Playing The Long Game: Personal Finance Edition


I’m a Game of Thrones fan, and I have been tuning in every week with my free HBO Now 30 day trial this month. If you watch the show then you know this world is full of plotters and schemers,  some of them obvious and some of them still pulling invisible strings for an end game we can’t even comprehend yet.

What this world has in common with ours is that we all play our own game of thrones in a way, making chess moves that we think will bring us to the life we want.  The truth is, some of us plan ours out carefully, and some of us kind of bumble around, reacting to what is in front of us or following our desires, until sometimes we find ourselves up you-know-what creek. Now, we can end up in that creek no matter how carefully we plan (I’m thinking catastrophic illness, etc.), but it’s less likely if we carefully consider our moves.

From Game of Thrones Wikia
From Game of Thrones Wikia

Sometimes when I am up until midnight writing a literature review for school or tweaking a website or running downstairs to soak some dried beans so they will be ready for the next day, I am reminded of Littlefinger carefully making a small move here and a small move there to be prepared for larger and larger moves as the game moves on. The short game might yield me pennies or dollars. It may also yield me some stressful late nights as I work on an extra project that will take a long time to build and have no appreciable short-term gains, but in the long game it could potentially yield a gold mine of passive income or be a source of flexible work opportunity.

Take this blog, for example. It has cost me a lot of time to get it up and running, and has just started to earn a few dollars every month. As I tweak it and grow it, I hope it will start bringing in a little more. My graduate degree is a potential source of flexible at-home work income.  A retirement account is similar, adding to the stockpile and steadily growing until it is enough to support you a few decades down the line.

Looking at the short term gains and the short term costs can be discouraging. Why bother eating lentils and rice? Why drive that old beater car? Why subject yourself to a few years of late nights going back to school?

An old friend once told me that there are only so many chess moves you can make in life, so don’t mess up your end game by starting out with bad moves. An extraordinarily bad move might destroy your end game completely. Some extraordinarily good moves might bring you to checkmate much faster than expected.

I myself have made some bad moves (choosing an anthropology program the first go round instead of nursing or pharmacy) and some better moves (choosing the in-state school I can commute to that offered me a full scholarship over the out of state private college with the six-figure price tag). While the end goal for us is having enough to free us from working, you can start thinking of your own end goal and the moves it might take to get you there. Even if you are already retired, it’s not too late for a financial goal, whether it be to live within your means, have a legacy for family or charity, or have enough to be buried without straining your family.

What about you? What are you doing to up your long game?


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