(Article by Jana from the Daily Money Shot – hope you like the flashback as much as I did! ;))
As a child of the 80s, I can’t help but have an affinity for The Oregon Trail (the game, not the actual Oregon Trail. Though I do have mad respect for the pioneers who made that trek. That’s some badassery right there). I mean, who doesn’t love a good case of cholera or hunting buffalo to get their blood pumping? I know I do.
But did you also know that while we were fording the river, trading for oxen, and buying bullets, we were also learning about personal finance? It’s true.
If you don’t believe me, you can check out my series “The Oregon Trail Guide to Personal Finance.” But I’m not here to promote that (even though it’s really awesome and you totally need to read it). No. I’m here to tell you that once the journey ends, there’s still a long way to go.
I’ve always wondered what happened to the settlers at the end of the game. I mean, you get to Oregon and then…what? What do they do? Where do they live? How do they earn money? Those kinds of things. Fortunately, the clever folks who created The Oregon Trail have a follow up game that helps me answer those questions. And, wouldn’t you know, I’ve learned a few more financial lessons from that (I swear, these people are evil geniuses).
Here’s a sample:
Take care of your necessities first
In the game, you arrive at a completely empty plot of land save for trees, rocks, and the occasional buffalo skull. In order to build on it, you first need to clear the land. Once the land is cleared, you can start building. But what to build first?
That’s a good question, and the answer is simple: Take care of your necessities. Find a water source. Chop down trees and build a shelter. Start a fire with some of the logs. Hunt a squirrel or rabbit or find some nonpoisonous berries to eat. Cover the basics. Because if you don’t secure what you need to survive, it’s almost impossible to do anything else like raise animals or harvest crops.
Your money works the same way. When you get paid, pay your necessities first. Pay for your housing if you still have to. Set aside money for food and transportation. Make sure you have enough to pay for electricity (unless you live in a completely “green” house or are Amish – then you can forget about that payment). If you need medication to survive, budget for that as well. Once those are taken care of, you’re pretty much good to go. Then you can take what’s left over and use that for the stuff you want.
Have a logical plan
It’s easy to look at the empty plot of land and just start haphazardly building stuff. A tavern, a general store, a hunting lodge, a bunch of houses, maybe a farm; those all seem like a good idea for a town. I mean, that’s totally the kind of town l’d like to live in. But there has to be an orderly plan for where you place those things. For instance, it’s probably not a good idea to put the hunting lodge next to the tavern. That could get dangerous.
Sounds kind of like a budget. Income is just like that empty plot of land. If you don’t have a plan for how to spend that money, you’re just going to spend it on whatever you want without really knowing where that money goes. You’ll spend in an illogical way that makes no sense and could cause a potentially dangerous situation, like massive debt or a missing big financial deadline or opportunity.
Work hard but remember to rest
The game is really big on monitoring your energy. Each task that you perform whether it’s collecting money from the stores or building a storage shed or harvesting crops, they all require you to use energy. When your energy meter runs out, you can’t perform another task until it resets (and your “spouse” even reminds you that your energy meter is empty and you can’t do anything else. Thanks, nagging spouse). Sometimes you’ll work really hard and get an energy bonus but mostly the work just depletes what you have stored up.
When you’re trying to build a successful town, it’s hard and sometimes painful to rest; you want to keep working and working until you have nothing left to give. It’s the quickest way to be profitable, working around the clock, having our hands busy constantly. But that’s also an easy way to burn out and make some potentially unpleasant mistakes (like forgetting to craft some medicine and your pioneer dies. Oops).
Whether you are self-employed, work for someone else, work in the home, or have some other work situation, it’s important that you allow yourself to take a day off. Resting boosts your ability to perform at the top of your game. Resting allows you to recover, prevents you from burning out and helps you avoid mistakes. Resting gives you a mental break (and often, during your rest, you’ll find a solution to a problem that had been nagging you). Resting affords you the time to be proud of your accomplishments. And most importantly, resting gives you the opportunity to connect with your family and friends, which is more important than anything.
Be kind to your neighbors
One way to build up your town and earn rewards is to visit neighboring towns and help the townspeople with their chores. You get rewarded in little hearts that allow you to obtain a bonus trip to the prospecting field (where you get to blow up rocks with dynamite, which is awesome.) and you get visitors to your town, allowing your businesses to be more profitable. It also helps to build relationships, so in the event of a flood or stampeding buffalo/etc, you can get some help rebuilding your broken town. Everyone wins!
In real life, the game’s neighbors are our networks. It’s important to have good, solid relationships with your family, friends, and your community. Because in the event of a tragedy or unemployment or starting a new business, these are the people that you will turn to for help. They’re the ones who will come to your aid and support you. The nicer and more helpful you are to people, the broader your network becomes. And honestly? You never know what kind of opportunity can arise as a result of that network.
I love games that make me think (yes, I’m a huge nerd), particularly games that make me think about money. Because, in addition to the lessons learned here, there’s the whole earning, budgeting and spending money element to the game that makes it even more challenging.
But that’s a whole different post.
Okay, Sexy readers. What hidden financial lessons could you find from your favorite game?
Jana used to run the personal finance blog, Daily Money Shot, where she talks about money (but not the boring parts). She’s also a freelance writer and founder of the blogger mentoring program, Bloggers Helping Bloggers, where I (J. Money) is one of her fabulous mentors and helpers in revamping the program. She’s thrilled to be guest posting here!
(Photo credit: redheaded_pirate)
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