11 Personal Finance Lessons from HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’

Game of Thrones Money Lessons

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead 

The long-anticipated final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones is just a few weeks away. While most of the 20 million audience members’ attention has been spent wondering the identity of the Night King, whether Daenerys Targaryen knows Jon Snow is her nephew, and who will rule the Iron Throne when the series concludes, did you know the series actually teaches us a lot about personal finance?

We know what you’re thinking – the gruesome show with crazy plot twists that keeps viewers glued to their TV’s doesn’t sound like it’s about money. And given that the episodes in the eighth and final season reportedly cost a whopping $15 million to produce – each – it doesn’t sound like budgets are a priority on set anyway.

But as we re-watched the series from the beginning in anticipation of the final season, we couldn’t help but become distracted with all the money lessons peppered throughout the show.

Take for example the ominous phrase “winter is coming,” which is heavily repeated throughout the series and even in advertisements. Instead of a meteorological season, “winter” in Game of Thrones refers to a period in our lives when we experience great difficulty or a financial emergency.

The lesson here is that we all know we will experience hard times in life, so we must prepare ourselves for these White Walkers financial winters by saving and investing our money so that it’s there for us when we need it.

In Game of Thrones, winter can last a varied amount of time. Same with a financial emergency – you don’t know how long it will list. This is why personal finance professionals recommend saving between six to nine months’ worth of your income to cover expenses in the event of job loss, illness or natural disaster.

11 Personal Finance Lessons from HBO’s Game of Thrones

1. A Lannister Always Pays His Debts

In Game of Thrones, a family’s reputation is paramount to their survival. Despite their torturous leadership style, riddled with murder, greed, betrayal, and incest, the House Lannister motto that “a Lannister always pays his debts,” essentially keeps the Lannister’s in the running to rule the Iron Throne throughout the series.

Even though they’re not the most well-liked clan on the show, by consistently paying back their debt, the Lannister’s essentially buy loyalty – at least long enough to get what they want.

Financial Lesson: Money is power. Don’t take on more debt than you can afford to pay off, because you’ll be at the mercy of those you owe money to. When you pay off your debts, like your credit cards, you’ll find you’ll have more financial power than you did before.

For example, when you pay off credit card debt, your credit score typically improves and you’ll more easily qualify for a better, lower interest rate on a mortgage or cash-back rewards card. Just like Cersei, you’ll be calling the shots from here on out.

2. Don’t Let Financial Setbacks Deter You

When we’re first introduced to Daenerys Targaryen, she’s penniless and being prepared to meet Khal Drogo, who has expressed interest in buying her for the purpose of marriage.

The thing is, Daenerys was supposed to be a princess, but her father, King Aerys Targaryen II, aka the “Mad King,” was overthrown and killed before she was born; and her mother, Queen Rhaella, died during childbirth. But instead of growing up with all of her needs and wants met Daenerys grows up essentially a refugee; dependent upon the kindness of those who came to know and love the Targaryen family.

As she grows up, Daenerys believes her only ally is her power-hungry brother Viserys Targaryen, who has agreed to sell her to Drogo, with the hope Viserys will one day control the Dothraki people and with their help can return to power on the Iron Throne.

Despite numerous setbacks, Daenerys does not allow her circumstances to defeat her. Instead, Daenerys methodically gathers an army of assets that includes men, ships, money, gold, horses, and dragons, so she can take back the throne. It’s a long, arduous process, but Daenerys never gives up.

Financial Lesson: Your financial situation can always improve if you work at it. Whether your bank account looks like it was pillaged by a Dothraki horde or you have bad credit, you can bounce back from financial mistakes and enjoy financial freedom. All it takes is a plan to get back on top, some hard work, and a lot of patience.

3. Read the Fine Print

Last season, Samwell Tarly nearly missed Gilly’s accidental discovery that Rhaegar Targaryen’s first marriage to Elia Martell had been annulled. This was a key scene for viewers, as we learned Daenerys is not the rightful heir to the Iron Throne as we’ve been led to believe for the past seven seasons – it’s actually her nephew, Jon Snow.

