Personal Finance Lessons From Star Wars

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Star WarsWith the excitement around Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, released December 18, we have revisited six previous Star Wars films and their characters’ adventures in a galaxy far, far away. We discovered many personal finance lessons that reflect the advice we offer here every day.

Take a look. May the force be with you — and your wallet.

How to Buy Used Robots

Early in the original Star Wars film, young Luke Skywalker and his Uncle Owen bought one of the galaxy’s finest robots — R2D2. But it wasn’t easy. They had to bargain with the jawas on used droid prices, and one of their selections blew up as it began to roll toward them. Uncle Owen expressed skepticism with the jawas’ products, and they quickly responded by offering R2D2 as a replacement.

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip: Yes, you, too, can buy your own used robot these days. But just as Luke and Uncle Owen discovered, it’s best to see your robot in action before you buy. The Kiplinger Letter forecasts that more companies will let you take robots for a quick test drive. San Francisco-based Lumoid, for instance, lets users try out drones. Other companies offer robot rentals for parties or conferences.

Used Cars Can Be Great Values

Also in the original film, as Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker hurry to leave the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, they must quickly raise funds to pay for their transportation aboard the Millenium Falcon. Luke negotiates the sale of his landspeeder with a vendor, but is saddened by how quickly the value of his model has fallen since new models came to market.

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip:
When you buy a new vehicle, depreciation slices up to 20% off the value in the first year. Choose used, and someone else — in this case, Luke — takes that financial hit.

Big Debts Can Be a (Budget) Killer

Han Solo spends Episode 4 (the original film) running from Jabba the Hutt, a crime boss to whom he owes money; he is eventually captured in Episode 5 and handed over to bounty hunter Boba Fett. To begin Episode 6, we find our friend Han hanging on Jabba’s wall, frozen in carbonite, as a warning to those who owe money to Jabba.

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip:
It’s incredibly easy to stumble into a debt trap that will lead you into a downward spiral of indebtedness. All it takes is a brief lapse in judgment. Opening a new credit card account without understanding the interest rates and fees, or the implications for your credit score, is just one example.

Try to avoid such debt traps in the first place. But extricating yourself from debt doesn’t require an action plot and special effects. Sometimes in the fight against debt, the money’s actually there: It’s simply a matter of crafting a budget, reining in your spending and funneling more of your income to pay down the debts. Other people need to get creative — and work even harder — to bring in extra money to tackle their debt.

Don’t Gamble With Your Future

In Episode 1, The Phantom Menace, Qui Gon Jinn bets his spaceship that Anakin will win a pod-race in order to free Anakin from Watto, a slimy merchant for whom Anakin provides valuable slave labor. After Anakin wins the race, Watto says, “You swindled me. I lost everything.” Qui Gon replies, “Whenever you gamble my friend, eventually you lose.”

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip:
In Knight Kiplinger’s 8 Keys to Financial Security, he tells us, “In investing, as in baseball, those who swing for the fences do hit the occasional home run. But they strike out a lot too, and their lifetime batting average — average annual total return — suffers accordingly. So shy away from highly volatile stocks, Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), buying on margin and commodity trading. Don’t try to time markets, because no one does it consistently well. Use dollar-cost averaging to invest regularly in markets good, bad and lackluster. Have the patience to wait out the occasional (and inevitable) bear markets.”

Risky Jobs Can Pay Big Bucks

Bounty hunting — a dangerous form of contract work — is a way of life for many characters in the Star Wars films. In Episode 2, Attack of the Clones, Zam the bounty hunter is hired to kill Queen Amidala. The reward for completing the assignment is lucrative, but the task itself contains great risk. Obi Wan and Anakin discover her attempting to plant killing bugs in the Queen’s bed and chase her through the streets of Coruscant. She ultimately falls to her death in her attempt to escape from the Jedi in pursuit.

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip: If you’re going to take a risky job, you should at least get compensated handsomely for it. A couple years ago, we crunched the numbers on injuries, fatalities and salaries to identify ten occupations offering fat paychecks that more than make up for the elevated risks. And because no career is worth dying for, we tried to favor those with low incidences of on-the-job fatalities. Top earners in many of these fields can enjoy six-figure salaries, in some cases even without college degrees.

Small, Steady Contributions Can Grow Into a Sizable Stash

The rise of the Empire did not happen overnight. It took long-term planning that only became evident to our Jedi heroes when it was too late. In Episode 2, Attack of the Clones, Obi Wan visits the Kaminoans to investigate an assassin who tried to kill him; he discovers that this assassin was the model for more than 200,000 clones in production. The Empire soon takes control of the galaxy, largely due to the use of Stormtroopers, a clone army amassed over 10 years.

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip:
If you’re decades from retirement, contributions to a 401(k) or other retirement plan will have years to compound and grow. Even a modest contribution now will pack a much greater wallop than a significantly larger contribution when you’re in your forties and fifties.

If you start socking away $200 a month in a retirement account from the moment you land your first full-time job at age 22, within ten years you’ll have a stash of more than 37,000 Stormtroopers… er, dollars. That assumes your investments grow 8% a year. In 20 years, you’ll have more than $122,000, and by the time you reach age 67, your nest egg will be worth $1.2 million.

Getting Hitched Makes for a Bigger, Stronger Portfolio

In Episode 6, Return of the Jedi, our heroic band of rebels need help to bring down the shield protecting the Empire’s new Death Star. They find a willing group of partners in the Ewoks, who have seen the Empire take over their forest-moon home. What the Ewoks lack in size and strength, they more than make up for in numbers, courage and sheer ingenuity. As the Ewoks battle the guards, Princess Leia and Han are able to slip into the facility. Faced with more resistance from Empire Stormtroopers, a couple of Ewoks help Chewbacca take out the opposition and get the rebels a step closer to taking down the Empire.

Kiplinger’s Jedi tip: Marriage conveys 1,138 tax breaks, benefits and protections (such as guaranteed medical leave to care a family member), according to the Human Rights Campaign. And, together, a couple has the ability to balance their overall risk profile by investing as a team. By taking a big-picture view of investments and making sure the overall asset allocation is appropriate for age and goals, a couple can balance their portfolio with different but complementary strategies.

QUIZ: Are You Saving Enough for Retirement?

(Source: Tribune Content Agency, LLC)