As a personal finance writer, I believe that money lessons can be found just about anywhere. That’s how I’ve come to write articles like “10 Personal Finance Lessons From the Iditarod” and “8 Personal Finance Lessons From ‘Gotterdammerung.’”
This time around, I’m tackling “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Yes, money wisdom really does exist in and among all the stuff that gets blowed up real good.
A wisecracking raccoon, a space rogue, an alien thug and green-skinned assassin can help you learn to control your cash!
The gang’s all here again: Semi-repentant space pirate Peter Quill, Rocket the genetically modified raccoon (one of the modifications is a really smart mouth), hulking (and always shirtless!) alien Drax, and green-skinned female assassin Gamora. Together, these ragtag interstellar misfits make a living by their wits, when they aren’t dodging the blasters of those who’d prefer them dead.
Fortunately, the Guardians have their own infantry. Or, rather, an infant tree: Groot, the talking trunk destroyed in the previous film, has come back to life as a teeny li’l sapling that pretty much steals any scene in which he appears. Yes, he really is as cute (and clueless) as he seemed in the film trailers; so adorable, in fact, that a bunch of vicious space thugs can’t bring themselves to murder him.
But what could squeaking seedlings and gun-toting raccoons possibly have to do with personal finance? I’m so glad you ask
Be a late adopter. Quill is still using a Walkman and the awesome mix tapes his mother gave him a quarter of a century earlier. It still works, so why trade it in? (Sure, the tapes should have shredded by now and it’s unlikely that AA batteries are sold in outer space but that comes under the heading of the willing suspension of disbelief.)
Similarly, you should get out of the habit of frequent upgrades. Who cares if your iWhatever is the latest model? As long as the old one works, keep it. The money you keep shelling out for new iterations is money that can’t work for you in other ways. That, friend, is opportunity cost.
Look for the best deal. Ultimately Peter does upgrade, when someone gives him a new piece of music technology. It turns out that the device was picked up in “a junk shop.”
Hey, some people like going to thrift stores for the stuff they need and want. Or pawn shops, especially for jewelry. Or yard sales. Don’t turn your nose up at used goods. And if you want brand-new stuff, use a price comparison site like Pricegrabber or NexTag to keep costs reasonable
Try a little DIY. After a “really bad landing,” the spaceship is in two or three pieces. Rocket patches it together and ultimately, it flies again. Of course, he had no choice – no spaceship dealers on this uninhabited planet. But even if there had been, you get the sense that this group flies its boats until the wings fall off (or are torn off by those really bad landings).
Not everyone is super-handy. Yet you might be surprised how simple it can be to fix certain items. The next time your garbage disposal grinds to a halt or your toilet keeps running and running, do a teeny bit of research before calling a repairperson. YouTube videos or sites like FixAToilet.com might save you a chunk of cash.
Learn to accept help. Rocket helps Peter out of jam after jam. Gamora helps her sister out of a burning wreck (which may or may not be a good idea, since Sis wants to kill her). Drax helps the infant Groot (did I mention how cute he is?) when he’s tired and needs to rest. Peter helps Gamora learn to dance. And so on and so on.
Just about everybody needs help at some point. If it’s offered, don’t be too proud to say “yes.” Suppose your car breaks down and you don’t have a big-enough emergency fund to cover the repairs in cash. Rather than put it on plastic, consider taking the $500 your brother offers to lend. Focus on paying him back rather than worrying about the mounting interest on your credit card. (And after that? Get going on that emergency fund!)
If it sounds too good to be true… Peter is given an opportunity that looks, well, just about perfect. He badly wants to believe his luck has changed, and as a result turns off his inner manure detector. Worse, he ignores warnings of a trusted friend.
Keep your own detector finely honed and running at all times. You’ll need it should an old college pal offer you the “investment opportunity” of a lifetime. Otherwise, you might learn that he Madoff with your money.
Or maybe your kid wants you to cosign his student loans so he can go to one of the priciest universities in the universe. You love your kid and want what’s best for him, but remember: You can’t finance retirement.
Choose your own path. Should Peter take advantage of the chance to work with his long-lost father? This would be a great way to get to know the dude. Of course, there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?)
Maybe you’re expected to go into the family business, or merely to become what your parents desire (“Our family has always been in construction/medicine/the legal field”). But if it isn’t a good fit, don’t do it. A woman I know was really good at science and math, and had been told for years that she was going to be an engineer. She even became one, for a while. But she didn’t like it, and ultimately went into another line of work: Years of education, down the drain.
Use resources wisely. At one point it seems that Peter’s half-alien heritage could result in unusual powers. Does he immediately think of all the ways he could help the world? Nuh-uh. Among the things he wants to create: an 800-foot-tall statue of PacMan. Heather Locklear’s name gets mentioned, as well.
If you get a great new job, or a raise at your current gig, don’t buy a timeshare or an expensive new car. While it’s OK to treat yourself, don’t spend more than 10 percent of your new money doing so. Think of the bigger picture – debt payoff, retirement planning and the like – and don’t squander your resources.
Know your worth. When it becomes apparent that the Guardians will be saving the galaxy for a second time, Rocket gleefully gloats that they can now raise their price for future gigs.
But seriously, we should all know our worth. Whether you’re setting prices as a freelancer or negotiating a raise at your day job, don’t undervalue your services. Do some research and determine a fair paycheck for the work you do.
Read more: 5 ways to spring clean your finances
Donna Freedman has been writing about personal finance since 2007, when she created the Smart Spending blog for MSN Money. The author of “Your Playbook For Tough Times” and its soon-to-be-released sequel, she holds forth at DonnaFreedman.com.