Game of Thrones.
Love it or hate it, this popular HBO series contains a wealth (pun intended) of very important social and economic lessons that we’d all do well to pay attention to.
Just like in the real world, the rise and fall of the different Houses vying for the throne is intertwined with money. In fact, Game of Thrones is somewhat unique in just how important the financial planning of the characters is to the various plot-lines.
So, just how real is this fantasy?
Here are 10 money lessons from Game of Thrones and their real-life implication to your finances.
1. Winter is Coming
“Winter is coming,” the motto of House Stark.
While the meaning behind this dark foreboding is of vigilance and preparation for the harsh winters of the north, we would do well to apply this same principle to money.
The seasons of Westeros are unpredictable in their duration, the summer season at the beginning of the series having lasted 10 years. With such a long summer, it was predicted that the coming winter would last as long or longer.
You’d better have quite the stores piled up if you hope to survive a 10-year winter in the north.
Just as the members of House Stark preach preparation for the coming winter, you would be wise to prepare yourself for a financial winter by paying off debt and building up savings.
Like the winters of Westeros, you never know when a financial pitfall will hit, or for how long it will last. Having a healthy store of savings, as well as little liabilities, will prepare you to survive even the longest of financial winters.
Everyone hopes for long summers and mild, short winters, but it’s much better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
No matter how careful you are, an unforeseen event will eventually impact your finances.
Winter is coming, prepare for what’s ahead.
2. A Lannister Always Pays His Debts
The unofficial motto of House Lannister.
While this line often took on a more sinister meaning in the series, the underlying principle remained the same.
The House of Lannister was well-known for paying their debts, both monetarily and otherwise, which allowed them more leeway in continually borrowing, buying, or coercing whatever they wanted throughout the series. Whether it was money, men, favors, or protection, the promise of a Lannister was always good enough to strike a deal (that and their rumored stores of gold).
Simply put, the Lannister’s were running with a credit score of 850 at the Iron Bank.
The real-world application of always paying your debts is good credit, along with more and better opportunities to accrue more credit. Handling your debts responsibly builds trust with lenders, who are then more willing to work with you when you come looking for your next loan.
Having good credit opens doors to better interest rates and more favorable loan terms, which saves you money on the debts you do have to accrue.
The risk here is accruing more debt than you can pay, just as the Lannister’s began to do toward the end of the series. As Cersei began to find out, good credit is something you must continue to nourish and sustain if you want to continue to reap the benefits.
Reputation alone will only last for so long.
3. Don’t Try to Keep Up with the Lannister’s…er…Jones’s
Aside from always paying their debts, the Lannister’s have a well-established reputation as the Jones’s of Westeros.
Rich and powerful, the seat of House Lannister at Casterly Rock literally sits atop a goldmine. Such is their reputation for wealth that the head of the House, Lord Tywin, is said to “s*** gold.”
But as is so often the case with the Jones’s of the real world, the Lannister’s are carrying a dark money secret: they’re broke.
Tywin reveals to Queen Cersei in Season 4 that the gold mines that have sustained their wealth for decades have dried up, leaving them in serious debt with the Iron Bank of Braavos. By all appearances, the Lannister’s still look to be as wealthy as ever, an act they sustain through reputation and bravado.
As in the real world, appearances can be deceiving. People you may be envious of for their possessions and social status may be funding that lifestyle with debt.
Whether real or imagined wealth, living beyond your means in order to keep up with the Jones’s will only lead to debt and financial hardship for yourself.
4. Any Man Who Must Say “I am king” is no True King
Along the same lines as not keeping up with the Jones’s, anyone who must flaunt their possessions isn’t truly wealthy.
We all know someone who constantly flaunts the things they have, and many people spend a tremendous amount of money putting up the appearance of wealth. They have an expensive car, wear brand name clothes, and carry the newest technology.
More often than not, these people also carry a tremendous amount of debt and are on thin financial ice as a result.
It’s become easier than ever to portray a false life with the explosion of social media, and we’ve bred a culture that constantly strives to gain as much attention as possible for their “things.”
But, how realistic are the lives portrayed on social media?
Beware the person who constantly says, “look at me and what I have.” Because, like a man who must say they are king, they likely have no real foundation to base it on.
5. Choose Your Debt (and Debtors) Wisely
It’s a foregone conclusion that all of us will owe a debt at some point in our lives. Unless you’re extraordinarily wealthy, you simply don’t have the liquid funds lying around to purchase a car or a house, or any other large ticket item, out of pocket.
While taking advantage of credit isn’t a bad thing, you would be wise to choose your level of debt and those you borrow from with care. Not all lenders are created equally, and no lender is your friend.
Lenders make money when you pay interest, so the more debt you have, the more money they make.
The main lender in Game of Thrones is the Iron Bank of Braavos, to which the Lannister’s end up owing a tremendous amount of money. As the name suggests, the Iron Bank is not an institution to be trifled with, and one that always collects on its debts.
In fact, Tywin Lannister’s description of the Iron Bank is remarkably accurate for our real-world lenders. He says, “We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it. You can’t run from them. You can’t cheat them. You can’t sway them with excuses. If you owe them money, and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.”
While our modern-day lenders won’t “fund your enemies” to collect on your debts, the consequences of not paying debts often leads to bankruptcy and financial ruin, severely limiting your ability to better your life.
Think carefully before getting yourself into unnecessary debt, because “One way or another, they always get their gold back.”
6. Have an Estate Plan
One of the most important, but overlooked, money lessons from Game of Thrones is that you must have an estate plan.
After all, the death of the king is the catalyst for almost everything that happens in the entire series!
