There are many articles online about financial lessons to learned from the Star Wars films.
What makes this one different? Well, it’s the one article to rule them all (sorry wrong franchise).
Today we're not going to be talking about tired Yoda or Luke quotes (sorry gentleman); instead, we are going to visit the dark side of the force and the light side of finance and review what can be learned from the Galatic Empire's best tactical mind, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
I flashed the geek signal and reached out to my own Inferno Squad to bring you the wisdom of Thrawn! I gathered the best personal finance bloggers to share their favorite Thrawn quote and how you can use it to manage your money like a tactical genius.
Note, if you have not read Timothy Zhan’s excellent book Thrawn, below will contain some spoilers, go and pick up a copy and read it, I’m not going anywhere.
About Grand Admiral Thrawn
Thrawn first appeared in the expanded universe before Lucasfilm sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney.
The Thrawn trilogy is highly regarded as some of the best Star Wars books. After Disney took the helm of the Star Wars empire (pun intended), they decided to clean the slate of the old expanded universe.
The decision to scrap the Star Wars EU was controversial; however, the old EU was a bit of a mess as writers and creators were allowed to run amuck with little guidance for continuity. All of the old novels are now considered Star Wars legends.
Disney set about creating a new canon, with an enhanced focus on continuity. As Thrawn was a fan favorite, he was brought back into the fold on the hit cartoon Star Wars Rebels. Additionaly, Timothy Zhan who wrote the original Thrawn trilogy was tasked with writing a new book returning Thrawn to canon lore.
Thrawn had a powerful military mind, and he rose to the position of Grand Admiral in the imperial navy in just a few years, an impressive feat for anyone but especially for a non-human like Thrawn. He achieved remarkable military victories over the rebels and consistently was two steps ahead of them.
Thrawn was a strategic mastermind and brilliant planner; he was renowned for his ability to see opportunities and patterns others couldn't.
It would surprise no one if he saved a significant portion of his imperil pay and he routinely invested in highly appreciating art and antiques. He would have reached FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) well before it was time to collect imperial social security, (spoiler alert) if he hadn't been sucked out to beyond by hyperspace jumping space whales.
15 Ways to Manage Your Money Like Grand Admiral Thrawn
“No battle plan can anticipate all contingences. There are always unexpected factors, including those stemming from the opponent’s initiative. A battle thus becomes a balance between plan and improvisation, between intellect and reflex, between error and correction.” -Thrawn
What happens if an asteroid hits your Tie Fighter or the new droid you purchased breaks down?
Life is going to throw some “Scum and villainy” in your direction. There’s no doubt about that. You can plan, budget, diversify, and still end up losing. How will you recover if you lose your job? What can you do if you end up going through a nasty divorce, and it costs you most of your life savings?
Life isn’t only about planning for the future. It’s about being prepared but reacting and recovering from mistakes and mishaps. Of course, you should have an emergency fund and plan for the future, but by having a positive mindset and being able to bounce back in the face of danger, you can recover from the battles of life.
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Dave, Financial Journeyman
“No one is immune from failure. All have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disappointment. A warrior must not dwell on that failure, but must learn from it and continue on”. – Thrawn
Failure is part of the process. The Rebel alliance experienced several shortcomings, even the Galatic Empire experience failure. However, then the Death Star was blown up by rebel scum, they rebuild.
Even when we visualize ourselves not taking any chances and covering all of our bases, failure still occurs. No one likes to fail. It is a humbling experience. Most situations that fail are not a total loss. Many cases that appear to be a complete failure end up being only a short-term loss. The paradox of small failure is that it can end up becoming a long term success for those who are wise enough to continue.
. By learning from what did not go according to plan in the past becomes a guide for future success. Those who are destined for long-term success will embrace failure as a teacher. Even though it might be painful, that pain is an excellent motivator for change. Those who do not embrace this lesson will continue to fail in succession.
