Manage Your Money, You Must: 10 Money Lessons We Learned from ‘Star Wars’
The Force will be with us — always.
And maybe a little longer than you’d like if you’ve been stuck inside binge-watching endless Star Wars marathons as you wait out the pandemic.
The last installment in the series, “The Rise of Skywalker,” starts streaming on Disney+ on May 4. (Get it? May the Fourth be with you. Yeah.) Over numerous movies and assorted iterations, “Star Wars” has taught us about overcoming obstacles, about dealing with family drama, about friendship, about patience, about beating the odds — and even about money.
Because this is The Penny Hoarder, we’re especially interested in the part about money.
Even though the epic saga of Luke Skywalker & Co. played out a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the financial wisdom we gleaned from it applies to the here and now.
And considering how scary our world might feel right now, we thought a little lighthearted humor — mixed with financial advice — could provide a nice break.
Prepare to make the jump into hyperspace! Here’s what we’ve learned:
1. Always Pay Your Debts — Or Else
Bingo. This is always the first one everyone thinks of.
Han Solo owes money to the giant slug-like crime boss, Jabba the Hutt. When he doesn’t pay up, Jabba sends bounty hunter Boba Fett after him — basically a debt collector with blaster pistols and green Mandalorian armor.
Instead of declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Han ends up frozen in carbonite. Then Princess Leia, Luke, Lando and the iconic droids have to infiltrate Jabba’s lair to save him in a sequel.
Just like with Solo, the longer you don’t pay off your debts, the bigger the problem gets. The interest piles up.
Credit cards companies charge compound interest. If you don’t pay off your bill each month, the company charges interest that is added to the amount you owe. Then that new total is charged interest.
Your first step should be to figure out what you’re dealing with. Map out exactly what kind of debt you have. For example, which companies do you owe money to? Are any of your debts in collections? What are your minimum monthly payments on each credit card or loan? Can you ask for forbearance?
An easy way to start doing this is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.
2. Used Vehicles Offer the Best Value
The Millennium Falcon takes its share of verbal abuse in multiple “Star Wars” films.
“You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought,” Princess Leia says upon first seeing the starship. And in “The Force Awakens,” Rey calls the ship “garbage.”
But the Millennium Falcon gets the job done. (Did we mention that it made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs?) Turns out you don’t always need a shiny new vehicle.
Yoda lived until 900 years old hiding out in a cave on Dagobah, further proof that social distancing works.
Used cars are often a better deal than new ones. Consumer Reports recommends buying a car that’s two or three years old, and we can help you prepare to buy a car while taking on the least amount of debt. And good news: You could save on insurance for that hunk of junk amid the pandemic.
You’ll need to take care of your ride, though. (The Falcon’s hyperdrive keeps breaking down despite Chewbacca’s best efforts in “The Empire Strikes Back.”)
You can prepare yourself by figuring out how much to budget for car repairs.
3. Negotiate the Best Deal You Can
Early in “A New Hope,” Luke and Uncle Owen are bargaining with some creepy little jawas over the price of some used droids.
When an R2 unit they’d just bought immediately breaks down, Uncle Owen aggressively questions the quality of what the jawas are selling: “Hey, what are you trying to push on us?”
The result: Luke’s family gets the best droid ever, R2-D2.
Negotiating isn’t just for markets and cars; any variable expense can be negotiated to a lower price — you just have to know the right strategies to use.
4. “Do or Do Not. There is No Try.”
Yoda’s admonition to Luke in “The Empire Strikes Back” is probably the biggest zen moment in any of these movies.
As always, Yoda is right on target. You’re either going to do it, or you’re not. Don’t just try.
If you’re going to make financial changes, commit to them and be consistent. Don’t just try once or twice and then forget about it. Sticking to it is the key to success.
Help yourself by making it harder to spend, even amid the boredom of social isolation. Check out these six strategies to avoid overspending on retail therapy.
For instance, saving money is hard. Consider trying an auto-savings app like Acorns.
Once you connect it to a debit or credit card, it rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and funnels your digital change into a savings or investment account.
Because the money comes out in increments of less than $1, you’re less likely to feel an impact in your bank account.
5. Don’t Let the Little Details Blow Up On You
The Empire spared no expense on the Death Star, don’t you think?
