Winter is Coming, but Don’t Panic!: 10 Money Lessons I’ve learned from Geekdom

This article is part of the #pfmessages project at The Yachtless, exploring personal finance messages in fiction. 

I’m a dyed in the wool geek. I love cult tv, superhero movies, science fiction and fantasy books, and role playing games. One of my proudest Mom moments was when my then 4 year old insisted on dressing as Hermione Granger for Halloween. But I also am passionate about protecting my money, and have learned that science fiction and fantasy have a lot to teach me about how to do that. There’s also more to life than money, and a good life is as much about our relationships with others as it is about being smart with money.

Here are the keys I’ve found to Live Long and Prosper:

  1. Winter is Coming (Game of Thrones): Bad things happen. A recent study by Mark R Rank and Thomas A Hirschi indicated that 61.8% of the US population will experience at least one year of poverty between the ages of 25 and 60, as determined by falling into the bottom 20% of the population for income. 42% will fall into the bottom 10% for at least a year. Illness, job loss, and other crises can cause hard-working, productive people to experience hardship even in good economic times, and good economic conditions don’t last forever. Whatever your current financial situation, it’s always a good idea to plan for a time when the situation is not as good. Build up your emergency fund, salt away for retirement, and include some hedges against risk in your investment portfolio.
  2. Don’t Panic! (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy): Yes, bad times will come. The best thing to do is keep your head and stick to your plan. I invested through the dot com bubble and the great recession, and because I didn’t sell when the markets were down and I kept investing in companies I believed in, I’m in a better situation that I would be otherwise.  Admittedly, I’m not a retiree, so I had time for the markets to recover. And now, I have made sure I protect myself as I get older by having a more diverse portfolio that includes tax-free bonds.
  3. With Great Power there must also come great responsibility (Spiderman): Money is a type of power, and there are always those with less who have less than I do. Realizing that gives me a responsibility to help others. I try to at least make small donations to help food-insecure people even when my funds are not flush, and talk to my child about how important it is to help those in need.
  4. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no Try. (The Empire Strikes Back): Trying indicates a lack of commitment. If you try to do something, a little part of you is saying you can’t. You will always be more successful if you go all in, with confidence in yourself. I wrote a post earlier about how my first experience as an investor had many mistakes I would not repeat, but overall I accomplished the milestone of becoming an investor, and started building wealth. I could write the same thing from my first job, my first relationship, and every other first I’ve experienced.
  5. It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are far more than our abilities. (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets): You have to apply your skills in order to use them. All of the talent in the world doesn’t help you succeed if you choose poorly. Plenty of people can be successful with money without having any obvious advantages, like the janitor who amassed an $8 million stock portfolio. Plenty of people with a lot of obvious advantages fail badly, like all of the professional athletes, musicians and actors who made millions and lost it all. So choose wisely: save and invest, hedge some investments by being conservative with at least a portion, plan for the future, and don’t go crazy with spending. Concentrate on long term  goals instead of short term gratification. It’s a choice.
  6. Speak Friend and Enter (Lord of the Rings): Sometimes the most obvious answer is the answer. Not everything has to be complicated or overthought. There isn’t always a trick to make things easier or better. If you want to save money, spend less while keeping income constant or earn more while keeping expenses constant. If you want to budget, make sure you’re tracking your spending.
  7. I laugh in the face of danger, and then I hide until it goes away. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer): There are times when it’s best to concentrate on what you know how to do or learn things that are within your wheelhouse, and leave other matters to the experts. I know I’m good with numbers, so doing my own taxes is not a stretch. However, trying to do my own car repairs is far more likely to cost me money than save any. For Jon, doing car repairs is as natural as breathing, but social media is a complete mystery. He does his thing, I do mine.
  8. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. (Men at Arms/Discworld Series): There are things you can save money on, and there are things you should spend money on so that you don’t have to spend a greater amount of money later. Car and home maintenance, health insurance, and education are all things where paying fair value saves you money and underpaying or skipping entirely costs you more.
  9. In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and then the job’s a game. (Mary Poppins): You won’t always like everything you need to do. Not at work, not at home, not at school. The important thing is to accentuate the positive and get the job done. Take a long term perspective, and you’ll often see that the efforts you are putting in today may lead to more opportunities tomorrow.
  10. In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important. (Doctor Who): Treat people well. People who work for you. People who wait on you. People who are standing in line at the grocery store with you. Good manners and a little consideration go a long way. As soon as you forget this, it will bite you in the butt. Remember that people always matter more than things, more than money, and more than yourself.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 thoughts on “Winter is Coming, but Don’t Panic!: 10 Money Lessons I’ve learned from Geekdom

  1. Right on! You make many good points and it was informative without being stuffy. Write on!

  2. I *love* number 8. I keep meaning to do a post on it somehow.

    I think for most people “trying” can be dangerous. But for some of us, it’s the only way. When I set definite goals of what I was or wasn’t going to do, I failed. And being a depressive, I then spent a lot of time and energy beating myself up about it rather than trying again.

    So now I try to do things. If it doesn’t work out, I can shrug it off better and realize that it’s a continuing effort/learning curve. If it does work out, well… spiffy!
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…When discount GCs bite you in the assMy Profile

    • I guess my point about trying and doing is that you did something, Okay, it didn’t work out. And it’s great that you can shake it off, because trial and error is a valid approach. Not everything you do will work out, particularly the first time. Do something a little different next time, and try not to beat yourself up.

      But so many say, “Well, I’ll try to save money.,” or (me) “I’ll try to lose weight,” and don’t actually follow steps to DO it. (yep,I’m guilty) If you’re trying by doing… great, even if, as you pointed out, it doesn’t always work.
      Emily Jividen recently posted…Winter is Coming, but Don’t Panic!: 10 Money Lessons I’ve learned from GeekdomMy Profile

  3. Love love love love that Dumbledore quote. So inspiring to me.
    I have to admit that I have never been particularly into sci-fi (Star Wars and Harry Potter are exceptions, if Harry Potter counts as sci-fi?), but I do agree that there are a ton of good messages here! Ooh, and I like the Mary Poppins one too. It’s easy to dismiss that movie as “just” a kids’ movie, but I think there’s actually some profound stuff in there.

    • A lot of fantasy fits easily in the geek realm, and I think Harry Potter and a lot of the Disney movies are part of that.
      Dismissing the power of kids stories is pretty dangerous. My daughter and I have been going through a lot of Dr Seuss lately, and it’s amazing how much message there is in his collected works. (The Lorax, the Sneetches, the Butter Battle Book, Horton Hatches an Egg, Yertle the Turtle, and on and on.) I wonder how many conservative parents read his works to their kids and have no idea what ideas they are passing along.

      • Yeah, I think I’m conflating sci-fi and geekdom a bit. 🙂 (Genres are kind of helpful I guess, but what’s really cool is when a book is able to transcend its genre through general awesomeness and universality.)
        Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless recently posted…Small ThingsMy Profile

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