Gaming and life: lessons from Cashflow


We all know that children learn best through games and play. We all suspect that there is no reason why this would change for grownups but at the same time most people forget how to play (and learn) sometime in their early to mid teens.

Recently, John and I have come to realise that we have started taking life far too seriously and as Elbert Hubbard said ‘Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.’ Add to the equation our youngest son who still wants and needs to play with us and, of course, ought to be learning life skills, and our choice will hopefully make sense.

Yes, we recently bought Cashflow, the game invented by Robert Kiyosaki and, reputedly, based on his experience of ‘getting out of the rat race’.

Whilst rather excited by the cash flow game, I have to admit that my expectations were limited on two counts. First, I am not big on board games and I most certainly am not very keen on, or good at, playing Monopoly; particularly after John explained the statistical probabilities of the dice. And second, reading the rules, Cashflow appeared rather complicated so I doubted whether our youngest son could play. How wrong I was on both: playing Cashflow is highly enjoyable and our son learned to understand the game of money, both on the board and in life.

The rules of the game

After choosing a card with their occupation, salary, savings and expenses on it each player’s aim is to get out of the rat race. One gets out when their monthly expenses are lower than their monthly passive income; or when they have become ‘financially independent’. Getting out the rat race places you on the ‘fast track’ and the game is won by either landing on your dream (which players select at the beginning) or by generating $50,000 passive income on top of the starting amount (starting for the fast track which is 100 times your passive income that got you out of the rat race).

How did it go?

In the first game we played, John was a truck driver, our son was a lawyer and I was a teacher. We had different incomes where son’s was highest and John’s lowest and corresponding levels of expenses. I won; largely because of luck since I landed on my dream and had enough money to buy it. John was the first to get out of the rat race, though.

What did we learn?

Playing Cashflow is an opportunity to test different scenarios and options for getting out of the rat race. Here are three messages that are immediately apparent.

Get rid of liabilities

Winning the game at the first stage is dependent on having enough passive income to cover one’s expenses. Getting rid of liabilities (loans, bad investments etc.) and not acquiring them (houses that take money out of your pocket, new cars, boats etc.) is the way to reduce expenses and speed up the process.

It really helps if one tries their hardest to keep emotion and feeling out of this. The first game I didn’t manage to do it – when I got some cash from flipping a property and selling shares I paid my mortgage off because, in the game just like in life, this makes me feel secure. Practically, this meant that I didn’t have enough cash to buy a very good deal which generated three times the money needed to pay my mortgage. Consequently, I borrowed from the bank at 10% when my mortgage was at a fraction of this interest.

John, on the other hand, didn’t pay his mortgage off and got out of the rat race much faster than me; in the first game that is.

Lesson: Get rid of liabilities but the sequence is important; don’t make paying your mortgage off a priority but build up an investment portfolio – its time will come.

One benefit of the game is that it may have made my marriage easier – one of the points of contention between us for some time now has been paying the mortgage off.

Build up your stash

Winning the Cashflow game depends on one’s ability to ‘build up a stash’. What is also clear is that the available strategies for doing this are different at different stages of the game. At early stages, for instance, building up financial resources is mainly done by saving. Once there is a neat little sum one can start investing in shares and bonds and risk taking has a big role: it can speed you up considerably. Buying real estate, both to ‘flip’ and for rental income, is the next building block. However, the big money is in buying businesses.

These stages are overlapping but sequential.

Lesson: Build up your stash; be patient; keep informed and do not get emotionally attached – all is for sell and all is fair game.

Buy assets

Buying assets is the third crucial element for winning the game. Again, different strategies are appropriate at different stages of the process. Early on, there is a clear element of gambling and luck plays an important role. At the later stages of the game planning is possible. Buying businesses, even at an early stage, is usually more profitable (generates more passive income) than buying property. Most importantly, money is made when you buy not when you sell.

Lesson: Buy or grow businesses; focus on developing an eye for buying.

As you can see good time was had playing the game and some learning has occurred. As to applying some of these strategies in life…well it is not so straight forward. Whilst the broad rules may be the same, there are two substantive differences: one, there is a very steep learning curve and knowledge has to be maintained; and two, our capacity to take risk, even calculated one, is restricted by the fear ‘of losing it all’.

