The Legend of Zelda is a Nintendo franchise that follows the adventures of Link in his quest to save Princess Zelda from a warlock known as Ganondorf. The games are situated in breathtaking scenery, savage dungeons, and in and around the mythical kingdom of Hyrule.
As a personal finance expert, one thing I find fascinating about Zelda games is the economy that’s built into them. Often it revolves around a fictional currency called the rupee, which you can earn in various ways, like throwing jars or completing minigames. Earning rupees is typically just a fun side mission — though it can help you buy some cool stuff in the game — but I think we can draw some valuable personal finance advice from it, even if the game’s developers didn’t intend for it to be instructional.
I’m going to focus on the game I know best — Ocarina of Time — having played it since the good old days when blowing dust out of Nintendo cartridges was still the most reliable way to fix glitches. If you haven’t played Ocarina of Time, I’ll try to give some context to help you understand the point.
With that in mind, let’s look at three things The Legend of Zelda can teach us about money.
1. Don’t pay a premium for convenience
Throughout Ocarina of Time, you’ll encounter shops where you can spend your rupees. For example, the Medicine Shop sells a variety of stuff, like Deku Nuts and Fish. The problem: These shops often sell goods you can easily find in the game. You can save money by fishing on your own or defeating Deku Babas for Deku Nuts.
Of course, the Medicine Shop sells something irresistible — convenience. Buying stuff there saves you time, plus you don’t have to repeatedly beat up malevolent Venus fly traps to collect Nuts.
Outside of The Legend of Zelda, this want for convenience often translates into subscriptions and services, like delivery apps (cue the dungeon music). Much like the Medicine Shop, delivery apps can save you time on shopping, but for a premium. Delivery fees and tips add up, and you could easily pay more than 10% on top of what your groceries actually cost you. For instance, in 2022 the average American spent about $1,850 on delivery services, according to a survey by Circuit, with $654 of that going toward fees and tips — more than 35% of the total.
But hey, I get it — I would much rather buy Blue Fire from the Medicine Shop than go down to the Ice Dungeon to get it. One thing that could help is using rewards credit cards. These cards help you earn extra cash back. Plus, some cards give you free memberships to your favorite delivery services, such as the following.
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2. If you’re down a few rupees, go cut some grass
Or throw pottery. Or collect bugs in bottles and sell them to the town’s beggar. Or beat up some Stalchildren in Hyrule Field at night. The point: If you need some money, go get a side hustle to earn it.
Even though side hustles are baked into our economy and easy to overlook, they are still one of the best ways to save for anemergency fund, pay off debt, or pay your way through college. With a side hustle — like driving for Lyft or Uber — it’s not so much about getting rich quickly as it is increasing cash flow to set yourself up for long-term goals, like buying a house.
But the gig economy isn’t the only way to earn extra cash. Another is to take advantage of accounts that earn interest, like high-yield savings accounts or certificates of deposit (CDs). CD rates are currently the highest they’ve been in 22 years. Link may not have had investments in his day, but he would have saved himself a lot of time cutting grass if he did.
3. Your wallet is only so big
This is “soft” personal finance advice but perhaps it isn’t emphasized enough. In Ocarina of Time, your wallet can only hold so many rupees. In fact, when you start the game, you can only collect a maximum of 99 rupees. After that, you can collect 200 rupees with an Adult’s Wallet and 500 with a Giant’s Wallet.
As in Zelda, so in life: There is a point after which the pursuit of money no longer makes you happy, nor really makes sense. Most of us reach it quicker than we realize, but it might take some years (or long hours at work) before we admit it’s true. Of course, Ocarina of Time differs from life in that it regenerates rupees indefinitely and offers you a way to accumulate them faster (case in point: collect 100 Skulltulas and visit the House of Skulltula repeatedly to earn 200). But perhaps that’s why the game developers capped the wallets in the first place — to make the game challenging, sure, but to avoid distracting from the mission, which is to save Princess Zelda.
Don’t get me wrong — financial security is important. And taking steps to get there — such as saving money, earning with side hustles, and investing — can feel like a journey in itself. But at a certain point, most of us realize it’s just a side journey. And at that point, you have to take a cue from a Link and get back to the quest — whatever that is for you.
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