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MONOPOLY, MONEY, AND YOU
HOW TO PROFIT FROM THE GAME'S SECRETS OF SUCCESS
By PHILIP E. ORBANES
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Philip E. Orbanes
All rights reserved.
MONOPOLY MAKES YOU THINK
... ABOUT MONEY
It goes without saying that it takes commitment if you want to become good at anything. That means a lot of practice, trial and error ... and education. Yes, it takes all three; there are no shortcuts, especially when money is involved. I've seen many a brilliant academic mind, hired at a high level into a firm, really muck up its business. I've seen laborers build a good life by virtue of their own hands, but never figure out how much more they could make if they trained others to do the hard work for them. I've seen doctors and lawyers build flourishing practices, earn upwards of $750,000 a year, and fall deeper and deeper into debt.
Why do these mistakes occur? I think it's because most of us receive very little—or no—practical training in financial management. (It's been said that there is no difference between theory and practice ... until practice.) We try to learn as we go and often endure the consequences of mistakes: budgets out of whack, an inability to see the merits of doing without now in order to reap a reward later, not understanding the difference between saving and investing. Worse yet, we become vulnerable, prone to listen to silver-tongued individuals intent on separating us from our money through the lure of a "sure thing." By the time we recover from basic avoidable mistakes, we're in the hole and need to devote more of our financial resources just to get back to breaking even. I've been there.
Imagine being challenged to operate a giant construction crane, having only read the owner's manual before being thrust into the operator's seat. (Okay, maybe your uncle, a retired forklift operator, gave you a few vague pointers.) Suddenly, the controls are in your hands and you're on your own. Do you think your first lift would go smoothly? Or are you more likely to drop the load?
That's what handling money is like for many of us after we come out of school, start earning a respectable salary, and find that the controls are now in our grip. Sure, we might instinctively apply (or avoid) our parents' financial habits. More instinctively, we want everything today (solution: credit cards). We fall into debt. Time marches on, and hopefully we recover from our early mistakes (pay off those cards) and gain some wisdom to protect our money. We come upon good advice along the way and apply it if we wise up. If we don't, we remain stuck in a rut with no savings for the bulk of our working lives and must place our trust in government largesse, especially after we're retired. But if you read the news, you know a crisis is coming because the weight of promised government entitlements is unbearable. (It already dwarfs the alarmingly large national debt.)
More than ever, worry about money dominates our lives, and the message is clear: you need to acquire it through your own hard work, save as much as you can, and constantly nurture and grow a nest egg to "win the game."
What about that good financial advice I mentioned? The problem for most us (me included when I was starting out) is that we can't feel this advice. It's as abstract and academic as Avogadro's number. (If you had high school chemistry, you might remember this term, but who remembers the number of molecules it signifies?) In order to make good financial decisions, you need the benefit of experience to drill home the basic lessons. This comes at a price—literally. Fortunately, there is a playing field's worth of experience at your disposal that enables you to feel the impact of both good and bad financial decisions, joyously, without penalty.
Yes, it's the classic version of Monopoly. Monopoly puts you through a financial wringer without real-world loss. Once you get the hang of how to win it, you'll feel the game's secrets of success and see how they apply to real life—sometimes verbatim, always in principle.
Since Monopoly is a money game, it is denominated. Filled with numbers. Every component of this amazing game is built of bricks related by addition, subtraction, and sometimes multiplication and division. These simple operations can, if you're a true enthusiast, lead to a study of the kind of probabilities, tables of statistics, and future value analysis that would make any Wall Street financial guru salivate. In fact, this parallel demonstrates the great value of Monopoly in honing your real-world investment skills. You need to do numerical analysis to understand the impact of key financial decisions in your personal life or business. It can be fun to do this. ("Gamification" will be discussed in Chapter 10.) Many successful people I know view money like points in a game. The more points earned, the more they feel they're succeeding. Money is a scorecard of sorts. Increasingly, it's becoming a virtual scorecard because we actually don't see or touch our money. It exists in accounts, represented by digits (points, as my friend would say). We access it on our mobile devices, making it easier than ever to count our money and know our "score."
You may not have a degree in finance or have ever thought of becoming an investment banker on Wall Street, but that doesn't mean you don't have the smarts to make a good investment. By playing Monopoly, you pick up the basics the pros paid a handsome sum to learn in advanced schools: rate of return, payoff odds, likelihood of a big return, cash management, diversification (not to mention the art of negotiation).
These skills apply equally well to your everyday financial decisions. Here's a chart that demonstrates five such disciplines:
Here's the big idea. To make money, you have to steadily think about and apply yourself to making money. Amassing play money to win at Monopoly requires a high level of attention (one dumb move might bankrupt you). By developing a winning discipline in the game, you'll be inspired to diligently protect and grow your real cash. Devotion to your money should be akin to regard for a valued family member, for whom you want only the best, an absence of threat, and success beyond measure. You wouldn't treat such a loved one with neglect or casual disregard. Hold money in the same light. Think about this.