Everyone who is on the journey toward financial independence has experienced failure. It might have been at the beginning of their journey when they decided that they wanted to retire early, but when they looked at their finances, they saw significant debts and little savings. Instead of looking at their financial situation as a failure, they learned from their past mistakes and focused on spending less, paying down debt, and increasing their savings rate, so they were able to free up money to invest.
On the flip side, it might have been the person who was nearing retirement and had too much of their assets in risky investments before a market crash. Instead of selling low, they continued to buy low. They saw the drop in stock prices as an opportunity to purchase value and not as a failure. They might have had to postpone their early retirement, but by waiting, they were able to reallocate more of their money into more conservative investments after their stocks recovered in value.
Failure occurs. Don’t dwell on it. Analyze it and identify where you made errors. Use those errors as the driving force for positive change.
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Robert, Real Money Robert
“One whose path has taken a new turn is often initially disorientated. But as time passes, and the path continues steadily in its new direction, there is a tendency to believe that it will remain so forever, with no further turns.” –Thrawn
Often in life, as well as in finances, things change. Our circumstances change, and all of this change affects our finances. These economic changes can leave us in a state of confusion or panic, and can often lead to poor decisions being made.
When these changes occur, as Grand Admiral Thrawn mentions, we are left in a disoriented state. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe your Jedi Master just got sliced in half by Darth Maul. Whatever the turn in life you are facing, people tend to get complacent, thinking that things will continue to remain steady.
However, this is not true. Things will continuously change, and we need to be prepared for these changes. Life changes are just one of the many reasons why it is so important to have an emergency fund saved. This allows you to make sound financial decisions during those periods of change, and help you stay focused on your financial journey until the next turn in life tries to throw you off.
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“A great tactician creates plans. A good tactician recognizes the soundness of a plan presented to him. A fair tactician must see the plan succeed before offering approval. Those with no tactical ability at all may never understand or accept it.” – Thrawn
How does this apply to our finances?
- Great tacticians = make our own financial decisions based on education and experience
- Good tacticians = understand the basic principles (but not the nuances) behind others’ financial recommendations
- Fair tacticians = follow our peers’ financial decisions because it seems to work for them
For the most part, everyone starts at the “fair tactician” level, mimicking the financial examples of our parents, friends, or coworkers. These examples can be good or bad ones – likely it’s a combination of both.
Fortunately, it’s possible to climb this “tactician ladder” fairly quickly through personal education and the application of financial principles.
I want to say I’ve seen myself grow from a “fair tactician” to a borderline “good/great tactician” (depending on the topic) over the past 6-12 months.
Twice a year, my employer sets up times for us to meet with 401k advisors to discuss our retirement planning. In the past, I’ve always jumped to schedule a time to review my balance, contributions, and portfolio.
This spring, however, I was disappointed to realize I’d see little benefit from setting up an appointment. Why is that?
Over the past six months, I’ve learned everything I currently need to know about 401k’s. I’m taking advantage of the full employer match, deliberately choosing how my contributions are invested, and monitoring my balance more frequently than is helpful. While I may not be an expert on all things, I’ve moved from “fair” to “great” on this one topic.
So how can we improve our financial “tactical abilities?”
- Read favorite personal finance blogs and books that are well-reviewed
- Spend time on your finances… always be applying “lessons learned.”
- Connect with others – whether online or through local meetups – who share your financial goals
Stay consistent with your efforts to learn and apply new financial principles… you’ll be a “great tactician” before you know it!
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Ashley, Money Gravity
‘The Soldier In the field and the crew member aboard a warship inevitably see a war from a limited perspective”. –Thrawn
Surrounding yourself with people with a similar perspective can leave you narrow-minded. It’s challenging to seek various solutions if everyone thinks inside “their box.” You can see this pattern in many communities and social circles. People who associate and spend time together tend to think alike. Believe it or not, this can be not only harmful to your perspective of the world but your financial health as well.
