How Video Games Teach Kids About Money

There are more opportunities to learn than you might think

Today’s kids spend much of their free time playing video games on any number of gaming systems or devices. In fact, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children between the ages of 8 and 12 spend four to six hours per day watching or using screens. For teenagers, that number increases to as much as nine hours per day. And though it may seem like most of that time is wasted, it doesn’t have to be. Although many of today’s video games are not educational, there are still opportunities for kids to learn about money while playing for fun. 

Key Takeaways

  • Video games don’t have to be about money and finances to teach kids about money.
  • Learning how to manage in-game purchases teaches kids about spending habits.
  • Setting a gaming budget can help kids set savings goals and priorities. 

Start With the Gaming Systems

Gaming systems are expensive. They cost hundreds of dollars just for basic gaming consoles and accessories that could include a game controller and one game. Throw in additional controllers, gaming headsets, and other accessories, and you can easily pass four figures in spending. Next, you have to pay for new games, which can range anywhere from $5 to $70 or more per game. All of that combined amounts to a hefty chunk of change just to play a game. 

A great way to teach your kid about money is to start by listing the pricing for each component of their gaming systems. Show them how much it costs to buy these products and then explain how much you have to work to pay for these items. Maybe it’s the equivalent of two weeks’ salary. Maybe it’s the equivalent of 75 hours of work. 

This illustrates how much we have to work to pay for the things we want. It also helps them to understand that there is a limit to how we can spend the money we earn and no endless stream of funds to buy whatever we want whenever we want it.  

Go Over Existing Game Elements 

Back when Monopoly and Life were a routine part of entertainment for kids, it was easy to teach kids how to use money while playing a game. After all, the game required you to have a certain amount of money to buy things and pay rent, and you “earned” a certain salary along the way. Although there are video game versions of these board games, they may not be quite as appealing to kids as Mario, Fortnite, and Madden. 

Even so, kids can still learn about money from today’s popular video games. For a more direct learning experience, Animal Crossing: New Horizons features lessons on economics and finance as players pay their mortgages and make investments. Still, even games such as those in the Mario franchise have players collecting coins that serve as currency to unlock new karts, wheels, and gliders, buy extra lives, and purchase power-up tools. 

While playing, kids know that if they collect enough coins, they can get that extra item. Use this as an opportunity to talk with them about setting savings goals to get something they want. Also, talk with them about how to prioritize their savings goals. 

Maybe they want an extra power-up and that upgraded kart. How many coins do they need? How will they get those coins? What happens if they spend those coins on a flashy piece of armor instead of saving them? How much will that delay their goal of getting the upgraded kart? Encourage them to really think through their savings and spending goals.  

9 hours

The upper average amount of time teenagers spend daily watching or using screens

Know How In-Game Purchases Work 

Game developers often release a free version of a game with limited capabilities and tools, all of which can be purchased while playing the game. Maybe it’s $1.99 for three extra power-ups or $5.99 for unlimited lives for one hour. Whatever the purchase, it likely seems small to a kid. After all, what’s 99 cents? Well, those in-game purchases can add up quickly, and you could be hit with a bill of $20, $50, or more before you know it. 

It’s important to talk with your kids at the onset of playing a new game regarding your limitations on in-game purchases. If you don’t want them to make any in-game purchases, you can turn off in-app purchases or in-game purchases through the device’s settings or network account settings.

If you allow your kids to make in-game purchases, it’s important to set a limit on those purchases and hold them accountable for that amount. A spending limit forces them to consider what they want to spend that money on, so they learn how to prioritize purchases and value saving. 

Set a Gaming Budget 

Speaking of setting limits, it’s important to create a gaming budget for your kids. This includes not only in-game purchases but also purchases of new games, accessories, and even new gaming systems. Sit down with your child and go over what they want to buy and how much that would cost. Then discuss ways for them to earn money toward that expense. 

Setting a video-game budget with your children not only teaches them about money; it also makes them feel invested in the process. They will see how much money they need each month, how much of their allowance or other monies they need for that budget, and what happens if they don’t stick to the budget (for instance, they don’t get a new game that month). 

Have Budget Talks 

Using video games to teach kids about money should not be a one-off conversation. It’s important to keep the conversation going by asking your kids questions about whether they are sticking to their gaming budget, if and how their savings goals have changed, and what their plans are to continue earning money for their budget. Set a time each month to have this chat. Put it on your calendar so you don’t forget it. 

Does a Video Game Have to Be About Money to Be a Useful Teaching Implement?

No. Many video games have nothing to do with money as a subject matter but involve the accumulation of some form of it in order to gain something of value in playing the game. You can use that to teach them about how money works.

What Do Video Games Cost?

Video games have a wide price range—anywhere from $5 to $100. There are also free video games that get your money by charging for add-ons that give the player an advantage. However, when you add in the price of buying a console or PC, controllers, headsets, and other accessories, you are easily looking at a four-figure investment.

How Do I Make My Kids Understand the Cost of Playing Video Games?

The best way is to create a gaming budget, make them stick to it, and require them to pay for the add-ons or new games they want out of their own money, at least in part. Have regular chats with them to discuss their gaming desires and how to make changes if necessary to get what they want. Set savings goals and require them to follow through in meeting them.

The Bottom Line

Though it may seem like kids don’t learn many life lessons while playing video games, there’s actually a lot they could learn about money. However, it takes parental involvement to go over the financial aspects of playing video games with their kids to bring those lessons to the forefront. By doing so, young people can learn about setting savings goals, developing good spending habits, and planning and following a budget. These are lessons they can use long after the video game has been replaced with something else.  

Article Sources

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  1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Screen Time and Children."

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