Janel Meehan doesn't want her children to grow up like she did, not knowing much about money.
So every chance she gets, she incorporates financial lessons into their lives — including during her 11-year-old son's video games.
"My parents never talked to us about money," the 45-year-old said. "I made all the mistakes."
One of her son's favorite games is Animal Crossing, which he plays on the Nintendo Switch that he saved up for and bought with his own money.
In the game, players upgrade their homes and pay off debt by doing various things, such as selling fish or weeds. Meehan spoke with him about it and what it means to take out loans — and how they have to be paid back.
"He's learned that doing work equals money," said Meehan, who lives with her husband and two children in San Diego.
He also saw that the price of turnips changed from day to day, which sparked a discussion on commodities and the stock market.
It turns out Meehan is onto something. Using games to teach about money can make learning fun.
"Studies have shown that children learn best when engaged and active," said Stephanie W. Mackara, president and principal wealth advisor of Charleston Investment Advisors, based in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. She's also the author of the book, "Money Minded Families."
"Concepts learned in games help children understand cause and effect, make mistakes and get rewarded for smart choices."
It also helps broach a subject that has too often has been seen as taboo.
"It is about just giving kids a comfort level with talking about money," said certified financial planner Tom Henske, a partner at New York-based Lenox Advisors.
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It also gets parents more comfortable with discussing the topic, as well.
Of course, children don't have to go it alone. An adult should guide them along, helping to explain concepts and the impact of their choices.
Here are some ways to make financial concepts entertaining.
The first game that likely comes to mind when it comes to financial concepts is Hasbro's Monopoly. The board game has players buying and trading properties, developing them, collecting rent and trying to force their opponents into bankruptcy.
There is even a version for younger kids, Monopoly Jr., which Devon Scheitrum's 5-year-old son, Wolfgang, got for Christmas.
"It's reinforcing basic math while also teaching him about budgeting and preferences," said Scheitrum, who is 36 and lives in Tucson, Arizona.
"It's neat seeing him connect early math with real world-ish concepts."
You have your pick of board games to introduce money lessons to your kinds, including:
- Pay Day
- The Game of Life
- The Allowance Game
- The Stock Exchange Game
- Sub Shop Board Game
- Money Bags
- Buy It Right
- Act Your Wage!
For San Diego native Christina McClurg Riehl, Cashflow is her go-to game. Developed by "Rich Dad Poor Dad" author Richard Kiyosaki, the game focuses on creating passive income.
Riehl, a 44-year-old civil rights attorney, and her husband started playing it with their three boys, ages 9, 11 and 13, after the pandemic struck. She was hoping to give them some experiences they weren't getting through school.
"We saw this as an opportunity to teach some of those skills that my husband and I both wish we understood earlier," Riehl said.
"We are trying to change that narrative with our kids and we are trying to figure out ways to do it without lecturing them."
There are a number of free games available online that can help make learning about money fun.
The U.S. Mint also has a number of free games available on its H.I.P. Pocket Change Kids site, including coin memory match, math jam and space supply.
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions also has a list of online and app options to choose from.
Young children can learn about the different coin values by sorting change. You can also create a race by giving your kids a large pile of pennies and a minute to neatly stack then. The one with the largest stack wins.
Once they know the coin names and values, you can play Collect 25 Cents. The rules are simple: Roll the die, and collect the number you get in coins. The first one who amasses enough to add up to a quarter wins.
You can also collect a half dollar and dollar. Virginia's Department of Education lays out on its website the rules for a similar game, called Race to a Dollar!
By making money lessons fun, it can help children escape the victim's mentality that many people have around money, Henske said.
"It is giving them the understanding that they can make decisions and they can have power over their financial lives," he said.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.