Financial Lessons from The Hunger Games

A very dark and foreboding movie, The Hunger Games take place in a post apocalyptic world where human life isn’t valued but gladiatorial entertainment certainly is. Set in a country called Panem (a totalitarian ruled country that’s risen from the ashes of a civil war), the Capitol has an annual “Reaping” where each district within the country must send a boy and a girl between he ages of 12 and 18, called “Tributes”, to represent the district in The Hunger Games in a fight to the death. The country, though super advanced technologically, is caught up in these, the 74th annual showing of The Games and they’re watched on giant screen monitors by the entire population. The Games are a show, rife with costumers, make-up artists, talk show hosts, color commentary, and up to the minute briefings on the status of each participant. The problem is, there can only be one winner and that means that the others must die.

The movie is a combination of Survivor, The Running Man, Gladiator, and Lord of the Flies with a threatened Romeo and Juliet twist at the end.

I won’t get too much into the moral, ethical, or the more disturbing parts of the movie, but I did notice many parallels between what happened on screen and how you and I run our personal financial lives.

The Hunger Games Rule #1: Never lose site of your humanity

The Games are barbaric and brutal entertainment for the masses but the heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen, embraces the Biblical standard of “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” when she volunteers to take her 12 year old sister, Prim’s, place when she was randomly selected to participate. Katniss is the first ever volunteer and that made her unique to The Games’ viewers. The other participant from her district was Peeta Mellark. Peeta reminded Katniss to hold onto her human dignity when he said, “I don’t want to be another piece in their game. I don’t want them to change me into something I’m not. If I’m gonna die, I want to still be me.”

The pressure was on Katniss to do what other participants in The Games had always done: join in the hunt and ignore the fallen but she rebels and holds onto her humanity. She protects the weak, cares for the wounded, and mourns the dead all of which prompt surprising reactions from those watching The Hunger Games on television around the country.

Money, both the lack and the over-abundance of it, can alter the way you see things. Money doesn’t necessarily change you more than it reveals who you were to begin with. The Hunger Games, like money, basically revealed who the participants were. Some were revealed as nice, some as barbaric. But that is what stress can do to you – expose the real you.

The Hunger Games Rule #2: Be prepared for the worst

Participants were coached on everything from how to dress to how to survive and that coaching was insurance that The Games wouldn’t be over too soon and spoil the entertainment value for the entire country.

You and I can be prepared for the worst in several ways:

  • Having a well stocked emergency fund – my air conditioner just went out and my emergency fund kept me afloat
  • Having the right insurance – life, car, disability, medical, and homeowner’s or renters insurance can keep a bad situation from becoming worse
  • Learning to not panic when things get bad – Katniss, though frightened, was constantly keeping her wits about her in the face of some incredibly stressful situations

Get the exact insurance you need at

The Hunger Games Rule #3: Never lose hope

Hope … it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective; a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” ~ President Snow of Panem

In a post-Games interview (remember it was all for television entertainment), Peeta confesses to the people of Panem that winning The Hunger Games costs you everything you are. To Katniss and to Peeta, it wasn’t worth gaining the world and losing their souls. There was no real hope in that and that real hope was what scared the regime running the country. Where hope is found in The Hunger Games is in the vision of the flower in the spring. The flower is a reminder that we shouldn’t trust the Capitol for our daily bread, that self-sacrificial love is better than anger and revenge, and that goodness can even survive utter destruction. This is dangerous hope that declares freedom from being a “pawn” in The Games. This is a hope that cannot be contained.

Hope was why I continued to struggle when my world was crashing in around me financially several years ago. Hope says, “Well they can’t eat me, so I’m going to keep on kicking.”

There’s always hope. Even when you’re in the midst of a terrible financial situation, there’s hope. You just have to keep your wits about you and make reasonable attempts at getting your situation resolved.

If you’re deep in debt:

  • Move your debt to Prosper
  • Get a balance transfer credit card
  • Put all extra money to paying off your debt

If you don’t have a reliable source of income:

If your out-go exceeds your income, learn to live beneath your means. The quickest way to lose your hope is to put yourself into a seemingly impossible situation. Don’t go there.

The Hunger Games Rule #4: Make the odds be in your favor

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!” ~ Effie Trinket

That was one of the more common sayings in the movie and it has a detrimental effect on all the participants. It seemed like “luck” was the only thing that could cause someone to win. While there is an element of good fortune in almost any success, luck is never the reason someone survives a multi-day onslaught from your peers … peers who are armed to the teeth and want to kill you.

I made “the odds” work in my favor several years ago when I applied to be a waiter at a thriving restaurant. I put in an application and heard nothing. I don’t know why the manager would’ve called me – I had zero experience being a waiter – so after a few days of no call back, I went to see him and told him again that I wanted to work there. He just said, “Ok, I’ll get in touch if we need you.” A few more days passed and I put on the uniform that his waiter wore to work (khakis, white shirt, and a real bow tie). I don’t know if you’ve tied a bow tie or not but it isn’t easy without a mirror unless you’re experienced. I showed up with it untied, asked him if I could start TODAY, and tied the bow tie in front of him. He just sighed and said, “Let’s go do the paperwork.” Within 6 weeks I was the most senior waiter there and I worked at that job for a year and a half.

Why tell this story? Because “the odds” don’t matter. People beat the odds every day. You can beat the odds too, but you have to make things happen rather than let them happen to you. That’s what Katniss and Peeta did in The Hunger Games. They made it happen and beat the people running The Games at their own game.

Summary of The Hunger Games

I enjoyed the movie. I really did. Even though watching one group of children hunt and joyfully kill others did have a disturbing effect on my psyche, the visible bloodshed was minimal and the positive elements in the movie far outweighed those negative ones. In it’s essence, The Hunger Games was a scathing indictment of our manipulative and often crass media driven culture … and it taught me some lessons I could take away and share with readers.

Hope you enjoy the movie as well.

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