A good game can be a powerful teaching tool to help kids learn about financial literacy. There are many games out there, including for computers, smartphones or tablets, cards, and others. The can be even more effective, in particular when kids are otherwise reluctant to engage with a particular topic, such as financial literacy.
The following games are all great “edutainment” options for teaching kids from young children to teenagers all the fundamentals of financial literacy. There are titles that will work for everyone from first-graders to teenagers to high schoolers and that can teach basic as well as more advanced skills including compound interest benefiting teenagers.
Big Spender (Tabletop game; Price: $3)
Big Spender is designed for younger students (grades 1-3) and is meant to teach them the difference between financial wants and needs. It will help children decide on what they really should spend their money on.
Kids are given a scenario in which they are having fun at a school festival and have a limited amount of tickets to spend. The game is meant for teachers to use in a classroom, and the one-time price of $3 gives you access to a .PDF file with cards to print out. The game is aligned with social studies financial literacy common core requirements.
Celebrity Calamity (iOS; Price: Free)
Having been out for over 10 years now, it’s safe to call Celebrity Calamity a “classic” among finance games for kids at this point. It works so well because it has a timeless premise; kids always have favorite celebrities that they follow (whether it be musicians, streamers or movie stars) and this game lets them feel like they’re involved in that world while learning key financial literacy concepts they’ll need when they get older.
Kids step into the role of a manager, taking charge of a celebrity who likes to spend beyond their means. The player has to make wise and responsible use of credit to keep the celebrity happy, cover their expenses, create a budget and book their future gigs without going bankrupt. One of the key factors that makes the game fun and replayable is that the celebrities will sometimes “surprise” you with big luxury purchases that you didn’t approve, forcing you to think on your feet to make things work (and indirectly teaching about managing emergency expenses). Or learn more how to budget savings and expenses.
Dave Ramsey’s ACT Your Wage! Board Game (Tabletop game; Price: $20-25 retail)
The popular tabletop game from famous investor and finance guru Dave Ramsey (inventor of the “debt snowball” technique) challenges players to tackle their expenses and debt without dipping below an emergency fund amount of $1,000. It therefore teaches teenagers and even their parents how to both save and pay down debt at the same time.
The game incorporates the debt management and finance principles that Dave talks about on his radio show and in his books. It kind of resembles Monopoly, but the goal is to be the first to climb out of debt rather than accruing cash and property. Players start each game assigned to a random socioeconomic situation with a random amount of bills that are due. Similar to Monopoly, you circle the board and periodically draw cards that can help or hurt.
A lot of random luck comes into play, but the game has proven to be effective at impressing upon kids how serious a problem debt can be and how life choices contribute to ability to pay it off. It teaches game players the importance of living within their means.
Daytrader: A Financial Board Game (There is a free online version)
The official web site is hosting a fully functional online version that you can play for free. It touches on investing as well as learning about stocks, ETFs, and bonds.
As players advance along the board, they work at various jobs to earn cash that is put into day trading. Players not only have to make smart trades, but also plan for retirement while handling their expenses.
Kids should be warned that day trading is one of the riskiest types of investing and is tantamount to gambling for some people. Basic financial literacy classes will teach them this. Bbut the game is a fun way to familiarize them with the basics of trading and being prepared for future expenses.
Financial Football (iOS, Android, Web Browser; Price: Free) from Visa
Financial Football is noteworthy in that the National Football League (NFL) doesn’t lend the license to use its teams out to very many games. This partnership with Visa not only features all of the current NFL teams, but is completely free as well. No NFL players, though, as that’s a separate license.
Instead of calling plays and relying on your reflexes, you move the team up and down the field by answering financial literacy questions. Answering four questions correctly in a row gets you a special “game breaker” move, and you have limited ability to ask the coach or the fans for some help when you get stuck.
Players can face off against the computer, or against another human. Victories for your chosen team help them move up the online leaderboard.
