What the ‘Squid Game’ can teach you about managing your money – Toronto Star

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Anyone else getting a bunch of “Squid Game” memes showing up on their social feeds right now? I am, in spades. Because my feed prioritizes financially geared content (as that’s what I’m interested in), most of the memes are about money.
Now, I’m not going to spoil the show for you, but I am going to break down a few financial lessons it can teach us right here in Canada.
As a quick background, this sensational new Netflix show (the most popular in Netflix history, btw), is set in South Korea and is about desperate adults who compete in deadly games for a chance to win their escape from massive debts they owe. South Korea has a terrible debt crisis at present, and that’s what inspired the show. The show’s main character, Seong Gi-hun, is a laid-off autoworker who struggles with continual business failures and gambling debts. He gets into the games to try to save himself and his finances.
Here are five lessons we can learn from “Squid Game.”
You’re not alone.
Bromwich+Smith, a licensed insolvency trustee in Toronto, says that much like “Squid Game” contestants, many Canadian households find themselves awash in debt. The cost of living, higher grocery prices and soaring fuel costs are all factors.
“It may seem extreme comparing the debt struggles in “Squid Game” to Canadians who are struggling with debt, but make no mistake, the stress, anxiety and health issues surrounding overwhelming debt are real,” said Laurie Campbell, director, client financial wellness, and acting vice-president, marketing and sales at Bromwich+Smith. “Add to this the rising cost of living, with inflation being a crippling reality coming out of COVID, it is no wonder people are labouring to make ends meet.”
Know that you’re not alone in this. There is support out there to learn how to navigate debt, become financially literate, shift your mindset into a saving mindset and, if you have to go through an insolvency process, you can access support for that, too.
2. Do what you can to pay off debt
In the first episode, Seong Gi-hun uses his elderly mother for financial support, steals her bank card and withdraws money to bet on horses. He also jeopardizes his relationship with his young daughter in the process. Though he wins some money, instead of paying off his debt, he runs away and gets robbed.
Running away from your debt — not paying it and not responding to calls from your creditors — isn’t going to help you. It will wreak havoc on your credit score and give you an ulcer from the stress.
Don’t be Seong Gi-hun. If you have debt, make an effort to pay it off. This will help support a stronger credit score and should start to reduce your stress.
3. Be mindful of your spending
Seong Gi-hun uses his winnings (the equivalent of about $10.46 Canadian) to try and win a gift box from a claw-arm vending machine for his young daughter’s birthday. It’s pretty foolish spending. Rather than an age-appropriate cutesy teddy bear, he wins a toy gun that’s actually a cigarette lighter, and gives it to her anyway.
The only way you’ll be able to pay off your debt is ensuring you have the money to make the payments, and to stop accumulating more debt. So, be smart about where your money is going all the time. If you don’t need something, don’t buy it and put the money on your debt instead. Work the debt payments into your budget and be super careful not to go into further debt through overspending while you live your day-to-day life.
4. Sometimes you need an intervention
Can’t keep up with payments? Feeling completely overwhelmed? There is no shame in asking for financial help. “Squid Game” teaches us through the secretive character and North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok that even the toughest personalities need support sometimes, and that’s OK.
I totally get that most people don’t like to discuss their finances, especially when they aren’t looking so great, which probably means you feel it’s too late. But, it’s never too late. You can seek emotional support from loved ones and get professional help. And yes, there are people who can assist you with debt restructuring if that’s what is required to help you surface from too many payments to too many lenders. These are licensed insolvency professionals.
5. A rainy-day fund can save your bacon
Many of the “Squid Game” contestants are in the position they are in because they feel they have no other options. There are many reasons for their debt — medical issues, family needs, gambling, failed businesses, overspending and so much more. Most of the contestants have never learned the art of saving. But, saving is the exact thing that could have saved them from the crushing levels of debt they find themselves in.
Savings habits take time to form — about 90 days. But, once you start, you’ll never want to stop. Saving buys you the freedom to choose better options for your future. And it will really come in handy if you have an emergency.
Want to save better? Start by saving a small amount each day. Pop into your online banking and e-transfer from your chequing to your savings account a few dollars (decide on a meaningful and manageable daily amount). Repeat this process daily until you have a solid emergency cushion. It takes time to build this up, so don’t give up. If you prefer to save weekly or biweekly, that’s fine, too.
So, as you binge-watch, take note of what you can apply to your own financial situation and hopefully avoid the chaos the “Squid Game” contestants endure.
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