You’ve got to figure that moon-sized battle stations capable of blowing up planets don’t come cheap (especially two of them).
But they overlooked that pesky little design flaw that allowed the Rebel Alliance to destroy the whole thing. Whoops!
Don’t neglect the details like that, because they’ll burn you. Don’t skimp on maintenance and repairs for big-ticket items like your home and car. If you blow that stuff off, you’ll just end up paying more in the end.
Another lesson from the Death Star: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The Empire sure had a lot riding on its supercool Death Star, didn’t it?
If you qualified for a check due to the CARES Act, don’t spend it all in one place — we have four suggestions for investing the relief check money.
6. Get Rid of Your Old Stuff
The “Star Wars” universe looks different than Star Trek and other sci-fi settings. “Star Wars” has that “lived-in” look — there’s junk everywhere. You know, just like your house.
And in the “Star Wars” movies, people make money selling that junk — just like you should.
In “The Force Awakens,” Rey is a scavenger on the planet Jakku, feeding herself by salvaging parts from ships.
On Luke’s home planet of Tatooine, those jawas we mentioned earlier appear to be scavengers, too.
If you have items that you’d be willing to part with and you don’t want to spend any money for stuff you need, consider these ways to barter amid COVID-19.
In “The Phantom Menace” — hey, here’s our first and only mention of the prequels! — Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet young Anakin Skywalker in a junk shop where he fixes things.
Meanwhile, here on our planet, a number of apps are making it easier than ever to sell your old stuff online.
To free up space and earn some extra cash, use apps to sell your stuff. Listing the right stuff in the right marketplaces means you’re more likely to sell it for the right price.
7. Beware of Scams. Know What Things Are Worth.
Toward the beginning of “The Force Awakens,” a hungry Rey nearly pawns the droid BB-8 in exchange for 60 portions of inflatable food. She’s sorely tempted, but she senses something is wrong and backs off.
That’s the surest way to spot a scam: If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
8. Embrace the Gig Economy
When Luke and Obi-Wan need transportation to Alderaan, they basically catch an Uber. A space Uber. They pay for the Millennium Falcon to take them there.
There are other entry-level ways to make money nowadays that you can do on your own time – and from your phone — thanks to the gig economy.
9. If the Deal Turns to the Dark Side, Cut Your Losses
Here at The Penny Hoarder, we’re always looking for good deals.
We’re always asking, Is this a good deal or not a good deal? And when we hear the words “deal” and “”Star Wars”,” we can’t help but think of Lando Calrissian in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Lando … Lando did not get a good deal.
When Han, Leia and Chewie first turn up in Cloud City, Lando tells them, “I’ve just made a deal that’ll keep the Empire out of here forever.”
If you can’t afford your rent due to the coronavirus, it’s not the time to bury your head in the sands of Tatooine — here are some tips for asking your landlord for some financial relief.
Of course, the deal involves betraying his friends. Later, Darth Vader menacingly informs Lando, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”
Still later, when Vader threatens Lando further and mistreats his friends, Lando fumes, “This deal is getting worse all the time!”
That’s when he switches sides.
If you make a deal and the reality doesn’t match what you were promised, be prepared to walk away. Cut your losses and move on.
10. Sand People Always Walk in Single File to Hide Their Numbers
You see, from this we can learn that … no, no, wait. That’s not a good example at all. We learn no financial truths from that.
We’ve got nothing for you here.
Let’s try this instead. One of the most important lessons we learned from “Star Wars” is:
10. Make Sure You Have a Long-Term Plan
The heroes and villains of the “Star Wars” universe are seriously into some long-term planning.
Emperor Palpatine’s master plan takes several movies to unfold. After he reveals himself to be Darth Sidious and strikes, Yoda and Obi-Wan lay low for a couple of decades after the prequels, waiting for their chance to return the favor.
Of course, when we first meet Obi-Wan and Yoda, they’re chilling in a cave and a swamp, respectively. Apparently the Jedi Council didn’t have much of a 401(k) match.
The sooner you start saving, investing and paying down your debt, the better off you’ll be.
All told, that’s everything that “Star Wars” has taught us about money so far. Take it as you will.
Do, or do not.
There is no try.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His “Star Wars”-loving co-workers helped out with this post.