Let’s say your social circle consists of your friends who work in corporate America. They work 9 to 5 and celebrate during the weekends. They don’t feel safe investing in the stock market, so they keep the majority of their money in cash. They don’t understand the concept of compounding interest and long-term investing. Since they are you aren’t exposed to any other perspective, you assume that is the only way to save for retirement. You are stuck without even knowing it.
Opening yourself to different social circles and perspectives will help you select the best strategy for your lifestyle and financial well-being. The more you expose yourself to other ideas and options, the easier it will be to choose what works for you. Sometimes our social circles hold us back without even realizing it.
Another way they can limit your perspective is their financial habits. If you never see them in the same car or they spend four nights a week out to dinner, you could find it challenging to keep up with them. This not only creates toxic financial habits, but it drains your budget.
Create a social circle or community of people who have similar goals and interests and can help you expand your reality.
Meet someone new. Expand your financial knowledge. Seize the day!
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Morgan Strebler was a logical first choice, I had an excellent time interviewing him, and he is the only person I know who can wield the force. Well, at least that’s how I like to believe he pulls off those mind-bending illusions.
“War is primarily a game of skill. It is a Contest of mind matched against mind, tactics matched against tactics. But there is also an element of chance that is more suited to games of cards or dice. A wise tactician studies those games, as well, and learns from them. – Grand Admiral Thrawn
Thrawn was a brilliant tactical leader; he knew tactical lessons could be learned from art or even card games. Likewise, studying the fool from a Tarot deck of cards, you can find the wisdom that applies to business and life in general.
The Fool represents a new cycle, a new beginning. Either you feel stuck in the situation you’re in and are about to change it. Either way, the Fool represents a change in your life. It is also here where you must remember your past, as it has made you the person you are today. The Fool also represents an optimistic person who sometimes does not see danger ahead because of that optimism. Remember to think logically and never lose your ground. Your ego may get the best of you. Now is the time to mature, and avoid diving in without forethought.
ESI Money has been a fantastic mentor to me in my blogging career. He likes to think of himself as Batman. He is more like a combination of Gandalf and Tony Stark, with a level of patience that borders on the saintly. Either way, his Thrawn-inspired advice is spot on.
“And when a mind is too deficient in understanding, the resulting gap is often filled with resentment.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn
Wow. Who knew that wisdom from another galaxy could be so appropriate for us?
These days it seems quite common for most of American society to scoff at those who choose a lifestyle where financial freedom can be attained at 50, 40, or even 30.
It's almost a given that when the masses hear of someone who has retired before 60, they start poking made-up holes in the story. Their list of excuses includes, but are not limited to, some of the following:
- “This is a lie. It possibly can't be true.”
- “Sure, I could do this if ___________ (fill in the blank, usually something like “make $200,000 a year).”
- “I bet they received a big inheritance.”
- “Who wants to scrimp and save that much? Sounds terrible to me.”
- “This will never work. They will probably go bankrupt soon.”
- “I like working too much to retire.”
And on and on.
The reason they are so jaded (or as Grand Admiral Thrawn states above “filled with resentment”) is that they are “deficient in understanding.” They don't know that there are easily learned money principles that can make them wealthy. And even when they do have a bit of understanding, they often don't want to apply those to their lives because while the principles to becoming wealthy are easy to understand, they are difficult for most people to use (since they require self-control).
So what should we do with these people? Send them to Abafar to mine rhydonium, of course!
Ok, perhaps that's a bit too drastic. Instead, we need to keep exposing them to the straightforward, basic concepts of personal finance that hopefully one day they will apply. For me, I interview millionaires for this reason — to share real-life stories of how others have earned, saved, and invested their way to wealth — hopefully providing a pathway that even the most deficient in understanding can eventually follow.
Steve over at Think Save Retire, doesn’t have some of the geeky “street cred” as some of the others on my “high council.” However, he lives in an airstream trailer, and that’s kind of like a spaceship.
