I saw “Guardians of the Galaxy” for the second time today. Still funny! It’s an outer-space oater for sure, with good guys and bad guys and a real cowboy ethic: big guns, big deeds, big trouble, big payoff.
There’s a hint of the TV series “Firefly” here, with folks living by the seats of their pants on the edge of the frontier. Laws, where they exist, are really just lifestyle options. And if you get caught? Bust your way out of custody and get the heck out of Dodge.
Except that this time there’s nowhere safe to go: The possibility of intergalactic doom forces a ragtag group of misfits to quit looking out for themselves and band together to save multiple worlds.
Given my line of work, I decided to go looking for personal finance lessons in among the attitude and the exploding spaceships.
1. Assemble a good team
On the surface this is not the slickest outfit in town: a thief, a talking tree, a wisecracking raccoon, a green-skinned female assassin and a muscle-bound alien thirsting for revenge. Yet their varied talents complement one another and move them toward a (reluctantly) shared goal.
Suppose you design great projects or write killer code, but you aren’t so great at client interaction or social media. If so, concentrate on your strengths and surround yourself with people who can take care of everything else.
On that note …
2. Judge performance, not appearance
It’s hard to take a tough guy seriously when he’s a genetically modified raccoon. However, he wields a mean blaster and is nine-tenths of the group’s brain trust. Rocket is able to hack into a prison security system or create weaponry out of whatever he finds lying around. When he talks, everyone listens.
Similarly, that really shy co-worker who writes the killer code might be just the person for your new project. So what if she’s socially awkward? Look at her abilities rather than her wardrobe or the number of friends on her Facebook page.
3. Classics endure
Peter’s late mother gave him a mix tape of favorite music from her youth. The sounds of groups like Redbone, The Jackson 5, Blue Swede and 10cc keep him connected to his mom, soothe him when he’s stressed and also provide a pretty good soundtrack to lizard-stomping. The old tunes stay with us for the long haul.
So does the old advice: Spend less than you earn, build an emergency fund, save for retirement and – my personal favorite – if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Sure, some people will make fun of your frugality. Others may try to lure you into get-rich-quick schemes. Investigate various ways to grow your wealth, but don’t lose sight of the classic rules.
That said …
4. Good sense trumps sentiment — or should
Peter nearly loses his life when he ducks back into a dangerous area to rescue that mix tape. Bad idea, right?
It’s also a bad idea to stick with your parents’ insurance agent instead of shopping for a better deal. Or to invest in a friend’s poorly planned start-up. Or to keep the old family home even though it’s expensive and hard to maintain. Or to … . Well, you get the idea. Staying stuck in the past can affect your present – and your future.
5. Don’t be afraid to shift gears
Aside from Groot and Rocket, the Guardians were all lone wolves. They worked best singly — or so they thought. When forced to throw in together, they find strengths they didn’t know they had and gain rewards they never could have imagined.
So how’s your life working out? Maybe you became a lawyer because everyone said it meant big money, but the long hours are killing your family/personal life. Perhaps you went into engineering but now realize you’d really rather be teaching or working for a nonprofit.
Search your soul, do tons of research and make the best decision you can. Maybe that means jumping ship in six months. But it might also mean hanging in there for a specific reason, e.g., “in three years our last child finishes college.”
6. Play by the rules
Peter makes a living as a “Ravager,” i.e., a thief, smuggler and interstellar pirate who never has to punch a clock and can make some pretty big bucks. On the other hand, people like him can never stay anywhere very long, because they have enemies – or arrest warrants – just about everyplace.
Sometimes it seems that the shameless and/or unethical people and institutions will inherit the Earth. It can be so tempting to bend the rules or dance past the edge of legal. After all, everyone else does.
Sure. Except that you could end up in jail or maybe even bankrupt. Morally bankrupt, anyway. Your third-grade teacher was right about cheating: You only hurt yourself.
7. Don’t let past trauma hold you back
The alien Gamora watches her parents die and then is tortured and physically modified until she becomes the perfect killing machine. For years she operates obediently, until one day her oppressor’s plans become too monstrous even for a brainwashed assassin to accept.
So you lost your shirt in the stock market during the last recession? Don’t let it stop you from diversifying your portfolio. Putting all your money in one place is just not smart.
8. Lost causes can be won
The Guardians are hopelessly outnumbered and are probably going to die. Is that any reason to give up?
Suppose you have major consumer debt or got a really late start on retirement planning. Yes, you’re in a tough spot. Yes, the odds don’t look good. But if you do nothing at all, you definitely lose.
Instead of surrendering without a single shot, take positive action. Make a list of all assets and debts and start tracking your spending. Call the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and ask for guidance.
Don’t assume that all is lost just because it feels that way. The world is full of people who learned to manage their money despite tremendous adversity. As swell as it would be to have a smart-aleck raccoon and a talking tree swoop down and fix things, it’s time to human up and work toward taking control of your own life.