OppLoans Q&A with Paul Vasey of CashCrunch Games: Part 1
Paul Vasey is the founder of CashCrunch Games. Originally from the UK, he taught Business Studies for 12 years, and holds a Business Education Degree from Nottingham Trent University. Since deciding to leave the classroom and start walking the walk, Paul has dedicated his time and energy to teaching personal finance concepts to kids and teens through active, engaged gameplay. He currently lives in California and is affiliated with Centsai.com.
Hi Paul. Thanks so much for joining us. How did you first get interested in teaching personal finance?
During my time teaching Business Studies in the UK, I would teach subjects like marketing, human resources, operation management, external influences, and then finance. And when it came to teaching and introducing finance, I would always get an, “I can’t do that, sir” response. I also taught math for a year, and I realized that a lot of people were intimidated by money and math. Even as a trainee teacher, finance was one of the topics that I was dreading to have to teach. It wasn’t until I had to learn finance, and make sure that I understood it, that I came to enjoy it. I realized that there had to be a better way of teaching financial concepts.
What made you decide to create a game?
With my experience teaching, I realized that the best way for students to start talking—the more you talk, the more you understand—was to make the subject relevant to them. If you make it about them, they have something to talk about, and it is an easy way to incorporate learning into a conversation. By playing a game, students gain firsthand experience, and these financial concepts become relevant. They are also learning without realizing it, and there are so many concepts and theories that you can hang on to the experiences they have in a game.
Tell us more about CashCrunch!
The name “CashCrunch” came from the idea that there is a credit crunch. People are in debt because of overspending, and, frankly, they’re in trouble; the minimum payment does not take care of the bill, and therefore they are financially struggling. It’s resulted in poor money habits that lead to them having their cash crunched—and therefore they have a shortage of money.
Starting out, I made a physical board game. But I knew that I didn’t want to become a manufacturer of boards. The internet was blowing up at the time—when I was making my first game, we were actually on dial up. So we started making our first game, and then we mothballed it and started on a personal finance game. Everything is web-based now. I decided to make CashCrunch free for everyone, because I know that so many teachers pay for materials for their students out of their own pocket. We would get businesses to sponsor the game, which then meant that these businesses were investing in schools, in financial literacy, and in these students in a very meaningful way.
However, with CashCrunch Junior, which we’ll be releasing soon for ages 7 to 12 we decided to make a physical board game. The earlier you start learning about personal finance, the better you will understand it. There’s this character named Sammy Rabbit—another educational program that teaches financial literacy to children—and they cite this study from Cambridge, which says that kids’ habits with money are formed by age seven. That’s why we want to bring CashCrunch Junior into the elementary and middle schools. Having a physical board game is good because it also gets kids away from IT for the time being. Kids can take the game home and parents can play the game with their kids. Everyone can turn off their phones and get rid of those distractions. Parents and kids can play the game together and have this conversation.
The focus is on improving money habits and decisions in a fun and non-intimidating way—fun and non-intimidating being the key. As soon as someone is intimidated etc., barriers are up, and very little learning or interest occurs.
Keeping one’s finances together can be complicated at times. What do you think are the core concepts of personal finance, and how were you able to bring those out in CashCrunch?
Well, finance is really simple. You cannot spend more than you have. If you keep to that concept you cannot go too far wrong.
From that I worked forward. When I taught math, I realized that math is actually quite easy. All it is, really, is a series of rules. If you understand those rules, then there isn’t a problem in math that you shouldn’t be able to solve. If the foundation is strong, any further concepts or rules that are built on top of that foundation can be understood and applied easily. It is when you go too fast, and the foundations aren’t set, that there are problems and intimidation.
With finance, I wanted to get across the idea that you can only spend a dollar once.
With finance, I wanted to get across the idea that you can only spend a dollar once. You can’t spend a dollar now and then still have it to pay for something later. In order to have money for later, you first have to save. And once you do that, then you can look at your spending. You and I both know that if you have money in your pocket, and you are in a shop, you are very likely to spend it. And the more you have in your pocket, the more money you will spend—unless you have discipline. Now, if you remove some of that money from your pocket, you will make choices based around the remainder of the money you have left. (It’s just like moving into a house. The more room you have in your home; the more stuff you buy to put inside it.) Therefore, the concept of “save, then spend what is left” should be applied from day one.
There is a lot of material and advice out there about what you can do once you have money—you can invest, get a return on your investment and so on—which is great advice, but it’s almost irrelevant to start with. It’s great, but only 50% of American households are privy to that. What about the 50% of American households who believe that their paycheck is their budget—and therefore cannot afford an unexpected bill of $500? Get the basics first, lay a great foundation, then bring in compound interest and the rest later.
This is why I say that you can only spend a dollar once. Make the best decision for that dollar because you won’t get it back once you have spent it. If you don’t spend it, you have saved it. If you have to spend it, make sure you have you looked at all the choices available to you before doing so.