8 Personal Finance Tips From ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

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I went to the midnight movie premiere of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” last Friday and am still reeling from all the explosions and hand-to-hand combat. In a good way.

Despite the comic-book colors and pow! zap! action, “The Winter Soldier” is a smart political thriller with enough modern paranoia to allow both conservatives and liberals to believe the film is talking specifically to them.

Old-fashioned patriot Captain America (Chris Evans) has learned from the Greatest Generation’s wartime mistakes. When he views a high-tech weapon that’s more doomsday than deterrent, Cap vows never to support a system that emphasizes fear over freedom.

Which brings me to personal finance. The whole point of Money Talks News is that being smart about finances lets you be secure, rather than afraid.

Due to the way I make a living, I can find money wisdom in just about any form of entertainment, whether it’s Wagner (“8 Money Lessons I Learned Watching Opera”), science fiction (“12 Money Lessons From the New ‘Star Trek’”) or even a Coen brothers movie (“10 Financial Lessons From ‘True Grit’”).

“The Winter Soldier” is no exception. Personal finance themes aplenty are tucked in among the incendiary devices.

1. Money and love don’t mix

When someone to whom he owes a tremendous debt shows up, Cap risks everything – including his life – because of the strength of that bond. Loyalty is admirable, but it can also sink you if, say, you keep lending money to relatives or put more than you can afford to lose into your good buddy’s “can’t miss!” business opp.

2. Eternal vigilance is the price of survival

Something really bad is happening at the law enforcement and espionage organization called S.H.I.E.L.D. Its director, Nick Fury, should probably have seen it coming. So should others. But things seemed to be going well and they stopped paying attention.

Remember the subprime mortgage era? So many people so in love with so much money that they willfully ignored the Cassandras who warned that this bubble would make a big, gooey mess when it finally burst.

Pay attention to your money: where it is, how it’s performing. Pay attention also to how you earn that money. Water cooler chat and industry buzz can clue you in as to whether you should be looking for a job elsewhere vs. being blindsided by a layoff.

3. Get yourself a team

“Don’t trust anyone,” Fury warns as the situation becomes increasingly dire. But Cap knows he can trust a few stalwarts to help him do the right thing. You need your own group of smart, loyal, think-outside-the-box folks both on the job and off.

At work your combined effort means all boats get lifted. In your personal life, surround yourself with friends who have similar values. It’s not smart to hang with people who are moochers or free-spending types with whom you can’t keep up without undermining future financial goals.

4. Vet your team now and then

As noted, not everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the up-and-up. Could the malfeasors have been sniffed out if the nice guys had been a little more vigilant?

Those of you who use financial advisers: Are you sure these folks really have your best interests at heart? For example, if an adviser suggests that single-with-no-dependents you should buy life insurance, it’s probably because he gets a commission on the sale.

5. Stuff happens — be ready for it

When the fertilizer hits the ventilator, our heroes have both backup plans and improvisational skills. (Also stuff like fake IDs and money.)

If layoff or illness left you without earnings for a while, how long before you couldn’t pay the rent? Get that emergency fund going and list possible scenarios like “five things I could sell in a pinch” or “part-time jobs I could take while looking for work in my field.”

6. Don’t overshare

As noted, several characters aren’t quite what they seem – but they see no need to advertise this until it suits them.

Don’t put all of your business out in the world, either, especially as regards social media. Griping about your boss online might get you fired. Posting pictures like “here we are in sunny Hawaii” could get your house burglarized. Putting too much personal info on Facebook could lead to problems getting credit.

7. Pick your spots

A whole lot of bullets get fired in this film, and a lot of them don’t do a bit of good.

If you’ve got problems, don’t just heave dollars at them. Instead, identify the issue and think of simple, practical ways to make things better. This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of dollars to heave, e.g., using retail therapy to assuage the stress of student loan repayment.

8. Do the right thing

Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) chooses to help publicize wrongdoing even though this might land her in the poo. (Hint: She wasn’t always on the side of democracy.)

If you’re working for an unethical employer or making money in a sleazy or quasi-criminal way, stop doing it. Not everyone’s cut out to be a whistleblower; if that’s not you, then walk away while you still can.

What does it profit someone if he gains the whole world but loses his soul – or ends up under criminal investigation?

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