When the show begins, viewers are led to believe Jon is the bastard son of Ned Stark. But as the show progresses we learn Jon is actually the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen, who was killed during a Lannister-led rebellion to take over the throne, and Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, who died during Jon’s childbirth.

So really Jon Snow is actually Jon Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

Financial Lesson: How well do you know the details of your credit cards, mortgage, student loans or car loan? Could you be missing something like a hidden annual fee, exclusion or interest rate? Make sure you thoroughly review all fine print to make sure there aren’t any hidden surprises.

4. Life is Tough if You Live on the Wrong Side of the Wall

“The Wall” in Game of Thrones is a 300-mile physical barrier, standing more than 700-feet-tall in some parts, made of solid ice and rock. Both physically and symbolically, The Wall marks the barrier between the Seven Kingdoms (civilization) and the White Walkers, who are essentially murderous ice zombies.

Legend has it old, strong spells were woven into The Wall to lessen the likelihood a supernatural White Walker could pass through it. However, The Wall keeps out more than just the deadly zombies. It also keeps out the Freefolk, who are also trying to survive the White Walkers.

Civilization doesn’t exactly trust these “wildlings,” so a battle ensues.

Financial Lesson: There’s a similar security barrier that separates those who have access to the banking system and those who are not eligible aka the “unbanked.” Consumers who have access to banks don’t have to pay a fee to cash their paycheck, have access to savings and checking accounts as well as debit and credit cards.

Persons who don’t have access to the banking system face challenges like exorbitant charges from payday lenders and check-cashing services, logistical difficulties with paying bills, and the security risk of exclusively paying with cash.

Just because you have access to banks now doesn’t guarantee you always will. Many people who are unbanked once had access to the banking system but were essentially kicked out after bouncing too many checks and/or leaving insufficient balances in your accounts to cover fees.

5. Weddings Can be Murder

We’ll spare you the gory details, but essentially the “Red Wedding” episode begins with a festive wedding celebration that turns into an ambush massacre.

At first, King of the North Robb Stark is hesitant to attend the marriage feast between Edmure Tully, his uncle, and Roslin Frey, daughter of Lord Walder Frey. Robb’s hesitant because he was originally intended to marry a Frey girl of his choosing, but fell in love with Talisa Maegyr, and married her for love, not for House allegiances, in a secret ceremony.

Robb convinces his uncle to marry a Frey girl so that the House Stark’s promise to join with House Frey is not entirely a lie.

Robb lets his guard down when Walder Frey extends guest rights to House Stark, which involves formally eating salt and bread from the same bowl. To violate this guest right, would be to break not just man-made laws, but the laws of the gods; Walder Frey does it anyway.

Financial Lesson: In 2017, the average wedding in the U.S. cost around $33,391, according to The Knot.

It’s easier said than done, but remember a wedding should be about personal commitment, not putting on a show. Start with a budget you can afford, and then spend only within that budget.

Do you really want to be stuck in debt, paying off your wedding day for years? Especially if it costs you the ability to enjoy other things you’d like to do like travel, dine out, or save for your retirement?

6. Identity Theft is a Killer

To survive, alone in the city after her father Ned Stark’s untimely death, Arya Stark disguises herself with the faces of many other people. She even uses the faces to kill those she believes have wronged her, her family, and her friends.

Financial Lesson: It’s very easy for someone to impersonate you in order to steal your financial information and gain access to your bank accounts, so you must take precautions:

  • Only access online bank accounts from trusted servers
  • Do not share your password with anyone
  • Check your surroundings before using your ATM pin
  • Scrutinize each credit and debit card statement for unauthorized transactions
  • Be nice to Arya

7. Don’t Take Shortcuts

The Ironborn, led by House Greyjoy, are people known for taking shortcuts in life. For the Ironborn, a man’s value is dependent on how successful he is at raiding and stealing from others. Ned Stark hoped to force good behavior upon the Ironborn by taking young Theon Greyjoy as his ward after Theon’s father leads an unsuccessful rebellion against the Iron Throne.

