While reading an article on the current trend of “Serious Games,” I came across a game called Ayiti: The Cost of Life (www.costoflife.org) where a player is given the task of trying to create a better life for an impoverished family in Haiti. Here is the introduction to the game:

The Guinard family of five is struggling to get by in rural Haiti (“Ayiti” in Haitian Creole). The father, Jean, and mother, Marie are doing their best to give their teenage son and daughter, Patrick and Jacquline, and their little boy, Yves, the best life possible.

The family has a simple home and a farm that earns them a little money. Jean and Marie have very little education, but they’re working to help their kids get an education and improve their chances for a comfortable life.

There are a few international NGOs (non-government organizations) trying to help members of the impoverished community, but they need volunteers to get any major project off the ground.

The Guinard family faces some difficult challenges resulting from poverty, severe weather, and even potential violence. But if they’re careful and lucky, they may have a chance at a better life.

You have four years to help the Guinard family as they confront the “cost of life.” Good luck!

So far I have yet to survive four years (my average is about two), and this game was created BEFORE the current environment resulting from the tragic earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. This all-ages online experience is both heart-breaking and hopeful–I recommend you play!

Another financial tip the new book, New Frugality.   You’re smarter than a wall-street money manager.

Index funds duplicate the performance of a particular stock market index.  The most famous equity index fund is the S&P 500.  It is made up of stocks of the 500 largest publicly traded U.S. companies.  They’re on that list because they are the 500 BEST COMPANIES!

“Indexing is commonly referred to as passive investing.  No professional money manager is trying to beat the market, rapidly buying and selling stocks. Yet index funds routinely outperform most actively managed funds.  Why?  A big advantage is their low cost.  The annual fee for investing in the S&P 500 is some 0.10 percent versus an average of almost 1.5 percent for actively managed funds.  Index funds have no research analyst costs or multimillion dollar money manager salaries to pay.

Mark Kritzman of Windham Capital Management simulated an imaginary investor using index funds, mutual funds, and hedge funds.  Index funds had the highest rate of return at 8.27 percent, since the actively managed mutual fund’s costs are 3 times higher, and the hedge fund six times higher.

According to millionaire philanthropist Robert Wilson, “I’d say as a general rule put it in index funds.  I don’t see why small investors should horse around with money managers.”

March 2

2012 – John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover

A geophysical team investigating the effect radiation from other solar systems has on the Earth learns that the core of the Earth is heating up and warns the President of the United States. While the leaders of the world race to build ‘arks’ to escape the impending doom, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes of unprecedented strength wreak havoc all over the world.

Ponyo – Anime – Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon

A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship before Ponyo’s father forces her to return to the sea. Ponyo’s desire to be human upsets the balance of nature and only Ponyo’s mother can restore nature’s balance and make Ponyo’s dreams come true

Where the Wild Things Are – Chris Cooper, Max Records

Maurice Sendak’s classic story about Max, a rambunctious and sensitive boy who escapes to where the Wild Things are. Max lands on an island where he meets mysterious and strange creatures whose emotions are as wild and unpredictable as their actions.

March 9

Capitalism – A Love Story – Michael Moore

Michael Moore explores the root causes of the global economic meltdown and takes a comical look at corporate and political shenanigans. Along the way he tries to answer the question: What is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism?

Precious – Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique

Oscar Nominated for Best Picture, Gabourey Sidibe for Best Actress and Mo ‘Nique for Best Supporting Actress.

Precious Jones, an inner-city high school girl, is illiterate, overweight, and pregnant…again. Naive and abused, Precious responds to a glimmer of hope when a door is opened by an alternative school teacher. She is faced with the choice to follow opportunity and test her own boundaries.

Up in the Air – George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

Oscar nominated for Best Picture, George Clooney for Best Actor, and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for Best Supporting Actress.

Ryan Bingham is a corporate downsizing expert who flies all over the world on business. Just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles and meeting the frequent traveler woman of his dreams, his company grounds him. When Bingham goes on his last cross-country firing expedition, he will learn that life isn’t about the journey, but about the connections made along the way.

March 16

Did You Hear About the Morgans – Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker

A very successful New York couple are at their wits’ end on how to solve their strained marriage. After they become the only witnesses to a brutal murder they are relocated to a small town in Wyoming as part of a witness-protection program. Now these diehard city dwellers will have to work together to survive the weather, bears, fresh air, and forced time with one another if they want to make it out alive

March 23

The Blind Side – Sandra Bullock, Quinton Bates

Oscar nominated for Best Picture and Sandra Bullock for Best Actress.

Based on the remarkable true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American youngster from a broken home, taken in by the Touhys, a well-to-do white family who help him fulfill his potential. At the same time, Oher’s presence in the Touhys’ lives leads them to some insightful self-discoveries of their own.

Brothers – Toby Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal

Captain Sam Cahill is embarking on his fourth tour of duty, leaving behind his beloved wife and two daughters. When Sam’s Blackhawk helicopter is shot down in the mountains of Afghanistan, the worst is presumed, leaving an enormous void in the family. Despite a dark history, Sam’s charismatic younger brother steps in to fill the family void.

March 30

An Education – Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard

Oscar Nominated for Best Picture and Carey Mulligan for Best Actress.

In the early 1960s, 16-year-old Jenny Mellor lives with her parents in a London suburb. She is smart, pretty, and working toward her goal of being accepted into Oxford. Her life will take a big turn when she meets David, a man twice her age. Now she must decide if she will pursue an education at Oxford, or if she will choose to learn all that a charismatic, older man can teach her

Sherlock Holmes – Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law

This dynamic new portrayal of Sherlock Holmes sends Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson on their latest challenge. Revealing fighting skills as lethal as his legendary intellect, Holmes will battle as never before to bring down a new nemesis and unravel a deadly plot that could destroy the country.