Financial Soccer (Web Browser; Price: Free)
As with Financial Football, Visa partners with FIFA to merge financial literacy with the game that would be called “football” anywhere outside of the United States. The big difference here is that there is not an app version; you can play a free online version through a web browser or download a version for use with computers. There is also a classroom version that teachers can use to get all of their students involved. Gameplay is pretty much the same, with international squads moving up and down the pitch in a bid to win the World Cup.
Gen i Revolution (Web Browser; Price: Free)
Gen i Revolution was designed for older kids as well as teenagers, and mixes financial literacy lessons with the world of spies. Kids take the role of operatives trying to stop a shadowy organization from burying people in debt.
The game takes place across 16 missions that usually take about 30 minutes each to complete. Kids will need to solve problems by looking up information online and doing business math, such as calculating interest rates and expected income.
The game was designed for a teacher to set it up for their classroom, but individuals can play for fun on their own through the website by creating a free “student” account and logging in.
Savings Spree (iOS; Price: $5.99)
Savings Spree makes a fun game show out of basic financial literacy lessons aimed at younger kids. Players earn money from various tasks kids might be familiar with, like running a lemonade stand or a bake sale, and then learn how to save that money over time to reach their spending goals.
The job activities are little mini-games to keep the kids active in between timed decisions about how to spend or save their money. It also helps them learn about starting, running, and growing a virtual business.
The Frugality Game (Web Browser; Price: Free)
This online game puts players in control of the Frugal family as they adventure around the world while managing their budget. An open map gives players individual freedom to explore and makes each new game feel fresh. Players progress through various adventurous lands such as Egypt and the Caribbean, each of which stresses a different set of money management techniques.
The Stock Market Game (Web Browser, iOS, Android; Price: Free to teachers)
Created by the SIFMA Foundation, a non-profit financial education group, The Stock Market Game is meant to introduce kids to the various types of investing that exist around the world. They can learn about finances as well as investing, including S&P 500 funds, retirement planning, compound interest, and other important investing techniques.
Kids begin with a play money portfolio of $100,000 and look to invest it as wisely as possible. The game ties in with actual world markets and their live updates so that players can get a very realistic simulation of what it’s like to actually trade in real time.
The game is free, but is meant to be set up for a classroom by a teacher registered with a school. It is playable by individuals if they set up an account through their school first.
Thrive n’ Shine (Android, iOS; Price: Free)
Thrive n’ Shine is another game designed for classrooms, but kids can download the app and play on their own if they so desire. It takes them to a world with appealing cartoony graphics, and teaches about the sorts of jobs they’ll start getting in their teenage years and how to manage the money they earn from them by facing realistic expenses.
Wall Street Survivor (Web Browser; Price: Free)
Wall Street Survivor isn’t strictly an investing game for kids; it’s more like an online course in all aspects of the financial markets, and it’s good for anyone of any age that has the reading and math skills to handle it. Teenagers and even their parents can use the free Wall Street Game to learn about financial literacy as well as investing.
It does have strong “gamification” elements that appeal to kids, however. A big part of the interactive course is “missions” that require the learner to complete a specific goal in a simulated stock market. Completing missions earns badges and allows the user to move forward. You can also join optional “fantasy stock leagues” which allow you to compete in building a portfolio against other players.
The site also has periodic competitions for real money, such as a stock trading showdown for a grand prize of $100,000. It makes it very compelling – make real money while playing a game!
Zapitalism (PC and Mac; Price: $20 retail, plus free online web browser version)
Zapitalism is an “oldie but goodie” from the days before smart devices and apps, which can still be had via digital download platforms such as Steam. Since it was released in 1997, it will run on pretty much any computer at this point. The company that published the game also created a free pared-down version that can be played in web browsers, which you can find hosted on their website.
The game is played by up to six people at a time; those going it alone can compete against up to five computer-controlled players. The goal is to start with a small budget and gradually build up a small store into a retail chain that’s bigger and better than the competition. In addition to basic business management as well as financial literacy assistance, this game introduced many kids of the ’90s to handling insurance, loans, smart shopping and the relative prices of things.
By Jon McNamara