Have you seen Netflix’s number one miniseries, “Squid Game,” yet? This absorbing thriller is about 456 game show participants trying to survive dangerous contests to win the ultimate cash prize. I found valuable money lessons to share that can teach us through this series.
Each started off by playing the ddakji game with a well-dressed man who knew of their respective financial hardships. They won some money and received a few slaps when they lost. The recruiter told them he had more games with higher stakes than the game they played with him, and they would have the opportunity to make boundless wealth that would resolve their problems.
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456 Players In Dire Financial Straits
Each contestant voluntarily travels to this mysterious island run by people wearing masks and the Front Man leader. They eagerly signed contracts before they began the games. The participants soon learn of the paradox of playing six innocent children’s games and activities in six days, risking their lives by brutal measures.
Many contestants were eliminated in the first game, “Red Light, Green Light,” when an enlarged robotic doll with sensors identified those who moved against the game’s rules. Shocked by the brutal killing of these players, the remaining contestants voted to leave the game voluntarily. However, when they went back home, they faced the same financial circumstances and demons. As a result, these sad souls decided to return to the games.
Despite the harsh brutality, I was fascinated by this drama, the transformation of some players from their low positions in life to honorable stature. Additionally, the nerd I am, I share valuable money lessons just as I had for “The Queen’s Gambit,” admittedly a tamer series.
Be aware that there are spoilers ahead, so tread carefully.
10 Valuable Money Lessons
1. High-Risk High Reward Proposition
Like investing, rewards are proportionate to the risks you assume and seek similar rewards. Typically, investing in stocks yield higher risks than bonds, with average stock market returns of about 10% over the long term.
In “Squid Games,” the participants are often reminded of the potential reward. The pot of gold amounting to over $30 million (45.6 billion in won) hanging like a gigantic chandelier over their heads. The prize money will be their reward, and the amount expands with the elimination of each contestant. All they need to do is survive all six games. However, with each subsequent activity, they begin to recognize few will survive.
2. Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket.
In the second episode, participants have to pick a shape and stand in front of it. When deciding which form to choose, Sang-woo tells the group around him to split up and pick different shapes rather than the same one, saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
By diversifying the shapes, the contestants would spread out the risk among each other. Sang-woo, the prodigy in the poor neighborhood, used this popular investment idiom to spread their team among different shapes.
When investing, you should never put all your eggs into one security or asset class but diversify your risks among several investments that perform differently and reduce overall risk.
3. Pay off Your Debts
In the opening salvo of the series, we meet the main character Seong Gi-hun, who lives with his mom, is divorced, a gambler, and is in deep debt with his loan shark breathing down his neck.
Although we learn he was a chauffeur, he doesn’t seem to work or be responsible about anything. His mother gives him money to take his daughter out for her tenth birthday. After his elderly mom leaves to work, he takes her debit card, guesses her password, and empties the account to gamble the proceeds on horse races.
Gi-hun tells his daughter that she will have a special dinner with the winnings from the races. His loan shark stalks him, eventually physically beats him up, and threatens him with more violence should Gi-hun not pay him soon. Running away from danger, Gi-hun collides with a woman, Kang Sae-byeok, who pickpockets his winnings during Gi-hun’s fall. Viewers will quickly see Sae-byeok, when they both compete at the deadly games. Rather than a lavish meal, his daughter gets a modest dinner and her birthday present, a gun-shaped lighter clawed from an amusement game.
Those with overwhelming amounts of debt, who borrow to pay off debts, get in a spiral of bad results. A lesson for Seong Gi-hun and many of the 456 contestants should have learned is to stop overspending money, whether for lavish meals, events, or tackling gambling addiction head-on, rather than reaching the point of no return.
Another character, Cho Sang-woo, grew up in the same poor neighborhood as Gi-hun and seemed to have advantages, being a gifted student. However, he too takes part in the games from hell, as the police pursue him for alleged illegal activities at his investment firm.
My advice is that you don’t let your debts pile off to levels you cannot pay off on time. When using credit cards, pay off your balances in full or you will be increasing your debt at high-interest rates at faster rates than you can afford.
4. Save Money
Seong Gi-hun needs to save money rather than spend it all the moment he gets it. Rather than gamble it away, he should shore up his funds. He learns that his daughter may be relocating to the US with his ex-wife and her husband. Gi-hun has a good relationship with his daughter, but he is a deadbeat Dad and likely to lose the little time he shares with her.
Gi-hun needs to take on more work and save money, but he looks at the opportunity of winning the prize money to have the financial means to fix his financial problems. A more realistic approach would be to work a steady job, add hours or more work, and spend less money than he earns so he may be able to be the father she wants. Make your savings work for you by investing the money.
5. Establish An Emergency Fund
Gi-hun and his mom should have socked away some money in an emergency fund so that she could get the surgery. Emergency funds are essential when you are facing unexpected expenses such as hospital bills without sufficient medical insurance.
