Yeah, yeah, this should have been a Halloween post. Oh well. It’s not really Halloween-related anyway.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook (and if not, why not?), you probably know I’m
obsessed with a huge fan of The Walking Dead. It is literally the only show I watch on TV. Ever. For those of you who haven’t seen it, basically a zombie apocalypse has swept the United States, and the show chronicles a group of survivors trying to figure out what comes next.
When the first season aired last fall, I was completely uninterested. I’m not really into the whole zombie/vampire thing that seems to be so popular right now. But my son asked me to watch the marathon leading up to the finale with him, so I agreed. And I was shocked to find that I LOVED the show. It’s not about the zombies (or “walkers” as the characters refer to them); it’s about the people who are trying so hard to cling to a “normal” life when everything has changed.
Anyway, last night I was gearing up for the latest episode when I realized I can totally talk about personal finance AND my fave show at the same time! (After all, finance can be compared to anything. Don’t believe me? Check out how it relates to cross dressing.) Here are a few elements of The Walking Dead that can teach us some great financial lessons.
1. The things you own are the least of your worries.
When the zombie apocalypse hit on the show, you wouldn’t believe how many people loaded down their cars with junk before they tried to escape. One of two things happened: Either they were eaten by zombies while stuck in the resulting traffic jam, or they had to abandon pretty much everything to escape. Practical items, like weapons and food, have proven useful for the survivors, but there would probably be a lot more survivors if so many people hadn’t wasted time. The people who are left couldn’t care less about stuff - they’re more worried about making sure their family and friends are safe.
What you can take away: I’m not saying we all need to live some minimalist lifestyle. But if disaster strikes, the things you need close to you won’t be gadgets or expensive clothes. Put those things aside for awhile to cultivate good relationships with your neighbors, family, and friends. You never know when one of them might save your life, or when you could save theirs.
2. It’s a good idea to know some basic life skills.
The survivors on The Walking Dead are all pretty savvy in their own ways. You’ve got the two cops, who obviously know how to use guns and aren’t afraid to make snap decisions. You’ve got the wise older dude who stays calm when everyone else is freaking out. There’s the younger guy who is brave/dumb enough to do things that many in the group wouldn’t. And of course, my favorite – the redneck guy who knows how to survive on next to nothing and follow tracks in the woods. Each character brings unique skills and experiences to the group, and that’s why they’re still alive when so many around them are zombie food.
What you can take away: What if you need something repaired and there is no one who knows how, no matter how much you’re able to pay? What if all modern conveniences disappeared overnight? Do you know how you would survive if money suddenly became useless? When I was a teenager, my dad insisted I learn how to change the oil in my car and change a tire. I whined at the time, but now I’m glad I learned. If zombies are chasing me, I’d like to think a flat tire isn’t going to signal the end of my life. We all pay for conveniences, but it’s smart to know how to make it without them. Just in case.
3. If you want to survive, you have to think ahead.
When I watch The Walking Dead, I’m constantly yelling at the TV, “REALLY?!?!? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???” like the cast can hear me. Yet, for the most part, their decisions end up making sense later. For instance, when a child goes missing, the group only searches for a brief time before deciding to resume the next day. And I’m going, Hello? Missing kid and you’re going to bed?? But the characters know what I’m not considering – darkness makes it harder to see. And easier to get separated from the group and eaten by walkers.
What you can take away: We aren’t always able to see the larger implications of what we do in the present. We are conditioned to think about NOW, and a 911 situation like a zombie apocalypse would probably heighten that type of thinking. But the people who weather impossible situations are the ones who are able to consider the long term – most situations are temporary, and we have the ability to improve or worsen them with our actions. The good financial choices you make today will make tomorrow easier, even if it doesn’t seem that way right now.
4. Sometimes you have to put yourself first.
Some of the most heart-wrenching moments on the show are those when a character does something awful but necessary, like last season when one of them had to shoot her own sister, who had been bitten by a zombie. Or last week, when one of the characters had to choose between the lives of two people (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet). I’ve never been in a situation where I had to choose my own life over someone else’s, and I hope I never am.
What you can take away: You don’t have to wait for a life or death circumstance to put yourself first. Many of us feel compelled to take care of others before ourselves, which isn’t a bad thing. But you don’t have to feel guilty for putting away money for emergencies or saving for retirement. It’s okay to buy your kids a couple of things they really like for Christmas instead of a million gifts under the tree. So much of our spending comes from trying to make others happy, but it’s simply unnecessary. If people need your money to be happy, there’s something wrong with THEM. Do what you need to for yourself and your family – if the world goes crazy, you won’t have time to worry about everyone else anyway.
There you go – some finance lessons from The Walking Dead. I know some of you don’t watch the show, but hopefully you can still see the value in finding personal finance epiphanies in the most random places. And if you’re now interested in watching, let me know so we can discuss it on Twitter and Facebook!