We found an old Monopoly set in the attic of the summer house. My daughters were very keen to learn how to play. So I dusted off my memory of the rules, tried to recollect the Franc/ Dollar exchange rate (this set is from circa 1970), and we got down to business. Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 10.53.44

I was reminded of a winter holiday many years ago when – snowed in – we settled in for a game of monopoly among the friends gathered in a chalet for a ski holiday. Never having played the game before, our Polish friend Beata was horrified by this “instrument of capitalist indoctrination”. Tom meanwhile, who actually plays Monopoly in real life (his job at the time was real estate securitisation for one of the global banks), proceeded to systematically eliminate the opposition, one-by-one. He showed us how it’s done. Sure enough, he ended up as the Monopolist, the last man standing. It may come as little surprise that he was also the Banker for this particular game…


Beata’s mortification seemed like an over-reaction at the time. Still, in playing Monopoly with my daughters I was struck by the unspoken conventions of the game. It is assumed that every player will go to jail at some point. There is the much-valued ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card that itself might be traded for money (a rudimentary example of securitization). Later in a game, Jail becomes a very coveted place to be, as landing on the more developed properties on the board can land you in penury.

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Although there is a ‘Community Chest’ of cards, generally speaking in the game you stand little to gain from indulging in communitarian spirit, I tried to impress on my girls. A hard-nosed exchange based on the market value of assets is one thing. But please don’t let me off paying rent on your property just to be nice. In my experience, your generosity is unlikely to be repaid in kind. Lastly of course, there is the ‘Chance’ stack of cards, and the fact that turns are determined by rolls of the dice. You can be just plain unlucky. If you are, however, it’s likely that you will pay a steep price. Should you be consistently unlucky, it’s game over.

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Now, let’s not read too much into the underlying socio-economic assumptions of a classic boardgame. It does bear all the hallmarks of an ‘unfettered capitalist’ model, an American emphasis on ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of profit’ – litigate or incarcerate when things go wrong. That stands in contrast to approaches to in other parts of the world, where you might describe the social organisation as a ‘preventive medicine’ model. They all have their vices, and their virtues, as I hope my daughters will come to appreciate in time. One thing, however, is very clear, the world over.

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Money is a powerful tool, and it is also a tool of power. So is the language of money, although being fluent in it does not imply adhering to any particularly moral or ethical worldview. As John Lanchester writes in this excellent article on financial jargon, “If we allow ourselves not to understand this language, we are signing off on the way the world works today—in particular, we are signing off on the prospect of an ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else, a world in which everything about your life is determined by the accident of who your parents are.”


Other than playing Monopoly (which to be fair, can teach you how a mortgage works, what it means to be asset-rich but cash-poor, and which of your friends are the most unscrupulous…), how can we teach our children the language of money? The resources out there – books, apps, bank accounts – are plentiful. When it comes to money, is there anyone more wise (or more good-natured) than Warren Buffett?

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The ‘Sage of Omaha’ is the most successful investor in the world, ever. Other than the astonishing wealth he has consistently generated over the decades (and the fact that he has pledged to give 99% of his fortune away to philanthropy), perhaps the most remarkable thing about him is the simple common sense of his approach. As Buffett himself will tell you, at the heart of any wealth-building system there are certain core beliefs, not just about finance, but about work, morality, your responsibility to yourself, your family and society, and about living a decent life. It’s enough to read the table of contents of his book for children, paraphrased below, to lay the groundwork: 1. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes (better yet, learn from the mistakes of others!)

2. Don’t Borrow Money (think twice before you either borrow money or loan money to someone— especially a friend)

3. Love What You Do (and you will never work again)

4. Make Time for Both Work and Play (balance is important in life)

5. Listen to What Others Can Teach You (the experience of others is the best classroom)

6. Always Think of New Ideas (try to come up with alternate ways of doing things)

7. Be Willing to Change Your Ideas (open minds let in better ideas)

8. Always Have a Plan (when you fail to plan, you plan to fail)

9. If You Fail, Try Again (failure is not falling down; it is staying down)

10. Protect Your Reputation (it takes years to build and only minutes to ruin it)

11. The Customer Comes First  (take care of your customer and your customer will take care of you)

12. Your Image Is Important (successful businesses successfully promote and advertise themselves)

13. Location Is Very Important (just consider the Monopoly board!)

14. Don’t Be Fooled (if it seems too good to be true, it probably is)

15. Be Thoughtful of Others, Don’t Judge (with businesses, as with people, get to know them first)

16. Your Image Is Important (“price is on the price tag; value is in the eye of the beholder”)

17. Save for the Future (the sooner you start, the more you will have for the things you need)

18. Be Someone in Demand (prices are determined by supply and demand)

19. Confidence Comes with Understanding (don’t get involved in a business you don’t understand)

20. Partners Make Any Job Easier (successful businesses are rarely a solo effort)

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“My dad was my greatest inspiration,” Warren Buffett has said. “He was my hero when I was 6 and he is still my hero now. He is an inspiration to me in every way. What I learned at an early age from him was to have the right habits early. Savings was an important lesson he taught.”There’s no substitute for example. Whatever guidelines or techniques you follow, clearly a good first step towards giving our kids a sound financial start is to get one’s own financial house in order.