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Size up your adversary

Squid Game cast

One of Gi-hun’s biggest failures is his inability to stop, think and plan ahead. He always acts on instinct and emotion, but as he learns throughout season one, knowing what you’re up against can be a huge advantage.

Start by gathering up all your bills and balances and examining them as a group. That includes all your credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages and any other sources of debt.

It helps to create a spreadsheet with a column for each debt’s outstanding balance, interest rate and monthly minimum payment. The final list may look imposing, but the breakdown will help you decide which debts to tackle first.

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Choose your strategy

Squid Game cookie

Just like there’s more than one way to cut out an umbrella-shaped cookie, there’s more than one way to approach debt.

The “avalanche” method will save you the most money, but some people find it more difficult. Attack your highest-interest debt first, even if it has the biggest balance, while making minimum payments on all your other bills.

If you find that too demoralizing, you can try the “snowball” approach instead. Throw your money at the bills with the smallest balances first, getting them out of the way and providing the confidence boost you need to tackle your bigger problems.

There is one more factor to consider, if you’re unable to make all your minimum payments. Some debts, like mortgages and car loans, are “secured” — meaning you agree to surrender your home or car if you can’t pay your bills.

Part of what made failed investor Cho Sang-woo so desperate is that he (somehow) used his mother’s home and business as collateral. You may decide there are some assets you can’t afford to lose, too.

Cut down your targets

Squid Game robot

A common strategy to eliminate high-interest debt — like the kind you get from credit cards, payday loan shops and bloodthirsty loan sharks — is consolidation.

The concept is simple: You take out a new loan with a much lower interest rate and use it to pay off your other balances. That leaves you with only one bill to worry about, and you’ll be able to put more money toward paying down the balance instead of interest fees.

Some Squid Game players would have struggled to employ this strategy, because you do need to convince someone to give you a new loan. Gambling addict Gi-hun likely trashed his credit score — that three digit number that tells lenders how reliable you are.

After taking a look at your own score and maybe taking some steps to improve it, you can consider a few different options for consolidation:

  • Personal loan. See what rates are available at banks, credit unions and online lenders. You’ll be asked to pay back these unsecured loans in equal installments over a set period of time.

  • Balance-transfer credit card. These cards charge low or no interest for a limited time, giving you a brief window to pay down debt without being weighed down. However, some cards charge a hefty fee to transfer your balance, and once the promotional period ends, the regular interest rate can be painful.

  • Home equity line of credit. If you own a home and have built up enough equity, this will be one of your cheapest options. A word of caution, though — you’ll be using your home as collateral, so if you don't make your payments, you could lose it.

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Lower your monthly spending

Squid Game crane game

Many Squid Game contestants, including Gi-hun, Sang-woo and the gangster Deok-su, wound up on the remote island by spending more money than they had.

Before you try stealing from family members and business associates, check out some of these strategies to reduce your monthly spending.

Slash your insurance bills

Experts recommend revisiting your insurance bills at least once a year to make sure you're getting the best deal. If you haven’t shopped around for better rates on your car insurance in a while, you could be overpaying by as much as $500 a year. The same method will work for your home insurance policy.

You may also want to check if your insurance provider will offer you a discount for bundling your various policies. And having all your monthly bills going to one place will help you keep track of them in future.

But don’t consider going without health insurance for any length of time. When Gi-hun’s mother got sick, they were helpless because he had terminated his mother’s policy for cash.

Instead, look into Medicaid if your income is low enough to qualify, or take advantage of the generous subsidies available through marketplace plans. Open enrollment for 2023 coverage doesn't start until Nov. 1, but certain life changes, like getting married, moving or losing health insurance coverage can entitle you to a special enrollment period.

Shop smarter

If Gi-hun planned ahead and shopped around, he could have found a much better gift for his daughter than a novelty lighter — and for a lot less money than he wasted on that crane game.

With thousands of stores online, it can be hard to feel confident you’re getting a good price. Try downloading a free browser add-on that will automatically scour the internet for lower prices and coupons before you hit checkout.

And with groceries more expensive than ever these days, it's a good time to explore options to trim your food budget, like meal planning, using up leftovers and cutting back on expensive ingredients like meat.

Refinance your mortgage

Mortgage rates are on the rise as the Federal Reserve has been forced to increase its benchmark overnight interest rate in response to sky-high inflation.

But if you’re buried in credit card debt — in the range of tens of thousands of dollars — you could consider consolidating that balance with your mortgage in a “cash out” refi.

There will be a sizable fee upfront, so make sure you plan to stay in the home long enough to make the move worthwhile.

Boost your income

Squid Game coffin

Not every Squid Game contestant buried themselves in debt through their own mistakes.

North Korean defector Sae-byeok needed a huge sum of cash to smuggle her mother to safety, and factory worker Ali Abdul wasn’t earning a cent from his corrupt employer.

While both characters may have struggled to find new jobs, depending on their skills and immigration status, you can find opportunities in unexpected places. And we’re not talking about accepting a challenge from a stranger at the subway.

Some advanced job boards will use artificial intelligence to match your skills to jobs you never would have known existed.

Online gig marketplaces can help you pick up extra work to do from home, whether your talents lie in writing, voice acting, graphic design or something else.


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Noel Fletcher Former Reporter

Noel Fletcher was formerly the insurance and taxes reporter at MoneyWise. Prior to joining the MoneyWise team, Noel wrote for various U.S. and international business magazines, newspapers, syndicates and wire services, including Reuters. For fun, she writes books, takes photographs and enjoys adventure, travel, history and a good cup of coffee.


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