Winter is coming.
And, if you’re a fan of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” it can’t get here fast enough. The world created by author George R.R. Martin has taken on new life in cinematic form. In fact, it’s become one of the most popular shows on HBO, trailing only “The Sopranos,” with an average viewership of 14.2 million per episode during its third season.
Even if you’re not a fan of “Game of Thrones,” you’ve likely heard someone rattle off the line, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” Whether used to justify picking up the check at dinner or paying off debt, it’s easy to see how that sound bite can apply to personal finance. As a fan, I wanted to uncover a few less obvious money lessons within the rich character development typified by the series. You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the show to learn from these money lessons — you just have to think a little creatively about how to apply them to your life.
Lord Tywin: Master Your Money, and Don’t Let it Control You
As the patriarch of the powerful Lannister clan, Lord Tywin is admired, feared and hated. To say that he loves to be in control would be a major understatement. He craves control like his grandson Joffrey lusts after torturing others. Tywin’s thirst for power reveals itself when he says:
“If another house can seize one of our own and hold him captive with impunity, we are no longer a house to be feared.”
To control your money like Tywin tends his family’s legacy, start by taking detailed stock of your finances. What is going on with your money? How is it being used? What are you wasting it on? How are your investments doing? While there’s much in life we can’t control, our money isn’t in that category. We can and should wield our money the way Tywin does his. At the heart of Tywin’s quote is the fact that he does not want his family obligated to or ruled by anyone. He wants to be the one everyone else answers to.
That is how you ought to view your money. Make it answer to you, not the other way around. That means that if you’re taking on debt, keep it at a minimum (and at the lowest rate possible) while paying it off as soon as we can. It means keeping an eye on your investments as opposed to mindlessly hoping they’ll do better. Ultimately, it means you’re to use money as a tool to better yourself while not being enslaved to someone else because of poor decisions.
Robert Baratheon: Your Legacy Should Last Beyond You
The untimely death of Robert Baratheon left the Seven Kingdoms in utter disarray, which led directly to the rise of the immature and maniacal King Joffrey -– the ruler we all love to hate.
What caused this chaos? It’s quite simple really: poor estate planning by King Robert. Robert Baratheon was a womanizer who loved his food and drink, and gave little thought to what would happen after him. I don’t know if it was his not wanting to face the thought of his own mortality or living for the moment, but his lack of forethought led to bedlam in Westeros. Admittedly, he tried to make his desires known, but it was too late, and his wishes were cast aside after his passing.
The thought of estate planning may seem daunting, but it’s critical, especially if you have young children. The last thing you want is to leave it to state laws and the will of a judge to decide where your assets will go and who will care for your children. Here are some of the major tasks you should tackle:
- Hire a reputable lawyer to handle it for you.
- Identify your assets and obligations.
- Update beneficiaries in retirement accounts.
- Determine who you want to raise your children if you and your spouse aren’t around.
Dealing with your own mortality can be scary, but ensuring that those closest to you won’t be stuck with a financial and legal mess when they’re already suffering is one of the most loving things you can do.
Theon Greyjoy: Emotional Choices About Practical Matters Can Be Costly
Theon Greyjoy is a confused and amoral character who allows his craving for approval from his father to drive him into making foolish mistakes that eventually lead him to a complete reversal of fortune.
We make a similar error when we allow our emotions to control our financial decision making. Most of us have been guilty of this at one time or another, and it can be a difficult habit to break. Emotional decision-making in our finances can take many forms, from selling all the stocks in our retirement portfolio because the stock market is in free fall this week, to spending more because we don’t feel like expending the time and energy it takes to compare prices.
Many of these mistakes may seem harmless in a one-off situation, but over time the costs can add up. Separating your emotions from financial decision-making can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If you ever find yourself losing your motivation to be pragmatic about money matters, just remember Theon, perhaps over a bratwurst, and you’ll find yourself back on track.
Sellsword Bronn: Always Look for Opportunity
“Game of Thrones” fans know Bronn as the guard and sarcastic companion of Lord Tyrion Lannister. By his own admission, Bronn is a sellsword — meaning he will fight for or defend anyone who is willing to pay him. While might seem a bit amoral, he is a likable character. His self-awareness reveals something I believe we all should actively do -– look for opportunities.
You might think that your paycheck is the only way to make money. That is a myth that’s being eradicated in society today as many of us are becoming more entrepreneurial — looking to monetize our skills or learning new ones to make extra money. The key is to always being looking for ways to earn more income. The moment you stop expanding your wealth is the moment you begin to lose it.
I am not suggesting you become a sellsword, but genuinely look for ways you can provide value to a person or business. Not only will it allow you the opportunity to earn more, but if used wisely, can be a great way to fund a better future for yourself.
There are many lessons we can borrow from popular media about money, even if they aren’t explicitly stated. Hidden lessons are, in my opinion, the most valuable ones, as they lend uncommon insight into how to better manage your finances.
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a finance blog that regularly discusses investing, budgeting and frugal living. He is a father, husband and veteran of the financial services industry who’s passionate about helping people find freedom through frugality. He also writes about growing your wealth on Sprout Wealth.