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Financial Lessons From The Hunger Games

The odds are that you’ve heard of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling young adult dystopia series, The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read the first book or seen the film (which many are predicting to be one of 2012’s top-grossing movies), then beware that spoilers follow. (See also: 21 Personal Finance Lessons From Harry Potter)

The Hunger Games is the story of District 12’s Katniss Everdeen (played by the lovely Jennifer Lawrence in the film) volunteering to take her little sister Prim’s place in Panem’s annual Hunger Games. The compulsory event was created by the government (“the Capitol”) 74 years ago in an effort to force its populace into submission and minimize hopes for another rebellion by reminding them who’s in control of the country. In the Games, 24 children (one boy and one girl from each district; called “tributes”) are placed in an arena to fight to the death, until there is only one victor remaining. In addition to lifelong glory, fame, and riches, the winner gets the best prize of all — the right to live.

The books (and some components of the film) are full of interesting political and social messages, but there’s another angle present in The Hunger Games — financial. It may be set in a dystopic setting, but there are still lessons applicable to us in the real world.

Self-Sufficiency Is Helpful
At the beginning of the film, we see Katniss and her best friend Gale Hawthorne (played by Liam Hemsworth) hunting in the woods outside the protective barrier of their district. While you may not be literally starving, this still serves as a reminder of how important — and frugal — self-sufficiency can be when it comes to food. Start a garden, or raise a couple of hens so you have some eggs each morning. This way, you’ll have fresh food without paying extra for organic produce, allowing you to cut back on your grocery budget each month. It may not wipe out a massive percentage of your food costs, but every little bit counts. Not to mention — gardening can be fun!

Expensive Things Aren’t Necessarily Better
In the Hob, Katniss and Gale trade wild dog carcasses for money and items such as soap. In the book, the old woman (Greasy Sae) who buys the wild dog points out that she tells people it’s real beef in the stew instead of dog, and they never notice the difference. While I’m not advocating for you to do this with your family dinners, this could be readily applied to the brand-name versus generic debate. For the most part, the two taste the same; the only difference is the price you’re paying. Take this into consideration on your next trip to the grocery store.


Someone Else Almost Always Has It Worse
Having lived his entire life in a middle-class baking family, Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson) is a little better off than Katniss, but not by much. Still, when he notices her out in the rain one day, keeling over from starvation and desperation, he takes a risk and purposely burns the bread so his infuriated mother would make him throw it out. Instead of giving it all to the pigs, he tosses a loaf to Katniss.
This is similar to our current situation — with a bad economy, many people have stopped giving to charities to protect their own finances and adhere to stricter budgets. Giving to the needy isn’t a lifestyle requirement, but at a time where charities need that money most, at least keep in mind that there will always be more people who have it worse than you do (maybe that will lessen the pain of giving up possessions or making cuts in your budget).


Words Hold a Lot of Power
One of my favorite characters in the film — portrayed by the delightful Stanley Tucci — was Caesar Flickerman. He, along with Peeta, has a way with words, able to move audiences from laughs to tears with a single, well-crafted sentence.
What about you? Are you a good communicator? This is a highly desirable trait in potential employees. If you’re already employed, you could get you a raise if you approach your boss and state your case in a concise and confident manner. Remember, you’re not an Avox! If something in the status quo is bothering you, then speak up!


Don’t Wait for Opportunities
Even if you’re last name isn’t Everdeen, the odds aren’t always likely to be in your favor. Passively sitting back and waiting for things to happen — maybe one of your job applications will get a response or you’ll magically start saving money without having to go through the “boredom” of creating a budget — doesn’t work. You need to be actively pursuing a better financial future for yourself and your family, not sitting on the sidelines and simply hoping the economy will get better soon. There might be risks involved — Katniss going after the medicine for Peeta is definitely not the safest idea — but the biggest rewards tend to correlate with the size of the risk involved.
Ultimately, there are all sorts of life lessons to be learned from The Hunger Games. We may not live in the oppressive dystopian world Collins created, but Katniss’s circumstances are often more relatable than we’d think.


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