One of the world’s most popular television shows may be nearing its conclusion, but for most Americans, it’s trying to win the Game of Loans that can take longer than finishing one of George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” novels.
So what life lessons can we take away from this popular show and its characters? Let’s try to connect this world of fiction to one’s personal financial habits.
Here are some key lessons
Some always pay their debts — on time — and you should, too. Our research shows that many people do not know that paying bills on time consistently every month can have one of the biggest impacts on credit scores. You do not have to belong to the wealthiest of families to pay your bills on time or pay down your loans. Credit card, home mortgage and student loan debts can be draining, but if you pay on time consistently every month and start chipping away at debt early in life, you may be able to own the biggest castle in all the seven kingdoms if you want.
All must die — some even more than once — but we can have insurance. From wedding day double crosses to vengeful shadow babies and boar hunting trips gone awry, some of our favorite characters may be going down in dragon flames each week, but one thing nearly all of them have in common: they were unprepared. In fact, had the show’s first hero had life insurance coverage, his kids might not have spent so much time seeking revenge and trying to reclaim their home. The important thing to remember is that life insurance is typically the least expensive when you’re young and presumably your healthiest, so getting coverage early is a good decision that your loved ones will thank you for later in life.
Forget a kill list. Make a will list. Skip chanting the names of your enemies each night and instead, apply that focus and discipline to your important financial and insurance account information. Do not let misfiled paperwork or disorganization cripple your legacy. If you’ve never documented and compiled all of your banking, investment, insurance, retirement, debt, health, medical and other account information in one safe place (including account logins and passwords), now is the time to do it. While you are at it, make sure your will and other important financial documents are up-to-date, as well as all of your beneficiary information. And be sure to tell someone you trust where everything is.
Find a hand you can trust. This is especially important to help hold yourself accountable to spending decisions. Self-awareness is paramount when it comes to impulsive vs. intentional spending, and asking oneself about long-term plans, benefits and impacts of spending decisions. Have you ever considered asking someone you trust — a family member, close friend or financial adviser — to check in with you to help hold you accountable? If you would be afraid to tell your ‘master of coin’ about something you spent your hard-earned money on, that is a signal.
You do not need to be up in years — or sitting on a throne — to be thinking about the future. If you miss saving when you are young, you are missing the value of compound interest (which is essentially interest on interest and really adds up) as well as any employer matches to a qualified retirement savings plan, like a 401(k), if offered.
And no matter your age, do not let college funding for children come at the expense of your own financial well-being or retirement savings. Thinking about tapping or borrowing from retirement savings? Think again. It can seriously compromise your long-term financial stability, which does no one in your family any favors. You can save more for your retirement as you age, or potentially increase your rate of return, but you can never create more time.
As we have seen with one red-cloaked character, the fact is that people are living longer, so planning for later-in-life years — alongside today’s demands and memory-making experiences — becomes that much more critical and complex. The greatest gifts parents can give their kids is to provide lessons in finances while providing for their own retirement needs, thus ensuring they don’t become a financial burden later on that their kids can take revenge on.
Mike Fanning is head of MassMutual U.S.