Instead, being destitute, she had to forego the procedure which could have saved her life. Her son was a freeloader, took her savings, and acted irresponsibly when around money. When he returned home and in a better financial situation as a game-winner, he was too late to save his mom.
6. Protect Your Financial Accounts
The series revealed several instances of accessing the financial accounts of others, such as removing a parent’s assets. There have been increasing fraud through data breaches, rising identity theft, and using easy passwords, like a family’s birthday, as Seong Gi-hun figured out.
It is imperative that you carefully secure your accounts with complex passwords, use a password manager, two-factor verification, and review your accounts and credit reports for possible errors or fraud. Report anything out of the ordinary to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to limit your liability.
7. You Need Insurance
As mentioned earlier, Seong Gi-hun’s hardworking mom has diabetes and is in danger of doctors amputating both of her feet. Gi-hun insists she stay in the hospital for the procedure. However, he finds out that his mother doesn’t have the medical insurance to pay for it.
She releases herself from the hospital, and Gi-hun seems determined to go back to the games and win the money so that he can pay for his mother’s medical bills as well as his debts.
You need to protect your family and their assets with essential insurance, including medical, life, home, and such.
8. Economic Inequality
One of the big themes in the series is the economic inequality that the participants face in their outside world. The game’s design is for each player to have an equal chance to compete for the prize money while they are participants and potentially correct their dire financial situation.
Later in the series, wealthy VIP patrons are invited to watch the players and bet on who will survive that particular game. This is perverse, juxtaposing the rich, downing champagne, while those who are destitute are fighting for survival.
In one part of the story, one of the participants is a doctor who has a gruesome job during the night, when everyone is sleeping. He harvests organs from dead players for the masked men who sell them in the black market in return for getting information about the upcoming game. When the leader discovers this cheating, he eliminates both the doctor and the masked man as it breaks one of the tenets to treat participants on a level playing field.
9. Strategic Planning
After the first game caused the elimination of more than half the players, it became clear to the remaining participants that they needed alliances and a strategic plan. The players play individually, in pairs or big groups, drawing on skills, strength, savviness, or luck.
The second game centered around a stamped shape from a honeycomb candy. Participants need to extract their chosen form using a needle within a time limit. Having the most challenging shape, Gi-hun strategically licked the back of the honeycomb, resourcefully pulled out his umbrella unscathed in time.
In the next game, the front man told the participants to form groups of ten without sharing the focus of the third game. Gi-hun invited the older man, Oh Il-name, and two women to join their team before realizing strength would be essential for the tug of war game. They were scheduled to compete against an all-man group. Through strategic innovation and fooling the other team into thinking they were losing, they dragged the opposing team over the dangerous gap on the high bridge, causing them to fall fatally.
Teaming up with one partner, the marbles game involving more luck than skills revealed the faultline of human nature when faced with losing and ultimately being eliminated. Sang-woo, losing all his marbles, cheated his partner Abdul Ali by taking and replacing the bag with stones. Gi-hun was losing to player 001 Oh Il-nam, but took advantage of his memory fading. The older man knew of the cheat but allowed him to have the marbles as his trusted friend.
In the fifth game, the dwindling number of participants needed to walk across a high bridge over glass panels, with regular and tempered glass, with the latter able to sustain two people. As contestants could pick the order in which they crossed the high bridge, most took the middle numbers. Gi-hun was last in the lineup, proving to be the best spot as many fell to their deaths walking over the regular glass. Only three players remained for the sixth and final game, the squid game, and I will avoid this spoiler.
A Financial Plan
Strategic planning is always essential when it comes to your finances. Consider creating a financial plan that incorporates your financial goals for your life stages. Strive to accomplish your goals, reviewing and making changes as needed.
10. Money Isn’t Everything
Virtually all the players who came to participate in the games came from debt-laden lives, running from prison, defecting from North Korea, having altercations, or fleeing loan sharks that would have no mercy on the individuals. When it comes to our lives, money isn’t everything.
Viewers got to see a glimpse of their despondent lives, racked with debt and poor living conditions, should they not return to the games. Many of them were failures in their lives, but we did not feel sorry for them at the beginning of the game. Our feelings for the characters changed as some transformed for the good during the game, especially Gi-hun, who emerged with a tender heart or were sad for them the more we knew about their past.
When asked what they would do with their money, some had vague ideas, but we felt for those who had real plans like secretive Sae-byeok who wanted to take her parents out of North Korea and get her young brother out of an orphanage.
In the end, upon learning of Oh Il-nam’s surprise role in the game, he tells Gi-hun, that there is very little difference between those who have too little money and those who have too much of it and are bored. Both groups don’t have joy in their lives and feel unfulfilled. His message was that money isn’t everything, and being part of the games provided significant value at the end of his life.
For those who enjoyed the Squid Game, you may want to wear this year’s hottest series’ costume attire for Halloween:
The thriller series provided redeeming value through money lessons despite the brutality of the games. Normally, this is not my cup of tea as I am squeamish of any such violence. Yet, I found myself unable to look away from the characters, imagining the desperation of their financial situations and I felt I had something to share.
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With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.