money to figure out our financial obligations this month.

For those of you who have had a bi-weekly paycheque, you’ll be familiar with the Three Paycheque Month. I don’t know about you, but I await this month with anticipation because it’s “extra” money for us to toss down on debt, put into savings, or (to some degree) spend frivolously. has given us an excellent tool with which to visualize our budget, but I’m still a hands-on, cash-based entity. Mint is limited in how much it can tell me because I work in different ways.

That’s one of the hardest parts of a budget: communication. Money is so often imbued with emotion that it’s difficult to take a logical stance and maintain that objectivity in conversations. “I want” and “I need” are hard to define and tricky to express in a way that supports continued discussion, whether you’re working through a budget with yourself, with a financial planner, or with a partner.

When it comes to a Three Paycheque Month getting priorities straight is important, especially when you’re tempted to stray from your regular path of responsible financing and go the route of excess and adventure.

We decided to have it all and opted for wants, needs, excess, and adventure…through Monopoly money.
Let the Game Begin!
Gabe pulled out the Monopoly board we have in the house (it’s actually Monopoly City, as regular Monopoly is banned…the City version is a loophole we have yet to close). This board features money in denominations we don’t possess, with the smallest bill being “10K,” so we ignored the K and worked with our options. Gabe counted out money equivalent to all of our paycheques for the month, both the ones we received and the ones we’re expecting (we also had on our computer up at the same time), and put the money in a pile. From there we removed our regular bills: mortgage, debts, groceries, etc.

This left us with a much diminished pile, but thanks to Three Paycheque Month and Gabe working a bit of overtime there was a significant amount left. Usually it would all be gone at this point and the conversation would be over.

Let’s talk for a moment about excess and adventure. For a few months now we’ve been planning a trip to Disney World with my sister and her girlfriend. We have a budget of $2600 for the entire trip, with all the park passes, dog sitting, hotels, transportation, etc. included. Was this a priority over repaying our suffocating debt?

In our case, yes.

Having the Monopoly money in hand and seeing how much we could pay off if we chose to spend that money on debt instead of going gallivanting through Disney World made that decision more clear: the delay of debt freedom versus a family vacation. This isn’t a decision anyone could make for another person and comes down to what is more important to you—your values.

Sometime in the 80's...

So many good pictures from this trip...

...couldn't settle on just one: 2001

Disney Sea August 2006
Disneyland October 2006...
2007....Let's Face It:
Disney's Always Been a Priority for Me
Values change, which is why conversations about budget is an ongoing, ever-changing dialogue. Budgets require constant check-ups, check-ins, revamps, and sometimes even Monopoly money. Whatever your system, giving yourself a means to articulate your needs is an essential, constant practice.

Right now, we value one “family fun” trip over debt repayment that would get us out of debt two months sooner, which I actually found a bit surprising considering my consuming obsession with paying debt and getting out from under our 45,000+ point Beast. In the long run, though, those memories are more important to us than the few months we could have shaved off our debt repayment, and having that money in hand helped crystalize that for us. Besides, we would still make our regular debt payments for the month and we would still be on track.

Whatever your budgeting technique, try to have a few options for communication available to you when you discuss your finances. What follows is a list of ideas we’ve used and loved (or hated) at various times in our ongoing financial dialogue:

- Verhanika! Even the most avid budgeters and money-conscious can learn a lot by having a professional, wonderful financial planner look through their finances with a fresh pair of eyes

- List of every item you’d ever want to buy with prices

- Drawing and writing out immediate financial goals, medium-term ones, long-term ones

- Visualizing the life you want to live

- Making use of Monopoly money to have your monthly cash in hand (or using the cash itself if you can)

- Creating a visual debt beast (mine had hit points a la video game culture and is slowly dwindling with little opportunity to heal itself)

- Spreadsheets (Google free budget spreadsheet)

- (athough it is really a bookkeeping system as it doesn’t allow you to budget for future months)

- Gold star chart for achievements (or smelly sticker chart…because who doesn’t love smelly stickers?)

- Maintain an updated list of goals with all items listed on it (both those involving money and those that are free)

- Create a budgeting group with a few of your close friends who can help keep you on track, provide support/ ideas, and celebrate your accomplishments with you

This Post Made Possible by Mr. Pants


  1. You guys are so adorable!!! And I hate your photo where you were as tall as the stack of pumpkins. :(

    1. I *want* that stack of pumpkins. Maybe I will attempt to make it....

  2. I love this post. You helped me so much on wrangling in my finances and actually walked me through creating a budget, which was incredibly empowering. We will no doubt have to have another budgeting session once we get settled in at the new house and Wonton is here.

    You made a good decision regarding that "bonus" paycheck; a friend long ago pointed out the importance of prioritizing memory-making events versus always staying in and never enjoying life. I look forward to a new batch of Theme Park pictures; one of these years, you and I will have to go together to Dizzyland!