Personal Finances On Monopoly

A little over a year ago, I wrote the post “Monopoly and Debt Repayment“. In it, I lamented my losing streak against DD3 who, I was certain, had poor strategy in the game. An overly safe player, DD3 would choose not to buy properties she landed on because she stubbornly insisted upon keeping a good stash of cash. I, on the other hand, would buy every property that came my way – in the name of future wealth-building – and I’d usually have a full two or three sets before she had even one.

But when the time came for me to put houses on all of my properties, I couldn’t afford to. And if I could, I’d max out – always cash poor. Meanwhile, DD3, on her one measly set of properties, would slowly build up her houses – always maintaining what I considered to be an unnecessary amount of money just in case bad luck came her way – until she eventually traded up for hotels.

You know the rest. If she happened to land on one of my various properties, in its house-less or only-modestly-housed state, she would easily pay me the small sum owed. When I landed on her single set of hotel-ed properties, I’d have to mortgage some of my own and/or sell off a few of my poor houses just to make the payment. Until I lost.

And what have I learned?

You’d think that over a year later, I’d be equipped with a better Monopoly game plan. You’d think I would have mastered that balance between building up savings on the one hand, and investing in future wealth-building opportunities on the other. I got some great comments after that original Monopoly post. One, from my friend Laurie included some soundbites she remembered from her father, a successful property owner:  “‘Over expansion ruins many a successful business’ . . .  ‘Never bet more than you can afford to lose; “Never spend your capital.’”

Alas, I am still guilty of over expansion when I play Monopoly. I continue to bet way more than I can afford to lose. I consistently put myself in the position of having to spend my capital.

DD3 enjoyed a resounding victory this past week-end when we played a game. Early on, as I bought property after property, she became a bit worried. The toss of her dice brought her to spaces that didn’t offer the chance to buy, and then she’d choose not to buy when she actually had the opportunity. After one such decision not to buy a property, I said, “And THAT is the reason you are going to lose this game.” I then advised her against being too cautious and overly-picky. DD3 made it clear that she hadn’t asked for my commentary, so I kept smugly silent as the game progressed.

It was a slow, painful, and mortifying death I suffered. My smugness diminished into destitution as DD3’s worry blossomed into sheer joy. I had three full property sets while she had only one, but the old narrative played itself out. And you can bet I heard plenty ofher commentary when the inevitable end resulted.

The Power of Habit

I recently read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and it gives me some tools to use in tackling my poor Monopoly habits. (I’ve added the bold font.)

“Hundreds of habits influence our days . . . they impact what we eat for lunch, how we do business, and whether we exercise or have a beer after work. Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward. Some are simple, and some are complex . . . But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable . . . to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewardsthat drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have controland be self-conscious enough to use it . . . that control is real” (Duhigg, 270).

Step #1 – Acknowledge the habit: I have known for over a year now that I have the habit of over-extending myself when I play Monopoly, taking high risks that almost always end up with me going broke.

Clearly, the fact that I’ve acknowledged this habit has not meant that I’ve changed it.

Step #2 – Identify the cues and rewards that drive the habit’s routines: The main cue for me is landing on an unoccupied property. There is both fear and hope involved in a sense of urgency that I can’t pass up on this opportunity! Fear: If I don’t buy it, DD3 might, and then I’ll wish I had. Hope: If I buy this, I’ll get wealthy and win the game!  The reward is what Duhigg calls a “subtle neurochemical prize” – meaning my brain gets a bit of a happy hit every time I buy a property or a house. Wooooo-hooo!

Step #3 – Be self-conscious enough to use the control I have to find alternatives: The next time I play Monopoly, my challenge will be to respond differently to the cue of landing on an available property. I know that my impulse will be a fearful, hopeful I can’t pass up on this opportunity! But I know better, and I will exert control so that I don’t act upon that impulse. I will buy or not buy based upon how much money I have and whether or not I have already purchased one of the other properties in that set. I’ll forego the Wooooo-hooo! happy brain hit, and open myself up to the possibility of new rewards that come not with maxing out, but saving up.

Connection to Personal Finances?

Of course there are connections to personal finances here! Mine in particular. If you’ve been reading about my journey out of debt for any amount of time, you know that I struggle with my discretionary money. I overextend; I spend on impulse in both hope (“This will be fun/delicious/interesting!”); and fear (“I’ll regret it if I don’t buy it.”); and at the end of every month, my discretionary account is at zero. Or less.