“Failure to act always brings consequences. But sometimes, those consequences can be turned to one’s advantage.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn
In the course of my life, I've met a lot of “ideas” people. People with great ideas are the visionaries of our time. They think about things in a new and creative way and question the norm. They don't only accept things as they are, but they observe and ponder how things could be.
But, I have found very few of these people to be “doers.” Their strength lies in the ideas, not necessarily in the implementation. They think. The hypothesize. But when it comes to putting action behind their words, they tend to wait. Or drag their feet. Our bury potential action under mountains of excuses that I begin to lose sight of what their hypothesis was!
If you are a business owner, scientist, or, yes, even a blogger, that inaction can be detrimental. Without action, ideas do not (and cannot) have an impact. But, that inaction can provide more time to refine the concept. To discover potential pitfalls. To develop backup plans in case of failure.
Inaction also provides the opportunity to “get your mind right,” to dive into the implementation process with a solid understanding and purpose. Or, with renewed energy and drive. Sometimes in life, timing is everything. Great ideas without great timing are not typically great successes.
But, ideas that come to life exactly when they mean the most turn into something magical. They make the most impact. They change the greatest number of lives.
It's *these ideas* that improve our lives the most.
Miguel from The Rich Miser shares excellent tips on how to live well on a budget. Just because the galaxy is in the midst of a civil war, doesn't mean you shouldn't treat yourself once and a while.
“But ultimate safety does not exist. Those who trust in such will find that hope dashed upon the very rock behind which they seek to hide.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn
The rebels thought they were safe on Hoth, the Empire's soldiers thought themselves secure on the Death Star. Alas, it turned out to be nothing more than a temporary illusion. In the same way, it would be a mistake to think your assets are safe in any one place.
Real estate and stocks crashed with the 2008 crisis. Even countries can fail to pay their creditors in full (I'm looking at you, Greece). That's why the lesson here is to diversify, not just across one asset class (such as by owning many different stocks), but over multiple asset classes. You can hold stocks, bonds, real estate, precious metals, national currencies, and even cryptocurrencies.
Of course, this doesn't mean you should put the same amount of cash in each class. History teaches that stocks have some of the best returns over the long term, so you should probably be heavily invested in the stock market unless you're close to retirement. Just don't ignore other investments, since they can still provide good income and growth, while significantly reducing your risk.
Also, be wary of overextending yourself. Before the housing crash, many people took out mortgages with little or no money down. And it worked without a hitch since home values kept rising. But when the crash came, and people’s homes were suddenly worth much less, lots of folks found themselves underwater almost overnight, with mortgage balances that exceeded the value of their homes.
The world is always changing, and what is safe today may not be as secure tomorrow. The Ewoks would probably never have guessed that the Empire would come and set up a base on their idyllic Endor, but the AT-ST’s landed one day nonetheless. So be prepared and diversified beforehand, since we can never be entirely sure of what tomorrow will bring.
Star Wars post, The Finance Twins, need I say more?
“Do you know the difference between an error and a mistake, Ensign? Anyone can make an error. It only becomes a mistake when you refuse to correct it.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn
Pursuing perfection is a fool’s errand. Worse yet is expecting perfection. After all, life is a beautiful mess. At times it may seem like everyone around you has everything figured out, but remember, even Luke Skywalker had a deadbeat dad.
In life, you will always make errors — some bigger than others, but mistakes nonetheless. What is telling, however, is how you respond to the errors that you’ve made. Do you point fingers at those around you? Is it your parent's fault that you had to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay for college? Is it your employer's fault you didn’t take advantage of the 401K plan they offered you? Or are you able to accept your circumstances and learn from your errors?
I graduated with a degree in finance, but I still didn’t sign up for the company 401K at my first job because I didn’t know what it even was. Do you know what I did next? I became a personal finance expert and read numerous books to learn everything I could. Today, you can find my articles about personal finance on Forbes.