What do you think and is there a game that has helped you develop strategies for life?

16 thoughts on “Gaming and life: lessons from Cashflow”

  1. I enjoy his books and have read about the game but never played it. I do enjoy playing monopoly but don’t have time for the board version. I play online occasionally and do best when spending money for the smaller properties to get building houses more quickly.

  2. Can I add some other lessons to Maria’s three above:

    1) Organise your cash. It is all too easy to have a stack of $100 bills and not realise they make many thousands – and likewise $100k’s for $millions when you are out of the rat race! This lesson was really learnt by our son who initially followed his (paternally inherited) tendency to take the money, put it in a pile and play the game, not seeing exactly how much he had. He did that in Monopoly as well, which is one reason why he didn’t win too often! 😛

    2) Spend your cash. The time that Maria won, I had over $1,200,000 in cash but managed to avoid landing on any opportunities. 🙁 In Cashflow, you don’t get interest on any cash you have in hand – it’s as if it is under the bed.

    3) Ensure you have enough cash to buy your dream. If someone else lands on your dream, the price immediately increases. You have to have that cash in hand to win – or $50k on top of your out-of-the-rat-race passive income. Remember you can’t borrow when you are out of the rat race!

    4) Study the board and the likely landing square for distribution of throws given where you are. With a single die, the likelihood is even between 1 and 6, with two dice you are most likely to throw a 7 (range is 2 to 12) and with three you are likely to advance 10 or 11 places (range 3 to 18). In some cases you can choose how many die to throw and some parts of the board are populated with better opportunities. So while it is a game of chance, there is room for a lot of strategy.

    These are salutary reminders for real life – it’s a good game to play.

  3. Games are a great way to teach skills to kids. My parents did this with us growing up. We played a lot of games together and not just for the bonding and family time. We learned math, money management, honesty, and strategy formation from our game nights. These skills have been priceless in our adult lives.

    1. @Miss T: Agree. Interestingly, Cashflow is instructive not only for children but also for adults. It isn’t about something I don’t know; it is more about bridging knowledge and action.

  4. I was originally a fan of Mr. Rich Dad Poor Dad, but I have lately read some stuff on him that I don’t like the sound of at all. Plus, in his most recent book, the whole thing was basically a sales copy for the game you played. I’m glad to hear that the game at least surpasses expectations. Maybe I’ll try to check it out (maybe after I’m out of the actual rat race I’ll have more time for it!).

    1. @MUM: I have read only Rich Dad Poor Dad. This is how it all started for me but have to say that there are probably three sensible messages that the book contains. These are: don’t confuse your assets and liabilities (your house is not your asset); being broke is temporary, being poor is forever; and success is a result of many failures. Even these are not terribly original (not many things are in PF) but they were presented in entertaining way (which reminds me that I also liked the emphasis that he is a best selling not a best writing author). The rest is repetition.

      The game is good – and I believe that in my case playing it ibcreases the chances that I’ll make this run for getting out of the rat race. Best thing: now when our ten year old wants another electronic game I just say: ‘remember our cashflow?’ and he only smiles. He really wants me out of the rat race – so that I can play with him more. Breaks my heart.

    2. I used to be a fan also until I read the book rich dad poor dad was fiction. Then I learned of his seminars and other books that all were a bunch of bologna and was permanently turned off. One thing I learned from Mr. Kiyosaki.. he is indeed a best “selling” author 🙂

      1. @YFS: Yes; he is very open about it. What I am thinking about is that one should do both: be a ‘best writing’ and ‘best selling’. Do you think these can be reconciled?

  5. I liked cashflow the first time I played it. But, then I realized something. You can win the game by not paying off debt and building your passive income. The game definitely has a skew towards taking on more risk rather than paying down debt.

  6. @YFS: This may work out in real life as well. In principle you are right – this is when people have higher cash flow. I had low to moderate cash flow and the only way (initially) to increase it was to pay the debt that costs more (all except school loans and mortgage).

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