Monopoly immerses you in financial decision making. All those colorful bills lie at the core of the game. Nearly everything is related to them: the value of the spaces on the board, the cost of buildings, the messages on the cards, the investments and rentals on the deeds. The bills provide the game with its rhythm; it ebbs and flows with each cash exchange. Just as important, the amount of cash you possess affects how others perceive you at any moment (with respect or awe, hopefully not with apathy).
The game's lessons are acute because you can't win by playing it safe (translation: by holding on to all your pretty bills). You must invest a good deal of them, rather quickly, in order to win, thereby placing them at risk. The danger you subject your money to is palpable. This sense of vulnerability means that money controls you during the game. You may feel like its master, but you are its servant. (That's often the role we let real money maneuver us into.)
In Monopoly, money creates and destroys. At times it brings players together, while they are making deals, but more often than not it drives them apart—because only one player can win the game, the one who gains all the money. Games are like that. There can be but one victor.
Fortunately, real life stresses cooperative effort to get rich (win-win). You won't need to bankrupt your neighbor to come out ahead. (But if you try too hard to emulate his glitter, he could bankrupt you!) The game's need of a clean, decisive outcome results in well-structured rules that permit, condone, and assure that one player (hopefully you) will win everything. For this reason, its lessons are vivid and clear. This is why the principles of winning Monopoly aren't difficult to figure out, apply, or learn from. Alas, the "rules" in life are constantly evolving, and their lessons are more difficult to discern in a timely manner. But believe me, you gain an edge when you accept that there are rules and you begin to figure them out.
Handling money in the Monopoly game triggers a broad range of human emotions. You might laugh, shout for joy, grit your teeth—or cry—because of its changing impact on your fortune. This range of drama is a key reason why players come back to play time and again. We like the rollercoaster ride. And that's why we feel its lessons. We relish joy on the way up and a heightened sense of fear on the way down. Recovery brings relief, but only temporarily. The money game in real life is much the same, when you think about it.
AND WHERE YOU STAND
The Monopoly board is much like the path you follow month by month in your life. It has a beginning, a series of challenges and opportunities along the way (not all of which will come to fruition), events that are not entirely unexpected, a few surprises (good and bad), and periodically a payoff (a salary, if you're not sidetracked or unduly taxed).
In life, you can mark time and respond to what fate serves up, day by day, month by month, while awaiting the next paycheck (perhaps thinking, "I have to slog it out until I reach GO"). Or you can muster your resolve, gain some savvy, and make money work for you. Doing so successfully enlarges your payoff because you will earn more than a salary by investing wisely.
Much like the confines of real life, the board offers limited choices each round, according to where you land. Making the best within the limits is the most you can hope for. You might earn some extra money (Second Prize in a Beauty Contest: $10) or incur an unfortunate bill (Pay Hospital Fees: $100). You might delight an opponent by landing on her space and paying a rent (Illinois Avenue: $20) or have an opportunity to buy a space yourself (Marvin Gardens: $280), thereby putting some of your cash at risk in an investment capable of earning a whopping return. Our daily routine progresses much like a game of limited choices. We work, we play, we pay bills, we interact with others. On some days, we earn a reward for our efforts. And if we don't spend it all, we can answer the door when opportunity knocks (by investing the surplus).
People who successfully build wealth have realized that merely passing GO and earning a salary can pay for one's daily routine and keep the roof securely in place, but not much more. For most of us, a salary won't make us rich. We need to do more than just work for money. We must hold on to whatever we can and make it work for us. That's an important insight, don't you think?
As we advance around the Monopoly board, more and more of our money gets converted. With a reasonable amount of luck, our investments grow in value and suddenly we are no longer facing limited choices. We can think beyond the space landed on. Do you want to build houses and increase your potential return? Do you want to trade Marvin Gardens for Illinois and $100? Likewise, once you have real dollars working for you, your daily shuffle is no longer a limiter. Build an investment portfolio and manage it at your discretion. Thanks to modern communications technology, it doesn't matter where you may be within your daily routine or monthly schedule.
The odds of a particular event happening in daily life range from likely (going to work, eating lunch) to improbable (winning the lottery, enduring a flood). We anticipate the likely and, if we're capable and wise, prepare for the improbable.
Monopoly's range of outcomes is just as dramatic. Some are good, some not so good. Its board features a track precisely 40 spaces long. Twenty-eight of those spaces are properties, all owned by the bank at the game's start, but destined to be sold before too long. The other 12 spaces create events, like drawing a card, going to Jail, resting, paying taxes, and earning one's salary.
The game board teaches an important lesson. In life, not everything is equally likely to happen, and we must adjust to the odds, or be "adjusted" by them. Let's now examine the Monopoly board by first looking at it as it appears, and then as it might appear if it were adjusted for "reality."
