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Scrabble & Personal Finance: 8 Lessons From Tiles

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Super Scrabble!My fiancée and I play Scrabble all the time, in fact, our love for Scrabble has gotten to the point that we’ve actually moved on to Super Scrabble (think Scrabble, but much larger board and more tiles). So, when my fiancée suggested I have some fun with a Scrabble and Personal Finance post, I thought it’d be fun.

#1. Patience, Patience, Patience

To win at Scrabble, you have be more than just good with words. With Double and Triple Word Scores and Double and Triple Letter Scores, if you’re able to position words such that you land on these spots, your scores will be increased exponentially. This means that you need to be patient in when you use your tiles. In Personal Finance, it’s all about patience. Compounding is a powerful idea because it requires a tremendous amount of time. 11% annual gain on $100 is only $11 that first year. If you think you can play around, time the market, do all that mumbo jumbo, then you’re putting that at risk. If you’re patient enough to let that 11% accrue over 40 years, then you’re talking $6400 gain.

#2. Early Lead Means Nothing

Slow and steady wins the race right? It was true for the Tortoise and the Hare, it’s certainly true for a lot of other things, including Scrabble. You could build up an early lead with the bonus point spaces in the middle but as the game progresses and those Triple and Quadruple (if you’re playing Super Scrabble) word score squares get closer and closer, even a fifty or hundred point lead could evaporate in a single turn. This is true in real life, how many fantastically rich heirs or heiresses see their fortunes get blown on a series of bad decisions? How many fantastically rich individuals built it from the ground up in one generation? While having an “early lead” sure is nice, it’s neither an assurance or a guarantee that prosperity is in the cards for the future. Not having the lead early also doesn’t prevent or hinder you from success down the road. While your history does play a role in your success, you play a much bigger role.

#3. The Harder It Is, The More Valuable It Is

Q’s and Z’s are notoriously difficult to use in Scrabble but you are handsomely rewarded if you do use them. The same is true in personal finance on every single level. Tax preparation is not particularly difficult theoretically, it’s just complicated with a million rules and a million “gotchas.” However, if you understand it well enough, there are rewards to be taken. One very easy (almost too simplistic) example was the telephone excise tax refund that lots of deserving people just ignored because they didn’t know, didn’t think it applied, or just forgot. Now, take that same idea and extend it to something like investing. Investing in the stock market seems scary because it is. Think of the pictures of the NYSE trading floor, all the business, all the action, the thoughts of the Dow jumping 300 points or being slammed for 300, it’s a lot of activity and can be very scary. Deciding between “maybe I get 11% return this year” vs. “100% guaranteed 4% return from an online savings account or CD” might always have you picking the certain 4% instead of the maybe 11%, but taking the time to understand something like the stock market is important because 11% is a lot when you’re talking about decades. So, tackle the hard things.

#4. Plan Ahead

Remember when I said that an early lead in Scrabble doesn’t guarantee victory? Well, sometimes having too early of a lead, such as using up valuable pieces early, can be a detriment as the tiles get closer and closer to the valuable point multiplier spaces. That being said, it’s really important to plan ahead and figure out when you should throw out “ZOO” so you can land it on a triple word or triple letter score. Planning ahead is also one of the most important ideas in personal finance because it can save you a ton of money. Making a big purchase? Plan ahead by budgeting and saving some money so you can put down a bigger down payment and get a better interest rate. Retirement is all about planning, planning for forty years down the road when your brain is barely thinking a week away.

#5. Work With Others

My favorite letter in the whole game is “S” because it allows me to work off the words others have created to start a completely new chain. Not only that but I get the points of the original word (plus 1 for the S) as an added bonus. If I’m strapped for points and it’s getting to the end of the game, an “S” is a really cheesy way to try to catch up off words that might already be valuable on their own. Life, personal finance included, is all about relationships and working with others to achieve common goals. You read personal finance blogs because you want to learn more, I write personal finance blogs because I want to learn more (and am very thankful when everyone adds their thoughts, corrects my errors, etc.), and we all are better off than if we just kept to ourselves..

