With Oscar’s season upon us, many make it a point to indulge in the year’s top movies.
When you pay a visit to the movie theater or curl up on the couch to see that much-awaited flick, you’re probably looking for 90 minutes of uninterrupted entertainment, not a lesson in personal finance. But whether you’re looking for it or not, you’ll find that many popular movies contain priceless advice. Check out these financial tenets you can take to the bank.
“Money’s only something you need in case you don’t die tomorrow.” – Wall Street
Wall Street, both the movie and the entity representing the U.S. financial market, has come to represent greed and the ruthless pursuit of money for its own sake. In this quote, however, money is reduced to a necessary evil, something we can’t help but depend on. The converse is also true—if you’re planning to live for a long time (and who isn’t?), you’re going to have to save a lot of money.
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh** we don’t need.” – Fight Club
Fight Club explored the effect of material possessions on happiness and our increasing imprisonment by a society driven by advertising. In the movie, fighting was a release—a way to avoid the numbness felt from the accumulation of material things. Freedom from advertising and the consumer mindset is the key to happiness in Fight Club. In the real world, avoiding lifestyle inflation could potentially allow you to retire early or pursue a career you’re more passionate about, which may also be the key to happiness.
“If you build it, he will come.” – Field of Dreams
Kevin Costner’s character Ray sacrifices his livelihood by turning his cornfield into a baseball diamond, a decision most people in his life don’t agree with. Facing bankruptcy, Ray perseveres with his dream of holding baseball games for spectators. In the end, Ray’s decision pays off, all because he never gave up his dream. The same can be said for many of the great financial success stories. Focus on your goals and less on your failures and hurdles in the meantime. Ray’s strategy also works well in the stock market, when it can be more advantageous to ride out a rough economy than to sell low.
“I’m not gonna spend the rest of my life working my a** off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up, okay?” – Working Girl
It’s okay to break the rules sometimes. The job market, economy and investing rules are constantly changing, so be flexible and don’t be afraid to let go of financial tenets that aren’t working for you. The corporate world is easier for women to navigate today than in 1988, but there are still rules—and glass ceilings—to break.
“You’ve heard of the Golden Rule, haven’t you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” – Aladdin
Of course this isn’t the real Golden Rule, but Jafar makes a valid point that is one of the central themes of this rags-to-riches story. When appearing as a “street rat,” Aladdin is watched suspiciously by the palace guards, but when he pretends to be a rich prince, he is welcomed inside. This version of the Golden Rule is true in real life as well. If you’re not saving and investing, you don’t make the rules—you’re not even in the game. Build your net worth to achieve financial freedom over your life and your future. As much as greed can be seen as a bad thing, without money you are also without power.
“Well, some teachers are trying to low-ball me, Daddy. And I know how you say, ‘Never accept a first offer,’ so I figure these grades are just a jumping-off point to start negotiations.” – Clueless
Cher’s father says he is just as proud of her for her negotiation skills as he would have been if she’d earned her good grades the old-fashioned way. Most people wouldn’t condone slacking off in school, but negotiating is an incredibly useful skill when it comes to financial success. Negotiate everything you can—your salary, insurance premiums, credit card interest rates and even that garage sale purchase—and you can save big in the long run.
“I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you…to make each day count.” – Titanic
In Titanic, Jack Dawson is a third-class passenger who goes from sleeping under a bridge to dining and schmoozing in first class after winning his boat ticket in a game of poker. Your life might not be as unpredictable as Jack’s, but there is a level of uncertainty in all situations, which is not necessarily something to fear. If you can’t predict how the economy is going to act, learn to adapt and take life as it comes to you. Don’t try to time the market or make investing choices based on speculation. Accept that you can’t predict the future and invest according to your risk tolerance.
“My mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.” – Forrest Gump
Forrest takes cross-country running literally when he spends years running from coast to coast, all in an effort to put his past behind him. Once he’s able to do so, he moves on to bigger and better things without the burden of his past weighing him down. If you take a risk and get burned on the stock market, you have to get back on the horse and continue striving for your goals. Use your past as motivation to avoid repeating mistakes, but don’t let it hold you back from succeeding in the future.
“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” – Good Will Hunting
Sean recalls his late wife’s idiosyncrasies and revels in them now that he can no longer be with her. Just as he didn’t notice those little personality quirks that he has come to love, most people don’t notice the good things in life until they are faced with financial hardship. The best things in life are free, but it’s usually in the bad times that people realize this.
“It’s very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.” – The Princess Bride
Don’t be like Inigo Montoya, so focused on avenging his father’s death (or whatever your chosen passion may be) that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Many retirees report feeling listless and depressed once they leave the workplace and lose the sense of purpose they once found through their careers. Building strong outside interests not only prevents retirement malaise but can also help you to build a career with more eclectic and diversified skills.
“You ought to spend a little more time trying to make something of yourself and a little less time trying to impress people.” – The Breakfast Club
Principal Vernon implores his students to make goals and find the motivation to reach them. He sees the group of detention-bound teens as too dependent on outside approval, which clouds their judgment. While it’s clear he doesn’t truly understand the students he’s judging, his advice is sound, especially when it comes to your finances. Once again, “keeping up with the Joneses” can be detrimental to your wallet and may leave you on a hamster wheel in search of contentment.
“I like to live dangerously.” – Austin Powers
Austin refuses to take a hit in a blackjack game after his first card is only a five, claiming that he likes to live dangerously. The problem—and the joke—is that taking a second card would surely have been a safe move, and not taking the card was, in fact, the “dangerous” move. Living dangerously when it comes to your finances can lead to devastating results, so it’s better to stick to your risk tolerance than to try to gamble for your future, literally or figuratively. However, being too conservative can sometimes be the riskier choice. Choosing not to invest at all—keeping your savings in an account that doesn’t keep up with inflation or even hiding it under the mattress—is as “dangerous” as Austin Powers’ blackjack move.
“This business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.” – It’s a Wonderful Life
George Bailey wants to make something of his life, and he’s not content to sit in an office in a small town doing work that he’s not passionate about. Just as George refuses to spend his time figuring out “how to save three cents on a length of pipe,” your time and energy might be better spent pursuing a better career instead of trying frugality tips that will save you a few cents here and there. It’s more profitable in the end to focus on big wins and remember that your time is valuable, too.