Here's the actual game board. Each of its four corners is a square, while each of the 36 interior spaces is an identically sized rectangle. Such beautiful symmetry. You might think of it as a roulette wheel, where each space is equally likely to be landed upon, right?
Wrong. Let's look closer.
SECRET 1: The odds of landing on any space of the board are not equal. There are four reasons for this:
Drawing cards that move tokens to certain spaces
Going to jail
Rolling doubles (especially three doubles in a row)
The new Speed Die (explained in Chapter 6)
Remove these four game changers and the Monopoly board would be much the same as a roulette wheel, upon which (tampering aside) the bouncing white ball has an equal chance of landing in any one of its 38 slots (37 in Europe).
But contend with game changers we must. They happen in life. Every day offers something new and unexpected. A bold request from a friend, a nasty mistake on a bill (who relishes dealing with a robotic voice and multiple button presses on a phone?), rain when you need sunshine, a terrific sale on something you wanted to buy a month from now (get it now on credit?). Likewise, game-altering events happen suddenly in Monopoly. They make the game what it is: endlessly variable, eternally fresh, and continually suspenseful as you bounce from space to space.
Is there a way to better visualize this secret? Indeed. Let's look at the board if it were laid out to represent the frequency with which each space gets landed upon (the higher the frequency, the wider the space, and vice versa). Note how the spaces stretch and contract.
The lovely symmetry was actually an illusion. Now, to make it even easier to visualize which spaces get landed on the most, and least, here's the Monopoly board scrambled again, this time with its spaces ordered from highest to lowest landing frequency.
This diagram makes it obvious which properties are better investments, because a property that gets landed on more often is more likely to collect rents. Right? (Given a choice, would you rather own Park Place or New York Avenue?)
Just as the pleasant symmetry of the Monopoly board belies the unequal likelihood of landing on any space, the supposed predictability of our daily routine is not perfectly symmetrical. Something always seems to shake it up. Benefiting or recovering from such a disruption adds a measure of satisfaction to life, even if the lesson is a harsh one.
Traveling around the Monopoly board teaches you that adversity not only lurks, it happens. The board is a vehicle that carries you from decision point to decision point. If you make the most of each choice encountered, you improve the odds of winning the game. And as you'll see in the pages to follow, learning how to make the best decisions really does separate the merely good from the truly great players.
You can be a great player. Read on.
WHY IT IS ESSENTIAL TO LEARN THEM
Rules can be a drag. You have to read them, digest what they mean, endure a scolding by an opponent when you misinterpret one, and otherwise learn to live within their confines. (Why can't I move backwards?) On the other hand, master them and you'll have a leg up on those who don't take the time to do likewise.
Life is bound by rules and regulations. The government creates most of these, but there are social conventions, requirements like paying bills on time, circumstances we hardly think about until we get in trouble by ignoring the rules (leave your windows open when it rains and your car's interior gets soaked), and of course the ever-present rule ("law") of unintended consequences (like the effect of encouraging subprime mortgages, which triggered events leading to the financial crisis and the enduring foreclosure mess). The point is, by mastering the rules of a game like Monopoly, you can better grasp the importance to improve your understanding of the rules and their consequence in everyday life. Fortune tends to favor those who know the way and prepare appropriately for the journey.
Let's start with some basics about Monopoly's rules. You begin with $1500. You might question the significance of this rather modest sum. Why not start with millions? Well, it's all relative. You can imagine your $1500 as being $1,500,000 if you like. But $1500 is simply more practical for game purposes. It makes for easier math during play, and it is closer in scale to the kind of cash we might handle during a week or month.
Once the dice begin to fly, your cash will be converted into investments. Spend it wisely. How do you do this? Well, imagine yourself as owning a business—a real estate investment business. You turn cash into properties, develop them, and earn rents. Now can you visualize your role in the game?
START YOUR OWN COMPANY
Greetings, real estate magnate! Proudly consider yourself to be a tycoon, a wheeler-dealer, a shrewd investor, a big spender—whichever expresses the inner you. You own a company, with $1500, represented by its icon: a shiny metal token. Every trip around the board earns you a further $200. Your cash will enable you to buy several properties, the cheapest of which, Mediterranean, costs $60, while the most expensive, Boardwalk, is listed at $400. An opponent landing on your property must pay you rent. Your rents will escalate if you collect like-colored sets of properties and add buildings to them. The value of your company can jump by leaps and bounds if you make good choices and have a bit of luck. Your goal is to bankrupt all opponents and gain all their cash. If you win a four-player game, you'll likely end up with $6000 or so. Six thousand dollars is four times the investment you began with. What investor wouldn't be delighted with a 400 percent return in the time it takes the clock to tick off an hour or so? When you play Monopoly, you want to earn a high return on your firm's investment capital, just as you would in real life. The alternative (a negative return) spells doom and eventual bankruptcy. Ouch! There's no middle ground.
Excerpted from MONOPOLY, MONEY, AND YOU by PHILIP E. ORBANES. Copyright © 2013 by Philip E. Orbanes. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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