#6. Get Another Perspective

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you can play or what your tiles could potentially spell, so it’s helpful to just jumble up the letters or look at the board from a different angle. In finances, it’s hard to know where your holes are and so it’s helpful to talk it through with a trusted friend to see if there’s something you’re missing. If you’ve never heard of the Roth IRA, you wouldn’t realize the benefits or that you should have one. If you have misconceptions about a 401(k), unless you bring them up with someone, you’ll never clear them up because you don’t know that they’re misconceptions. You don’t necessarily have to find a financial planner, sometimes talking to a friend and getting their perspective can help a lot.

#7. Take A Break

Regular Scrabble can go pretty quickly but Super Scrabble, with so many more tiles and spaces, can sometimes take a while. We often take little breaks, to let our little brains take little naps, so we can go at it with a relatively more renewed spirit. If you then take this towards retirement planning (or any other problem, personal finance or otherwise), consider taking little breaks to help recharge your brain and re-energize your spirit. When I was breaking down my retirement account asset allocation, I took a little break between when I collected all my asset amounts and when I did the math. Why? I was tired of the copy and pasting and all the research it took, which was really all of thirty minutes, and I didn’t really feel like continuing. Had I kept plowing onward, maybe I would take some shortcuts that would bite me down the road? Ultimately, I feel that taking little breaks allows you to renew and go back at the problem 100%.

#8. Be Gracious In Victory

Some days you will win, some days you will lose, but ultimately you will always play again regardless – so be gracious. Be a good winner, be a good loser, because ultimately the game doesn’t really matter and it’s, back to #5, all about relationships. In life, sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose, but ultimately you will play again so don’t burn your bridges because you might need to go back. So it didn’t work out with you and your accountant or you and a business partner, life moves on, so shake hands, part ways kindly because your paths may cross again and everyone remembers someone who slights them. Burning bridges helps no one.

There you have it! Eight, count them, eight personal finance lessons from the tiles that I think are crucial for both Scrabble and personal finance. I had a fun time coming up with them, I hope you had a fun time reading them. I’m by no means either a Scrabble master or a personal finance master, but I’m good at tying together seemingly unrelated things into something almost related and hopefully clever for you all to enjoy. I thought I was pretty good at Scrabble until I told my friend Mike, a teacher down in Florida, that I’ve gotten the 50 bonus points for using up all 7 tiles maybe two or three times ever and then he said he does that two or three times a game (it’s a little easier in Super Scrabble). Maybe that’s why he’s a teacher and I write code. :)

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4 Responses to “Scrabble & Personal Finance: 8 Lessons From Tiles”

  1. Sean says:

    This is a really smart and interesting post since I do enjoy playing scrabble. However, I disagree on the early lead section. An early start is important for building your retirement plan, and it greatly increases your chances of retiring early or wealthier. But this is all based on the assumption that someone wouldn’t blow their bank account on stupid stuff like some celebs!

    Great post.

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    Here are some recent interesting posts from the MoneyBlogNetwork and beyond: Get Rich Slowly warns to beware Citibank’s retroactive late fee. Consumerism Commentary covers Britney’s finances. AllFinancialMatters tells how to turn desire into gold. Mi…

  3. shela says:

    Thanks for suggesting #7 taking a break.

    I have been trying to do a crash course in personal finance. While I have learned a lot and made some real progress, I have been reading so many books and blogs, working on spreadsheets and tracking finances, and I have nearly reached the point of burning out. I have a full-time job, but my finances have become like an additional part-time job.

    Taking a break, if only for a week or two, might make for a good rest and a fresh perspective on my finances.

    So I think I will just take a miniature vacation, save my receipts and enter them in a week or two. And take a break from reading anything to do with money!

  4. I have lost several tiles to my scrabble set and im looking for where I may purches these tiles my set is top of the range swivel board and wooden tiles , thanks for any assistance you can give me ,
    F G Darnell.


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