Lessons from Game of Thrones: When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned, How to Prepare for Your Financial Future

Our world today is not nearly as dramatic, brutal, or feudalistic as Game of Thrones (GoT), but life comes at you fast. Are you ready money-wise? Being both a GoT and a finance nerd, I can’t help but see the common lessons, as the key life events of human existence still prevail.

Since most of us don’t have the Iron Bank behind us, we need to plan for circumstances in addition to retirement, such as surges of expenses like weddings, loss of income from starting a family, or both like in some cases of moving, and most importantly loss of loved ones, for instance, like Cersei or Ellaria.

Some of these are difficult hypotheticals, but are necessary considerations to make sure that your future is not in jeopardy. So are you ready to plan for these life changes?

1. Sailing for Westeros – Secret Toast or Sticker Shock

(Spoiler Alert) Team Daenerys’ plans are not going as triumphantly as planned, but the story needed some balance of power to stay artistically interesting. Even if you never wanted to “retake the Iron Throne,” make sure to account for a relocation somewhere in your financial plan.

This may include taking a pay cut (“Winter is here”), starting your own business (“Gold wins wars”), or moving to a more expensive city (Kings Landing). While a move may not be as grave as what Dany is experiencing – your allies captured and armada destroyed – without a relocation allowance it can sometimes tap out your savings.

Where you live and work are part of the “human capital factors” that should be accounted for. For instance, if you’re moving to the Silicon Valley to work for a tech company, your “total capital” including paycheck (bond-like risk), home (real estate risk), and employee options (stock-like risk) are largely driven by the technology sector. To the extent your work still plays a leading role in your financial future, where you live, your job stability, and industry concentration are essential considerations for all the working generations.

2. Purple, Red, White Weddings – Who’s Paying For It?

Game of Thrones weddings are often treacherous, but you can still sniff warnings from the money aspects. Olenna Tyrell reluctantly split the cost of “the purple wedding” while concealing a darker plot; Catelyn and Robb Stark were so trusting as to bring a pregnant bride into a wedding hosted by Walder Frey, with whom they had broken a promise; and Sansa Stark was in such despair and so isolated by Little Finger that she accepted a shoddy ceremony – if she had gone along more with her “princess” instincts, she could have fled Ramsay Bolton’s brutality earlier.
For most millennials, however, our princess instincts are on the other extreme: grand visions of walking down the aisle among copious roses have already been deeply rooted in our minds – thanks to Disney, the royal family, and reality TV. Once a wedding is on the table, it’s almost impossible to stay within budget, even for the most financially educated couples since it’s such an emotional, once-in-a-life time decision! The cost of a wedding these days could easily be equivalent to a nice car or a down payment for a home.

For those with young kids, perhaps there is still hope to instill more financially-sound and smaller alternatives such as city-hall and a small dinner or an “elopement” that combines the honeymoon and a simple nuptial in one. Hopefully 360 cameras and VR/AR can provide an amazing live-stream experience so we can all save some travel ordeal. This way you can re-budget the wedding expenses to your other wants and needs.

While you knew this day was coming, it may not have occurred to you how much damage your dream will do to your bank accounts. The bottom line, which is consistent with Olenna’s relevant point for a less extravagant affair – a wedding may not be worth going into debt for.

3. Raising the Wolf Pack

My not-so-appropriate takeaways from this morbid show is: procreation may have unexpected benefits. Why? Everyone: the Targaryens, the Lannisters, the Martells, the Greyjoys, and the Tyrells can now only be jealous of the Starks, since none of them made as many babies. I’m not recommending at all that everyone should have a lot of kids, but this takeaway is likely the back-firing of an only child under China’s strictly enforced one-child policy.

Starting a family can often be not as easy as expected or way sooner than you wanted. Whether it is planning for the day-to-day cost of another mouth to feed or the costs associated with trying to conceive, there are a lot of moving parts to consider. Adoption, IVF, or surrogacy, whichever may be the journey you are after, are all costly and often taxing on your physical and mental health, as well as your relationship as spouses; not to mention, at least one parents’ income maybe reduced.

Many couples move to cheaper and more family friendly neighborhoods. If you are not planning to pay $15,000-$50,000 each year for private schools for all your future kids, it might be a good idea to buy in a great public school district before the home prices run away from you. And then there is still college tuition! Don’t you wish you had Samwell Tarly as your house maester so that both education and health care would be all taken care of?

4. Valar Morghulis

Nothing is more morbid than the death toll in Game of Thrones, an interpretation of Valar morghulis (“all men must die”) gone awry. Please forgive me for bringing up my last but not the least sentimental topic – losing our loved ones.

Any life and death situation is emotionally devastating, and it can also be strenuous on your financial life. Although the conversations are not the most enjoyable for yourself or whoever is advising you, just think about how Robert Baratheon’s private affairs cost his best friend’s life and sent the kingdom in turmoil.
As parents, the minimum is to have a living will in order (there are lots of tech tools to share your critical documents and keep them safe), if not a life insurance policy, a trust, a budget for funeral, or at the very least no debt. As children, Eastern values call for us to take good care of our parents in their twilight years, while Western financial innovation offers “deferred annuities” that you can buy for your parents.

I think this is an area where financial advisors can add value, especially when we can have a calm discussion before anything bad happens, because then we may also need a psychologist present to calm us down from grief and make cogent decisions. With sensitivity and pre-planning, you can navigate your life in the absence of your loved ones.

Like Arya Stark and many other Game of Thrones characters, most of us can bounce back from hardship. But our life is not a fantasy drama, and it’s much better if we can preclude some of these foreseeable yet unpredictable challenges altogether. By understanding changes in our “human capital factors” as we open new chapters in life, we can ensure a good life and legacy for our families. Valar dohaeris.

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