Best Video Games to Teach Kids About Money

Children and teens can learn crucial money skills, from budgeting to investing, with these video games.

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If you’re a parent looking to teach your kids about smart money management, you might want to encourage them to play more video games.

Whether on a console or a PC, there’s no shortage of children spending their time gaming, as 71% of US children under 18 play video games regularly, according to a survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association. If you’re a parent, you can use this widespread popularity to your advantage. 

Video games can be great teachers. At their core, they’re experiential learning opportunities without the high stakes of real life (not to downplay how devastating it can be to lose right before you beat a level). 

Some parents teach their children about saving and budgeting through the process of buying video games. But others are using the actual content within a game to introduce their children to basic financial concepts, ranging anywhere from negotiating and investing all the way to understanding supply and demand. 

Here are some of the best video games that can help children learn key financial concepts. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Best for planning, budgeting and investing

Available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the most recent game in the Animal Crossing franchise, is a treasure trove of financial knowledge.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons became a pop culture phenomenon in 2020. Just as doors started to close at the onset of the pandemic, people were given the chance to run away to a deserted island, start a new life and … get a mortgage.

That’s right, part of the gameplay in Animal Crossing is gathering fruit, crops and resources to make money so that you can pay off your mortgage and build infrastructure so that your villagers can get around your island. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Animal Crossing can also help introduce your kids to investing. The game features a version of the stock market, called the “stalk” market because you’re investing in turnips. Every Sunday before noon, players can buy turnips at a price that fluctuates between islands. You can then check the store every subsequent morning and afternoon to check on turnip prices with the hopes of turning a profit. If you don’t sell by the following Sunday, your turnips will rot and you’ll lose your entire investment.

And if you buy the Happy Home Paradise DLC, you’ll literally go to work by designing houses for other characters. The more houses you design, the more you’re paid and the higher you’re promoted. (You’re paid in a different currency, though you can convert it to match your native island’s currency.)

The Sims 4

The Sims 4

Best for income management

Ah, the original life simulator.

Across 22 years of publishing, The Sims is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time -- and it’s still kicking. The Sims 4, the franchise’s latest title, is available on just about every mainstream console and PC (and you can get it for free).

The premise of The Sims is simple: you live a virtual life and do just about anything you’d do in real life. Buy a home, start a family, open a business -- it’s all there. And any game that gives you a realistic financial experience is one that will impart some important money lessons.

In The Sims, you create your own character and choose a profession. You go to work, earn an income, and, based on your budget, you can start investing in the many aspects of your digital life. The more money you make, the better your living conditions and the more wealth you’re able to accumulate. You can also lose your possessions, particularly if you don’t earn enough to afford your mortgage, so money management is key in this game.

Civilization VI

Civilization VI

Best for macroeconomics

In Civilization, your goal is to transform one small nation into a global superpower. To do this, you’ll need to build a healthy economy by gathering gold, trading with other nations, establishing cities next to key resources and building banks throughout your country.

Additionally, you can select your country’s form of government; you automatically start out with a default chiefdom government, but unlock another 12 forms of governments as the game progresses. Each government system has its own pros and cons, and what you should choose largely depends on your strategy.

Choosing a merchant republic government with a free market policy, for instance, will give you an economic boost. Plus you’ll make trade-off decisions on what to invest in. For example, every military unit will have a maintenance cost, so maintaining a large military will eat up a sizable portion of your economic budget.

Between balancing your country’s budget and building trade relations with other countries, Civilization is a masterclass in constructing gameplay around real-world macroeconomics. P.S. you’ll learn a ton of history, too.

The Civilization VI base game is available on Steam, Xbox, PlayStation and the Nintendo Switch.



Best for negotiating and trading

Roblox is one of the biggest gaming platforms out there right now. This platform not only lets you play and chat with friends, but it also lets you create your own games. One of the most popular games created on the platform to date is called Adopt Me, a game where players adopt and care for virtual pets.

In this game, pet classification ranges from common to legendary, and trading pets is a key component of the game. Players looking for a rare pet will need to negotiate based on what they think a pet is worth, possibly trading multiple common pets and items in exchange for a rare pet. As in real life, it’s wise to start with a low offer and go from there.

Roblox is a free app available on just about everything, from iPhones and Androids to PC and mainstream consoles.



Best for learning about a market economy

In Moonlighter, you play as Will, a shopkeeper and adventurer who journeys into dungeons to collect monster parts, foliage, ores and other items to sell. The gameplay works on a loop: you go into a dungeon to collect items, you sell those items in your store and then use the money earned to upgrade your armor and weapons to make it deeper within the dungeons.

The shopkeeping component of the game isn’t just a throw-away idea; it’s a core part of the gameplay. Every day after adventuring in the dungeons, you’ll open your store to customers. But you don’t just place your items on the shelves. You also have to set their price, and that’s where the fun part comes in.

You don’t know how much you should charge for an item until you have some data on what customers are willing to pay for it. You can watch customers’ reactions in your store and, in real-time, bring down or ratchet up the price depending on their reactions. (Sometimes you’ll find that you severely underpriced an item and missed out on a massive profit.) At the end of the day, you’ll be able to check your log to see how your wares performed and determine the best price for the next day.

If your kids are fans of rogue-lites or old-school, top-down dungeon crawlers, this may be their cup of tea. This game is available on PC, Steam, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

Best for resource management

In Stardew Valley, you leave behind your corporate life and take over your late grandfather’s farm. This game focuses on resource management and spending wisely, as you’ll need to purchase food to survive, cultivate the land and grow and sell crops to expand your farm.

You’ll start with a limited budget and a set supply of farming equipment. From there, you’ll need to forage in the forest, mine for ores and gemstones and tend to your crops. You’ll then decide how to invest your profits, including choosing which seeds and animals to buy, in addition to purchasing farming essentials like fertilizer. The more your farm expands, the more money you’ll make. It’s a really satisfying gameplay loop that doesn’t get old.

As you grow your farm and your relationships with the townspeople, you’ll uncover mysteries about the valley. There are plenty of characters to interact with and storylines to complete, which will give you a nice respite from all that backbreaking farming.

Stardew Valley is available on Xbox, PlayStation, the Nintendo Switch, Steam, iOS and Android.

Based in Boston, Marcos Cabello is a personal finance reporter for NextAdvisor and CNET. Marcos has covered cryptocurrency, investing, banking, and the US economy, among other personal finance subjects. If you don't find Marcos behind his computer screen, you'll probably find him behind another screen, playing the newest Nintendo Switch title, streaming the latest TV show or reading a book on his Kindle.
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