If only King Robert had had an estate plan.
Actually, he tried to, it was just too late in the game.
Knowing that his heir (who it turns out isn’t even really his son) was not fit for the throne, Robert attempts to give power to his friend and Hand of the King, Lord Eddard Stark. Robert knows that Ned would be a better ruler than he and hopes that he will also be able to teach young Joffrey how to be a good king.
Unfortunately for Ned, Robert writes down his wishes with only Ned present, and while on his deathbed. Even when presented a letter with the seal of the king, Queen Cersei is easily able to declare it a fraud and have Ned imprisoned, and later, killed.
With no clear succession plan in place, and the legitimacy of the new King Joffrey in question, multiple men and women are able to lay legitimate claims to the Iron Throne.
Thus begins the Game of Thrones, and years of brutal war.
The lesson here? Have a clear plan for inheritance in place long before you may need it, and make sure the plan has legal backing.
If we’ve learned nothing else from Game of Thrones, it’s that it’s not good when heirs begin fighting over the estate.
7. Build a Nest Egg and Keep It
Yet another money lesson from Game of Thrones is that success will come from building yourself a nest egg.
Or in this case, dragon eggs.
Daenerys Targaryen doesn’t have much, but what she does have pays major dividends in the end.
For her wedding, Daenerys is given 3 extremely rare and valuable dragon eggs. When her husband dies, and her fortunes fall, she’s left with nothing but a few loyal friends and the newly hatched dragons. Many attempts are made to entice her into giving up her nest eggs – including the money, army, and ships she needs to return to Westeros and challenge for the Iron Throne – but each time she resists.
Just like a real-life nest egg, Daenerys knows that the bigger the dragons grow, the more value and power they give her. Eventually, the dragons grow into adults and she is able to leverage their power to reach her goals.
The moral? Build yourself a good nest egg and watch it grow. Who knows, it just might hatch into a dragon someday.
8. Always Stay Actively Involved in Your Finances
Many of us are assisted by financial planners, but a large number of people have no idea what’s going on with their money or where it’s being spent.
The later is the fate of the crown in Game of Thrones, where for years all financial planning has been left to Petyr Baelish, the Master of Coin. Especially after the death of the King, Queen Cersei repeatedly commands Baelish to make things happen monetarily.
Unbeknownst to her, Baelish is fully aware of the fall of the Lannister fortune and has been actively exacerbating the problem by putting the crown in increasing debt with the Iron Bank in order to serve his own ambitions.
No matter their intentions or compensation, no one will be as concerned about your interests as you are because it’s not their money. You should never leave your interests in the hands of others without heavy involvement, nor should you ignore your financial situation.
Whether you have a strong financial portfolio or a mountain of debt, financial out of sight out of mind is not a smart way to handle your money.
9. Real Estate is One Path to Wealth
Yet another subtle money lesson contained in Game of Thrones is that land equals wealth, and as a result, power.
It’s no coincidence that Margaery Tyrell is chosen to marry both King Joffrey and his younger brother, King Tommen (even after she had already been married to Renly Baratheon, a challenger to the throne).
The Tyrells are loaded!
House Tyrell holds a vast amount of fertile land and can produce a great amount of food and resources. These goods become especially important following several years of war and the onslaught of winter, as the majority of the rest of the cropland in Westeros has already been destroyed.
With the goldmines having long run dry, the Lannister’s look to align their House with the Tyrells in order to ensure their access to wealth continues.
Although owning land for growing food is now mostly reserved for ranchers and farmers, owning real estate is still a popular way to accumulate wealth. Owning multiple residences allows you to pay your mortgages through renters, often with a little left over for profit every month.
Not only is your mortgage paid by your renters, the value of the property itself increases over time. After 20 years you may find yourself owning a substantially more valuable piece of property that you paid very little out of pocket for.
Now, multiply that property by 4 or 5 and you have a considerable number of assets to supplement your income either through continued rent or sale.
The key with real estate is to buy and hold. Yes, the market ebbs and flows, but over the course of many years property values will steadily increase.
Real estate investing is a win-win as long as you can stand being a landlord.
10. Knowledge is Power
Finally, the least obvious money lesson from Game of Thrones is that knowledge is power.
We see over and over throughout the course of the series that mind bests muscle every time. Petyr Baelish uses cunning and knowledge to manipulate and better himself, maesters are continually looked to for guidance, and Tyrion is always able to come out on top despite his physical limitations.
“I drink, and I know things.”
Knowledge is power in any realm, but especially so in the world of finance. Despite finance impacting every aspect of our lives, relatively few people truly understand how basic financial concepts and institutions work.
What you don’t know will hurt you, and so it’s important to continue to arm yourself with knowledge of finance throughout your life. Make sure you are thoroughly educated and understand what you are doing BEFORE making any big financial decisions. Also make sure you have a basic understand of everyday financial concepts, as little things do add up when it comes to money.
We make decisions about our money daily, so make sure you know exactly what decisions you’re making.
Moral of the Story
On the surface, Game of Thrones appears to be nothing more than a violence-packed medieval fantasy.
But one hit from a Valyrian steel blade soon reveals that Game of Thrones carries some heavy financial lessons. In fact, financial planning and money management play a leading role in the series and can easily be applied to real life.
No matter what House you’re rooting for, we can all agree on the sound financial principles they employ.
Always be on the lookout and prepared for financial winter, pay your debts and choose them wisely, have an estate plan, and building a nest (dragon) egg are only some of the money lessons you’ll find in this award-winning series.
But most of all, arm yourself with the financial knowledge to successfully navigate money throughout your life.
If you don’t, you will know nothing, like Jon Snow.
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