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Dan's Blog

What a Thanksgiving Game! 🦃

December 3, 2019

Games can make terrible Thanksgivings survivable, and good Thanksgivings great. My wife, daughter, son and I traveled to New Mexico last week for Thanksgiving with family. Not only did we get a superb Thanksgiving eve snowstorm, but I got to watch the Buffalo Bills play and win (!!) on Thanksgiving. As much as I enjoyed that game, the game that really resonated was a Next Gen Personal Finance market psychology simulation activity that we played first with family and later with friends of my parents. We play a lot of cards in my family (mostly two games: Crazy Rummy and Cowboy) and have a lot of fun doing it. But playing NGPF’s dice game opened up a new level of generational discussion. 

Beautiful New Mexico snow. 

Roll, Baby, Roll

Through the roll of dice, participants experience the emotional ups and downs of investing. The basic game consists of 10 rounds in which a participant must choose at the beginning of each round to be “in” the market or “out” of the market for that round. Everyone starts with a fictional $100. Once everyone has declared their intention for the round (in or out), a single die is rolled. 1 or 2 means the market is down that round. 3, 4, 5, or 6 means the market is up that round. Three dice are then rolled. Their total represents how much the market is up or down. So if a 2 is rolled initially (meaning a down market) and the subsequent roll of three dice yields a total of 12, then the market is down $12 that round. Conversely, if a 3 was initially rolled (meaning an up market), and the subsequent roll of three dice also yields a total of 12, then the market is up $12 that round. Those who chose to be “out” of the market that round earn $1 no matter if the first die yields an “up” market or a “down market.” 

Teaching Market Psychology

A core goal of the game is to simulate the psychological trauma of investing: loss aversion (losing hurts more than winning feels good); recency effect (illusion of patterns); overconfidence (three wins in a row should, of course, lead to a fourth win); regret and excessive risk-taking. 

I played the game first with my dad who is a pretty savvy investor; my brother and wife who each have a solid understanding of the market; my daughter, age 21, and son, age 15, who have some understanding of the market (more on that in future blog posts) and my nephew, also age 15, who probably knew the least about investing. Guess who ended up with the most money? That’s right: my nephew. His feedback on winning was priceless. 

A Winner's Feedback

Each participant got this game worksheet. Only my nephew answered the post-game questions. In hindsight I should have had everyone do this. But truth be told my teacher act can wear a little thin on this crowd so I didn’t push the issue. Here are some of his answers and feedback:

  • “I felt worse when I lost than I felt good about winning.” [Loss aversion!]
  • “I tried to force myself to not base my decision (to be in or out of the market) off what happened in the prior round.” [Recency effect!]
  • “When I got towards the end and knew I was winning I was more inclined to stay out of the market in order to keep my earnings.” [We discussed how this is akin to becoming more conservative the closer you get to retirement.]
  • “I learned that my personality leans more towards playing it safe, with small bursts of confidence.” [He would probably be comfortable with a portfolio split between an S&P 500 index fund and a total bond market index fund]

Round Two

We played the game again the next night. While my nephew and my brother headed back to their home in Colorado that morning, we were joined by my mom and some friends of my parents. The one tweak we made was to play 20 rounds in order to simulate a longer investing horizon. The discussion was equally interesting. A comment was made about there being twice the chance for an up market (4 in 6) as a down market (2 in 6). To support this ratio I shared a slide from a recent presentation that showed the historical return of the market going back to 1928. More great discussion. My dad pointed out that the market rewards those who stay the course. He noted that many of the best years followed the worst years. 

"Come on, 3, 4, 5, or 6!"

No game can perfectly simulate the emotional rollercoaster of investing but this one comes close. How great that through NGPF so many students will experience this before they leave high school. 

Notes on the Bills/Cowboys Game

When I learned that the Bills would be playing the Cowboys on Thanksgiving I didn’t like it. Not at all. Thursday games are inherently biased against the visiting team. How do you play on Sunday and then travel and play a game four days later? As yearly hosts of a Thanksgiving game I have always felt that the Cowboys have an annual advantage. They play a less rested team at home, then get an additional three days off before their next game. How is that fair? Note: I realize this line of argument falls apart when it’s pointed out that the Detroit Lions enjoy the same holiday scheduling advantage but have stunk for decades. I can’t explain this phenomenon. 

The other reason I didn’t like the matchup was the Bills history of egg laying in big nationally televised games. Decades after their last Super Bowl defeat I still feel the pain of their failing on a large stage. (Thanks in large part to the ESPN film The Four Falls of Buffalo, those Jim Kelly-led teams are finally getting their due.) The current team appears on the rise. I am a big fan of their second year quarterback Josh Allen. I just felt that they weren’t ready to shine on the big stage yet. Clearly I know nothing about football. In the most watched game since the Super Bowl, they clocked the Cowboys. Wow. It’s no guarantee of future success but for that day the Bills stock hit a recent high. One more happy outcome: chances are Dan Flynn is a Cowboys fan.