Theon is raised in the North with the Stark children and even comes to view Ned Stark as a surrogate father, and Robb, his brother. But Theon, who’s more pompous than those in the North, takes a shortcut of his own — seizing the Starks’ castle, Winterfell, and declaring himself King in the North.

But things don’t go well: He’s captured and tortured horribly.

Financial Lesson: Taking shortcuts with your finances can backfire, too. You may decide it’s easier to not create a budget or worry about retirement when you’re older and have less credit card debt. But by disciplining yourself now to follow smart financial strategies, you’ll set yourself up for success in the long run.

8. Try New Strategies

After years of suffering abuse from his father Tywin, and sister, Cersei, who blamed the dwarf for killing his mother during childbirth, Tyrion Lannister decides it’s time to switch allegiances.

In season seven, Tyrion aligns himself with Daenerys, who wants to take back the throne from Tyrion’s family. Daenerys rewards Tyrion’s loyalty by appointing him Hand of the Queen. In this role, Tyrion acts as Dany’s strategist and advises the Mother of Dragons on the best way to invade Westeros and return to the Iron Throne.

Financial Lesson: Just because you’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

Budgets are a great example of how our spending adjusts to our financial situation. When we’re first starting out after graduating from college, we likely have a lower salary and more debt, so our budget is a little tighter. But as we progress in our careers and our salary increases and our debt load decreases, we may have more money to put away for our retirement or to spend in other ways like travel.

The same goes for your bank or car insurance company. If you find another bank offers a better interest rate on a savings account or you could get a lower interest rate on a car loan with a different car insurance company, don’t be afraid to explore your options.

9. Know your Net Worth

Last season we watched Daenerys Targaryen return to her home for the first time. It was such an emotionally charged moment, we almost missed the part when we learned that the House Targaryen castle, Dragonstone, sits atop mountains of mythical dragon glass.

As it turns out, dragon glass is the only thing that will kill the monstrous White Walkers. After some convincing, Daenerys permits Jon Snow to start mining this key asset and forge weapons from it in preparation for the battle between the living and the dead.

Financial Lesson: We may not all live in castles, but most of us have stuff lying around that we don’t use anymore (think clothes, books, décor, kitchen gadgets). If you’re looking for new ways to make some extra cash, try listing some of these items on places like Poshmark or OfferUp.

If your items are still in top condition, you may be able to stir up some competition amongst bidders, which could result in an impressive profit. All you’ll need is excellent negotiating skills and you’ll have bidders bending the knee to you in no time.

10. Plan Ahead

When Bran Stark becomes the three-eyed raven, he gains the ability to see into the future. This gives Bran the advantage of preparing in advance for what he knows is to come.

Financial Lesson: Whether it’s saving for a wedding, vacation, baby, holiday shopping, paying off debt, or saving for your retirement, make a plan for your money and know how much you need to reach that goal.

11. The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due

The Iron Bank is the wealthiest, most powerful bank in Westeros – more powerful than all the other banks combined – and has a fearsome reputation when collecting debts.

If a king or prince defaults on their debts or chooses not to pay back the Iron Bank, the Iron Bank will essentially fund someone to dethrone him. The new prince or king will then have to pay the Iron Bank the debt owed by the previous rulers, in addition to the debt they incurred during their rise to power. Otherwise, they’ll suffer the same fate as their predecessor.

Financial Lesson: Just as the Iron Bank sent moneylenders to collect debts that went unpaid, creditors will often turn to collection agencies to collect money owed to them by consumers. Debt collectors are vicious, and while they legally can’t harass you, they will track you down and follow you until they get their money.

Protect yourself by paying your bills on time each month. While we wouldn’t recommend getting into the habit of making only the minimum payment on a credit card or bill, it’s better to make a minimum payment than no payment at all.

If your account has fallen into collections, there are some reputable credit repair service professionals that may be able to help you.

Have you observed any personal finance lessons in “Game of Thrones”? Share them with us in the comments below!

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