This post will be very appealing to kids and dads who think video games can be educational. I realize for some parents promoting more screen time for kids might seem crazy. I’ll do my best in this piece to argue that you can teach your kids finance with a video game. Life lessons gained from gaming can be valuable. Gaming is fun and we tend to remember fun things. Finance can be a bit dry and stuffy, which makes it harder to remember.

So this is may attempt to convince some parents out there that allowing your kids some extra time with certain games can be advantageous for their education.

The Game

The game that has captured my focus in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Released in March 2020 for the Nintendo Switch Animal Crossing was nearly an instant hit. At first glance the game doesn’t seem to be anything special. Players explore an island and get to go about making it their own. Tasks include chopping wood, pulling weeds, and other chores.

So a game about chores, huh? Kids will surely love this!

Thankfully the primary objective of New Horizons isn’t to chop wood or catch bass. Those are simply means goals. As they are the means to an end with that end being selling the fruits of your labor for bells (in-game currency). With bells in hand players can customize the island almost any way you see fit. Design your own clothes, add rooms to a house, or create other structures. Players can use their imagination to do pretty much anything so long as you have the bells to fund your dreams.

Replace bells with cash and this starts to sound like real life. We do some task, get cash, then get to spend that cash on stuff we like. This is where the learning comes into play. To make the best life for your character in New Horizons, players need to have some good money management skills. The skills learned during game play can translate to real life.

Teach Your Kids Finance With A Video Game

Below are the best personal finance lessons that I could glean from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I won’t claim to be a financial whiz, but as an adult who has to manage finances for a family I can say these lessons are valuable.

Budgeting

Players can earn bells in New Horizons and spend them immediately. It can be a bunch of fun dashing about and buying whatever you like. Some people even try this in real life. They get a paycheck and head out to buy shoes, gadgets, or any number of items.

In Animal Crossing, just like in real life, if you spend all your hard earned bells the second you get them you don’t have a chance to save up for higher priced items. Yes, you get the immediate gratification of making a purchase. Your player, however, will never get to build an awesome bridge if they keep spending all their bells.

Just like in life knowing what you want, having a plan to get it, and saving are key to success.

Self-Control

So you’ve discussed the concept of a budget with your kid and they see the value. That’s great! Now it just comes down to the old self-control.

Once your child has a plan in place for what they want to purchase they have to avoid the urge to make impulse purchases. Sure buying the new deluxe washer will be awesome now, but it will increase the time it takes to save up to buy that new house.

This lesson can be easily translated to the real world. Next time you’re at the store and your kids wants something explain that it isn’t in the budget. Tie the real world lesson to New Horizons and see if that helps your child understand. It might not always work, but it helps to impart the lesson that saving for a goal requires some level of restraint.

Recognize the Value of Your Work

Dads, how many of you are DIY or “hands on” and seem to be able to fix anything? It’s a valuable skill in life since you don’t have to call someone every time a drain backs up. If you are so skilled you’ve probably saved a bunch of money over the years doing small tasks yourself.

Animal Crossing helps to teach kids a similar lesson. In the game fruit sells for a low price. At 100 bells it would take forever to save up to buy the 82,000 bell electric guitar. In the game players can turn simple items, like fruit, into much high-priced goods, like wallpaper.

This helps drive home the point that if you have the skills others lack you can save a few bucks. If you are so inclined you can also leverage your skills to make some extra cash via side hustles.

Buy Smart Using Coupons

I’m not ashamed to admit that I seek out rewards programs, coupons, and any promo that can save some money. It’s not that I can’t pay full price, but if I can get 10% off a purchase why shouldn’t I? The money I save can go to saving, paying bills, or having fun.

Once your kids get into New Horizons and learn this lesson they will have a new appreciation for your wise decisions. Go dad!

In New Horizons players can use little tricks to save some bells. For example, shopping with Sahara the camel can help you earn tickets for each rug you purchase. Think of it like a rewards program at your local coffee shop.

Shop smart and watch your cash and bells grow. The quicker you save up the faster you can buy that sweet guitar you have always wanted.

Be Careful With Speculation

I have a friend who is a financial advisor. He bought Animal Crossing for his kid, but ended up playing it more frequently. The main attraction was the “stalk market” that uses turnips. The setup works like this: a little pig appears each Sunday and is ready to sell vegetables at a fixed cost. Local shopkeepers might then buy up the veggies at a higher price – if you’re lucky.

Just like in the real stock market, the “stalk market” has no guarantee that you won’t take a bath on your investment. The turnips will spoil so time is of the essence. If your turnips turn while prices are low and you cannot sell, you’re left with rotten vegetables. Not very useful.

In the real world we’ve all read about some day trader who made a fortune on a stock. What we don’t hear about as frequently are the majority of traders who turn a large sum into a tidy bundle of nothing, nada, $0.

Risk can pay off, but players need to be careful taking that risk. Get on the wrong side of a turnip trade and you will lose bells. For older kids interested in the stock market this would be a great introductory lesson.

A Lesson In Interest Rates

The final lesson in finance involves interest rates.

As an adult you likely know that interest rates dictate a lot in life. How much you pay for a loan and how much you earn with a savings account. Animal Crossing surprised players with a reduction in interest rates in April.

It’s yet another lesson for kids on how a change in rates can impact their savings and how much debt will cost them.


Some of my favorite games are those that can be played by kids and adults alike with something for everyone. If you can teach your kids finance with a video game while they have fun I’m all for it. If you haven’t picked up New Horizons yet it isn’t too late. Grab a copy and give your kids the gift of fun and education. You might even pick up some good habits if you join in on the fun!

Author

One part gaming enthusiast, one part Python developer and 100% dad. I write about technology, gadgets, and gaming from a dad's perspective. I enjoy sharing all things tech-related with my kids. I hope you enjoy my musings!

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