Lessons From Hollywood About Personal Finance

As the mercury starts to rise once again and we brace for what seems destined to be a real scorcher of a summer, thoughts are beginning to drift towards the best ways to keep cool. A great summer pastime has always been going to the movies because there’s nothing quite like whiling away a couple of hours on a sticky summer day in a dark air-conditioned room, getting lost in a movie, or as the case may be, in your chilled living/entertainment room, watching a smaller screen.

But it’s not all about guilty pleasure. Some of the best movies and TV shows from Hollywood have subliminal lessons, especially about money, and if you’re paying attention you just might learn a thing or two.

Here are a few. Can you come up with any others?

Wall Street (1987)

This is probably the definitive “money movie”, about a young Wall Street broker who gets mixed up with his mentor, a ruthless corporate raider, and it really lays a foundation for understanding not just the brutal underbelly of the world of stocks and Wall Street stockbrokers, but also paints a picture of late-1980s America’s toxic relationship with corporate greed, which foreshadowed the inevitable 2008 financial meltdown which had its origins in financial institutions. The movie’s tag line is: Greed is good. But we know it isn’t, right? Right?

Squid Game (2021)

This Netflix series anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock knows has been one of the streaming service’s biggest hits to date. It’s an entertaining thriller set in modern-day Seoul, about cash-strapped players in a game of survival with life-and-death challenges who vie for a big prize. These players have made bad money decisions and are desperate. Money lessons abound: The dangers of gambling, the importance of insurance, protecting your passcodes, financial literacy and spending your money wisely are but a few.

Schitt’s Creek (2015)

The premise of this fish-out-water TV sitcom is that a wealthy family, the Roses, suddenly loses their fortune when the family lawyer embezzles their money and they are subsequently forced to live in a grungy ugly little motel in a grungy ugly little town the father had once purchased on a lark. There they must adjust to life without the kind of wealth they formerly had as well as living in each other’s truly cramped space. A major lesson for audiences would naturally be to always watch the person who’s watching your money. Another one: You can make it on less than you can imagine if you’re determined to come out of financial debt.

Indecent Proposal (1993)

A down-on-their-luck attractive young couple during the recession head to Vegas to gamble in a last-ditch effort to make some money to meet their mortgage and keep their home. Needless to say, they gamble and lose everything. Until a rich stranger offers them a chance — a million dollars, to be exact — to extricate themselves from their debt. But at what cost? Lesson number one: Don’t see gambling as some kind of substitute emergency savings fund. It is not. Lesson number two: Make careful financial decisions; not everything that glitters, as they say, is gold.

Up (2009)

You wouldn’t expect that a Disney/Pixar animated film could teach a lesson about money, but, weirdly it does. At the beginning, Carl and Ellie are a young optimistic couple who get married and, as the years go by, a few minutes into the film, see their savings and dream of a good life get sidetracked by the vagaries of life, like old age, home repairs and unexpected illness. Parents can help explain to their children (and remind themselves as well) the importance of saving money for a rainy day.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)

Well, it’s in the name, isn’t it? Shopping addiction leaves the narrator drowning in debt. Who can relate? And while this is a rom-com, and Isla Fisher’s character finds a job that enables her to continue shopping even while courting a new romance, real life isn’t a fairy tale; there’s often no happily ever after. If you dig yourself into a deep hole of debt, you have to do whatever is necessary to dig yourself out. Nobody is coming to save you.

Succession (2018)

The HBO series is a black comedy/drama about the deeply dysfunctional family behind a successful media conglomerate that has been recently publicly traded. When the patriarch’s health is threatened, all the knives come out as the children jockey for control of the company. The lessons here? Oh, so many. The ultimate being, well, succession planning. Don’t wait until sickness incapacitates you if you’ve built a family business. Complications can quickly arise within the family, compounded even more in the event of unexpected death.

Lamar Harris, vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets<strong>RLA</strong>

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