It is those who refuse to take accountability for their actions, which will ultimately repeat their errors and make the costliest mistakes. Do you know you should create a monthly budget for your household, yet you continue to spend freely? You’re making a mistake. Realize you should open an IRA, yet still keep your retirement savings in a checking account? Mistake. Do you realize you shouldn’t be picking individual stocks and would be better off over the long term by sticking with index funds? Maybe not, but you do now.
Be kind to yourself when you make errors and fear not, for our galaxy is more forgiving than a galaxy far far away and a long time ago. What matters is what you do starting today, ensign.
Mr. Fiintrovert was kind enough to share his experience with co-workers in a previous post, and his excellent contribution earned him the new nickname “Mace Windu of the Water Cooler.” I’m not sure if the name will stick, but the advice is excellent as usual.
“Leadership is a role and a task that should never be aspired to lightly. Neither should loyalty be given without reason.” – Grand Admiral Thrawn
When it comes to the spoils of obtaining leadership positions, it’s easy for us to “imagine quite a bit” of compensation and authority. But we are wise to heed Thrawn’s warning that taking on a leadership role is a significant burden.
Sure, many of us aspire to be a CEO or owner of our own business. However, we usually leave out the heavy responsibilities of such roles, like the nights worrying about making payroll or the hours we may lose with our families. Looking into your employee's eyes when you have to make layoffs is a fate worse than explaining to Emperor Palpatine how you let the rebels escape.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t shy away from leadership roles. Some of us, especially introverts, would rather kiss a Wookie than “play the game.” But making small talk with our coworkers, attending social events, and being able to present our ideas is just as crucial as producing excellent work. When it comes to leadership, people want to feel human at work, and taking care of social needs is an essential role of a leader.
When thinking about aspiring to a leadership position, it is better for the organization that you, a qualified and talented individual, play the game a bit to be a leader. Or, do you want the whole organization to suffer under some nerf herder just because you felt some small talk degraded your day a bit?
I’m not saying you are The Chosen One, but you’re reading this blog trying to better yourself so odds are you would make a pretty great leader. So do what it takes – even if you have to “play the game.” It will benefit everyone around you.
On the subject of loyalty, Thrawn is perhaps one of the only leaders in the Galactic Empire to inspire such devotion based on his merits. Thrawn counsels us not to give out our loyalty blindly.
Many of us who tilt toward having rich inner experiences can build up entire relationships with a person we’ve only met a few times. We have to ensure that the person we are giving loyalty to has earned it through action and not merely our idealization of that person.
Does the well-polished financial advisor or insurance salesman deserve your loyalty just because of some complicated product he has presented to you? Let’s look beyond the veneer and at the actual value before we give loyalty by turning over our hard-earned cash.
Should you be loyal to a boss or company when your true passion lies elsewhere? Yes, they provided a steady paycheck for many, but this is your life. We aren’t guaranteed any years. Our lives should not be lived in the service of financially enriching others.
Thrawn may be on the Dark Side, but it's a big, imperfect galaxy out there. His wisdom is hard-earned. While we need to understand the burdens of leadership, we also have to understand the consequences of allowing less qualified people to ascend to those roles. And as we move through our life and career, we should inspire loyalty by example, while practicing patience and prudence when dispensing our allegiance.
I’m a huge fan of Scott at Making Momentum. He wakes up at 5:00 am, walks to work every day (even in the rain), and has perfected the art of typing while kayaking. He is the Jedi Master of productivity.
“Alliances Are Useful In Some Situations. In Others, They’re Vital” – Grand Admiral Thrawn
Han and Chewie. C3P0 and R2D2. Finn and Rey. Thrawn and Eli Vanto.
The cross-section of the entire Star Wars story to-date is full of iconic alliances that come together to serve a common purpose.
