What Star Wars Taught Me About Personal Finance

July 15, 2014

Much of what I have done in life has been influenced by Star Wars.  When I enter a grocery store I am able to open the door by waving my hands, I use Jedi mind tricks on my 5-year old stepson, and even chose to buy an iPhone because of Star Wars. (“These are not the droids you are looking for.”)  It was fairly recently that I realized that this Hero’s Journey also has some life lessons when it comes to finances.

Be Diligent About Paying Off Debt (Or Avoid It Altogether)  
Everyone’s favorite “Scoundrel” is perpetually indebted to some of the worst lowlifes in the Galaxy (Jabba the Hutt).  Han is constantly on the run from numerous bounty hunters/bill collectors, so it is a good thing he has the best ship in the galaxy.  However, I can’t help but think that had he gotten a ship of better value, he wouldn’t have been displayed as a trophy in Jabba the Hutt’s palace.

The lesson here is to not get into debt, or if you are currently in debt, then create a  debt repayment plan. Otherwise, you might find yourself being tracked down by Boba Fett (debt collector), taken to Jabba the Hutt’s palace, and frozen in carbonite.

Don't Fall Victim to Lifestyle Inflation or "Keeping Up with the Joneses"  
If you are unfamiliar with Star Wars, and have managed to read this far, it is worth noting the contrast in lifestyle of the Jedi (good guys) and the Sith (bad guys).  Both groups are capable of using The Force (money).  The Jedi use the “light” side of The Force and live a modest lifestyle -- likely saving for retirement and fulfilling basic human needs.  A Jedi would never use the force to have the latest and greatest of everything, in fact, a Jedi doesn’t even carry a blaster (i.e. Samsung Galaxy S5), and instead uses an ancient lightsaber (i.e. Motorola Razor) as their weapon of choice.

In contrast, the Sith use the dark side of The Force and are constantly trying to prove their worth by acquiring extravagant things like the Death Star and the accumulation of power.  In our world, the Sith would be upgrading their phones every month to the latest and greatest.  In fact, the most famous Sith, Darth Vader, is said to be more machine than man.  The lesson here is to live within your means and pay yourself first.

Learn to Haggle and Never Pay Full Price 
In Star Wars Episode I, Qui Gon Jinn (a Jedi) was unable to use his Jedi mind tricks on Watto, a junk dealer, to get parts for his broken ship.  Instead he had to make a deal for the parts, and at the same time was able to free Anakin Skywalker from being a slave for Watto.

If you are trying to live a modest Jedi lifestyle, then don’t pay full price for anything. I think we are all familiar with the extreme couponers that are able to bring $500 in groceries down to 12 cents.  For me that is a little extreme, but I take full advantage of coupon apps that allow me to load my coupons from my phone directly onto my store club card.  I also know people that have a separate email account just to sign up for emails where they do frequent shopping.  Those retailers will typically inform you of special sales or provide you with coupons via email.  But be careful that you don’t start buying unnecessary items just because you saw it on sale -- that is another path to the dark side.

Lastly, instituting the ancient art of haggling like Qui Gon Jinn can bring significant savings.  Things I have been able to haggle for a lower price include: my car, a mattress, a dryer, and a car stereo.  Most items can be haggled for a lower price.  I worked at a grocery store for 9 years and discounted many different items for people.

Keep in mind some haggling tips: be courteous and establish a relationship with the sales rep and explain why you want the discount (small item defect, longtime customer, buying multiple big ticket items, previous bad customer experience, sale price for the item at a competitor).  Haggling can be tough for some people, but there are plenty of savings to be had this way.

Always Be Prepared for the Unexpected
The Death Star was a space station with enough power to destroy a whole plant.  It was created by the evil Emperor and Darth Vader with the intention of gaining ultimate power over the entire galaxy.  The Death Star had only one small weakness, and the chances of exploiting this weakness were minimal.  Therefore Darth Vader never considered having Death Star Insurance or an emergency fund.  When Luke Skywalker was able to exploit the Death Stars weakness and destroy it, Darth Vader had to start building a smaller version of the original Death Star.

Like many of you, I dislike paying my insurance premiums every month.  From the age of 16 through the age of 29 I paid my auto insurance without a single claim.  Then last year my wife had a minor accident, and even with the small amount of damage there was, we were certainly grateful we had insurance to help pay for the repairs. With a 5 year old a home and another on the way, we are also glad for our employer- sponsored health insurance, because anyone with small children knows they can be little petri dishes.

For all those other situations that arise that are not covered by insurance, an emergency fund will help keep your head above the water.  I make sure that our emergency fund is easily accessible in a liquid account in the event that we need it.  Although the account isn’t earning a high return, that is not the point of an emergency fund.  It is up to you to decide how much is enough for your fund, but many experts will say between 3 months to a year’s worth of living expenses is needed.  Had Darth Vader had an emergency fund, he would have been able to defeat the Rebel Alliance.

Being the Star Wars geek that I am, I make it a point to watch all six episodes once a year.  At two hours a piece, it takes just 12 hours a year to keep out of debt by living within my means, never paying full price for my wants, and avoiding financial disaster.  When it comes to improving your finances take the correct path as laid out by Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try."

This post was written by Chris Kamp, a Field Education Representative from Colorado PERA. 

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