Wish you could join a ‘Squid Game’? Here’s a safer plan to escape debt

Sometimes debt can be so suffocating that it feels like you’re really in a fight for survival.

So is it really that far-fetched to imagine that hundreds of people would put their lives on the line for a chance at financial freedom?

That’s the concept behind Netflix’s smash hit Squid Game. In desperate need of cash, 456 contestants compete in dark twists on traditional children’s games. The winners walk away with millions; the losers die.

In real life, there is no Squid Game — but there also doesn’t need to be. Here’s what protagonist Gi-hun and the rest of the cast should have done to escape debt with their bodies intact.

Size up your adversaryNetflix

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 the show, 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.

Choose your strategyNetflix

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” — you agree to surrender your home or car if you can’t pay your bills.

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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 targetsNetflix

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 — while North Korean defector Sae-byeok may not have had the chance to build her score.

After taking a look at your own score and 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 may 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.

Lower your monthly spendingNetflix

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

If you haven’t shopped around for better rates on your car insurance in a while, you could be overpaying by as much as $1,000 a year. The same goes for your home insurance.

And 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 right now with marketplace plans. Following the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, about half of new enrollees on HealthCare.gov snagged a monthly premium of $10 or less.

Refinance your mortgage

Homeowners may be able to save hundreds of dollars a month by refinancing their mortgage at one of today’s ultra-low interest rates.

If you’re buried in credit card debt — in the tens of thousands of dollars — you could even 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.

Find lower prices automatically

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.

Boost your incomeNetflix

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.

And even if you don’t have much cash to spare, you can still take advantage of the soaring stock market by using an app to invest your “spare change” from everyday purchases, turning pennies into a diversified portfolio.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.

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