Sometimes these alliances fall closer to the useful end of the spectrum. They provide mutual benefits for both parties, but the overall importance doesn’t dictate central significance in the overall journey of their lives.
At other times, these alliances are vital. Where would Luke have ended up if he never met Yoda? Perhaps the most critical alliance and friendship ever formed in Star Wars.
When it comes to your money and life, the most vital alliance would likely be one with your significant other (not a small creature on a marshy planet).
If you aren’t working in financial conjunction, the galactic journey is going to be one of strife and stress. Financial problems were listed as one of the seven most common reasons for divorce in a recent Business Insider article.
In my own life, if I wasn’t living in a harmonious alliance with my better half, there’s no way our financial goals would be attainable. She’d never support me waking up at 5 am to better our financial situation if we weren’t aligned and operating towards a common purpose.
I’d never have been able to battle my student loans without her alliance. It’s not useful we’re on the same page with our money, it’s vital we’re aligned.
Just like Han and Leia, that alliance might have some bumpy moments where our ideas clash or our personalities create tension. However, the strength of our bond is only there because of a common purpose.
For Han and Leia that was defeating the evil Empire. In our lives, that common purpose is defeating the constraints trying to hold us back from financial freedom.
Han and Leia had Darth Vader and the Emperor opposing them. We’ve had financial illiteracy and consumerism threatening our financial alliance.
We’ve strengthened our financial alliance by using a few key strategies:
- Honesty: there are no secrets, and we’ve been honest from the upfront about every aspect of our finances.
- Flexibility: we create wiggle room in our budget to each have a small discretionary fund to avoid any unnecessary qualms over smaller purchases or things that bring happiness and value.
- Financial Literacy: we both committed to educating ourselves about personal finance through podcasts, books, and open discussion with one another.
- Common Goals: aligning on specific goals for the short and long financial term has been another success to help us avoid tension in the alliance.
This has helped us resist the dark side of money.
Together, unified and aligned, you can wield great power and resist the pitfalls that money can bring into your relationship.
Don’t let the dark side break your financial alliance with your significant other.
Your Money Geek
Thrawn Came from Abundance
Thrawn joined the Imperial Navy as a penniless alien. He rose to prominence on the results of his hard work against a backdrop of bigotry towards non-humans. His management style was one of abundance; he knew the way to help himself was to help others.
Thrawn achieved success based on his skill: a skill that was refined and developed through thought and training. He routinely isolated himself from contemplating and studying.
Thrawn took every opportunity to make both his commanding officers and any imperial officer serving under him look good. He commanded respect from the crew, and those watching his career unfold not from political connections or ”hokey religions” but the success built of hard work and sheer determination.
He Would have Rocked Diversification
While chasing a smuggler, and working to thwart the Rebels, Thrawn learned of the Death Star. As a brilliant strategist, Thrawn warned the Emperor about being overly confident in Death Star. Thrawn felt a fleet of Star Destroyers would be more effective in serving the needs of the Galatic Empire.
Investors often mimic emperor Palpatine's folly in being overly reliant on the might of the Death Star. Every year numerous people see their financial plans laid waste because the unthinkable or impossible happen. Thrawn new a diverse fleet of ships was better able to handle both threats known and unknown. While we are not privy to Thrawn's investment holdings, I can imagine he had a sizable emergency fund and was diversified over several asset classes.
Looking for a Great Book
Thrawn is not only a great Star Wars book, but it's also an excellent book in its own right.
The lessons in the book could easily be taught in any business or management school, and similar to the book Starship Troopers, Thrawn would feel at home on the Navy commandants reading list. Thrawn can be seen as a metaphor for the American dream. Although, I'm sure Timothy Zhan didn't intend for that.
Remember to keep learning; proper financial planning is about continuous small improvements. Managing money and personal finance doesn't have to be boring; you can gain financial lessons from your favorite Star Wars films or even from Star Wars characters.
Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.