Money games: Learning through play

April is Financial Literacy Month. Find out how popular games can teach us money skills.
Published on 26 April 2024


Eleanor Paton, Collections Manager

When you think back to the games you played as a child, you might not think about the life skills they taught you. And yet, play is one of the most important ways kids (and adults!) learn. Whilst financial literacy concepts may not be thrilling, many card and board games we grew up with teach us these skills subtly.

Games from the past also give us a glimpse of societal norms at that time, such as what money looked like, ideals for saving, or typical life milestones. Let’s look at the different lessons the games in our collection teach us.

1. Recognising currency and values

Snip Snap card game, 1960s © Eric Wagstaff/MichaelStanfield Holdings 1968. Bank of England Museum 2021/209

Snip Snap is a card game from the late 1960s that was created when the UK switched from the pounds, shilling and pence system to a decimal currency system (100 pennies in a pound). This game was a learning aid to help familiarise people with the new values and appearance of money in preparation for ‘Decimilisation Day’ on 15 February 1971.

Half of the cards show pre-decimal coinage, and the other half shows new decimal values. The aim is to match old currency values with the new equivalent. If you make a correct pairing, you keep the cards and the player with the most cards at the end of the game wins. Not a bad way to learn a new system of counting money!

2. Counting and spending money

Toy cash till by Codeg, 20th century. Bank of England Museum 2023/028

Toy cash till by New Classic Toys, 2022. Bank of England Museum 2023/027

Did you have a toy till when you were growing up? Toy cash and shop sets have been popular for generations. These sets are often the first interaction kids have with physically handling cash and are useful learning aids for counting money.

These tills also reflect changes in technology and currency systems. The till on the left is from the 1900s and shows pounds shilling and pence payments. The till the right, however, is more modern and is complete with a card reader, bank card and barcode scanner.

3. Financial milestones

The Game of Life, 2016 © Hasbro Inc. Bank of England Museum 2023/006

This brightly coloured board game illustrates the range of financial choices we make throughout our life, from deciding to go to college all the way to retirement. This edition of the game reflects society at the time it was made – for example, players select a career card and can be anything from a doctor to a vlogger.

The game also teaches financial prudence - whilst travelling around the board, surprise events keep you on your toes, like winning a yacht (lucky you!). You then have the choice to live a life of adventure or sell the investment. Each decision impacts the cash players have, and at the end of the game the player with the most cash wins.

4. Confidence in cash

Monopoly: Cash Decoder, 2021. © Hasbro Inc. Bank of England Museum 2023/001

Games can also teach unexpected skills, like spotting a counterfeit banknote. This Monopoly game from 2021 focuses on confidently handling cash. Whilst navigating the typical obstacles of Monopoly, such as property purchases and avoiding jail, in this version players also must keep an eye out for fake Monopoly money. The game tests your nerve as you try and keep your cash clean and investments sound.

5. Budgeting, mortgage payments and trading

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, 2020. © Nintendo. Bank of England Museum: 2023/068

Screenshot of Animal Crossing courtesy of Nintendo

Life skills aren’t just found in old school board games! Animal Crossing: New Horizons takes several financial concepts and immerses them in addictive gameplay. Your character starts with a house on an island – including a mortgage! Players generate money (bells) through fishing, crafting and selling items on the stalk market (we love the pun). Careful budgeting enables players to upgrade their lifestyle, homes and even travel to other islands. The decisions that players make about how to earn, save and spend their bells relate to core financial principles that apply to our lives today. This game took on particular meaning during the pandemic, when people were very limited in how they could shop, travel, and socialise.