Gotta Cash ‘Em All

What Pikachu can teach us about saving, time, and compounding

Gotta cash ‘em all: Financial tips from Pokémon cards

Remember the Pokémon craze? It all started with a humble black-and-white videogame for the handheld Game Boy in 1996, in which players had to capture 150 whimsical monsters. Led by an electrified rodent named Pikachu, Pokémon went on to become the highest-grossing franchise of all time. (Yes, even surpassing Star Wars!)

Collectable playing cards were one part of the adorable empire. In 1999, Pokémon cards were so popular, they were being banned in schools so kids could focus. Children would trade them, show them off, and “battle” with them. Though not the cultural juggernaut they once were, Pokémon cards from the early years are now immensely valuable. The shift has been dramatic — in fact, eBay reports a 60% increase in sales volume since January 2020. Cards are selling for far more than they did only a few months prior, thanks in part to interest from celebrities like Logic the rapper, who spent $220,000 on an extremely rare Charizard.

There are a few lessons we can learn from the sudden resurgence of these nearly 25-year-old curios. 

Time is money 

At the beginning of your savings journey, something may not seem valuable — whether that’s a collectible item or a savings bond. But 20 years is shorter than you think — those kids trading Pokémon cards in the ‘90s are all well into adulthood now. It’s amazing how much even a small investment can appreciate in a relatively short period, so get started early. The average investor starts at age 30, which means they’ve lost three decades of potential growth before they’ve begun.

Markets are volatile

What goes up can go down. In the early 2000s, there were news reports of children who’d seen the value of their Pokémon card collections vanish overnight after the market “virtually collapsed.” The ones who stuck with it are laughing now: this year, an unopened box of cards sold for $360,000. Financial markets are far less unstable than faddish toys, but they still fluctuate. Don’t panic; ride out market blips with an eye to the long term.

Protect your investments

Not many of those kids from 25 years ago have hung on to intact collections. Because for most, the value of those cards was in the countless, arbitrage-driven afternoons of action.

If you’re cursing yourself for sitting on a stack of dog-eared and dirty cards, stop. Value comes in all kinds of forms. When it comes to your investments, try sticking to the ones that have stood the test of time.

Then add compounding.