Sometimes movies can teach us lessons about money management, and it doesn’t get much better than kicking back with a bucket of buttery popcorn and watching a good movie unfold on the big screen or on your own TV—plus, it’s cheaper! And while we usually look to films for entertainment, just beneath the surface often lies a lesson.
More specifically, movies about money and power can provide important insights as we learn from the successes (or mistakes) of the characters in them.
Can We Really Learn about Money Management from Movies?
While many movies are purely works of fiction or exaggerate real life events, it's possible to get some important insights into money management. Money lessons from movies can range from warnings against spending too much money you don’t have, to avoiding gambling, setting aside funds for a rainy day, and how to set up your family for financial success.
Sometimes, money lessons from movies aren’t actually intentional. Instead, movies about things other than making money might have a tidbit of information or character that provides an example of what not to do.
12 Money Movies and Lessons Learned
The following is a list of just a few movies that have highlighted some very important lessons about money and spending, and how it can impact other facets of our lives. So without further ado, here are 12 films about money (or important money lessons) that we can all learn a thing or two from.
1. Indecent Proposal (1993)
This movie begins with a couple who can’t rub two loonies together. David (Woody Harrelson), a talented architect, and Diana (Demi Moore), a successful real estate agent, aren’t prepared when a recession hits, which too many of us can relate to. In a last-ditch effort to save their home, the couple heads to Las Vegas to try to win their mortgage money by gambling. Unfortunately, the cards are not in their favour, and they lose it all. A lot happens from there—including a mysterious billionaire showing up to "help" bail them out—but the lesson is all the same: it doesn’t pay to gamble.
If you or someone you know is suffering financially due to gambling, check out our blog on How to Financially Recover From Gambling Debt. It offers eight tips and provides links to helpful resources.
2. The Company Men (2010)
This 2010 movie is a drama with a star-studded cast of characters dealing with massive corporate layoffs. In the film, a corporation called Global Transportation Systems (GTX) downsizes in the middle of the recession. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a white-collar worker who initially had a six-figure salary, family, and many luxuries. However, as money gets tighter, he has to relinquish or sell off luxuries as he struggles to find a new job—eventually selling his expensive home and taking a job as a manual labourer working for his brother-in-law played by Kevin Costner. These emergency money management measures see him through to the end of the movie, where he is ultimately hired into a new company by former GTX financial executive Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones).
Unfortunately, not everyone who was laid off by GTX is able to survive the loss of their job. Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), another employee who climbed up the ranks of GTX, tries to keep up appearances for his family’s sake. Overwhelmed with bills and unable to deal with his daughter’s upcoming college tuition fees, he commits suicide.
Depression is extremely common for workers who find themselves cut off from their primary source of income. The Company Men is one of those movies about money and power that provides a stark look at the potential consequences of recessions and corporate layoffs—and of a company culture that emphasizes stock prices and on-paper profits over the wellbeing of employees.
Do you or someone you know need to learn how to survive job loss? Check out our blog on Preparing for a Job Loss for tips on surviving the period between jobs.
3. Inside Job (2010)
This movie is a critically-acclaimed documentary about the financial crisis of the late 00s. This film takes a look at the driving forces behind the financial crisis, including the deregulation of the American financial industry and the housing bubble.
It also examines the crisis itself. To really oversimplify things, the practice of over-lending money to borrowers who couldn’t afford the loans (making them all too likely to default) caused massive losses to companies throughout the U.S. and beyond. It took a massive government bailout to keep many large corporations in business throughout the recession after the housing bubble burst.
The documentary highlights that it is all too easy for large financial institutions and whole economies to fail dramatically when there isn’t sufficient oversight—and it is everyday citizens who often suffer the consequences.
Recession-proofing your budget is an important precaution—especially in light of the events of 2020. Read our blog on 7 Ways to Prepare for a Recession in Canada to learn more.
4. Moneyball (2011)
A biographical sports drama starring Brad Pitt that's based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie so about money that it’s in the title. However, it isn’t about personal finances so much as it is about making smart decisions about investments and relying on hard data rather than gut feelings.
In the movie, Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager for the Oakland Athletics. Several of his team’s biggest and most expensive star players are leaving the lineup, and he has a very limited budget for replacing the lost talent. This is when he encounters Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics grad with new ideas for assessing player value—a method called sabermetrics.
After overcoming resistance from the team manager and scouts, Beane and Brand successfully clinch the American League West title despite being 10 games behind early in the season.
This film establishes an important lesson about making wise investments instead of relying on gut instincts—which is important for money management. Want advice about when to save money vs investing it? Check out our blog: When to Be Saving Versus Investing Money.
5. Up (2009)
Being a Disney/Pixar animated film, you wouldn’t initially think that Up has a strong lesson about money in it. The film starts off with Carl Fredricksen (Jeremy Leary and Ed Asner) as he works as a salesman and marries Ellie. During their life together, Carl redirects his savings intended for fulfilling his and his wife’s dream to more urgent spending, such as home repairs and hospital bills. But unfortunately, Ellie eventually passes away, and in just a few minutes into the movie, we see Carl go from an optimistic young man to a worn-down old widower who is determined to fulfill his and his wife’s childhood dream no matter what.
The major money lesson is part in the beginning of the film. The montage of Carl’s life showcases how important it is to save up for rainy days and emergencies—especially as we see the couple’s coin bank grow and shrink as they go through life’s challenges. If you’d like to learn how to save some cash for a rainy day, check out Want to Improve Your Financial Situation? Try These 10 Savvy Money Tips!
6. Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)
It's no surprise from the title of this movie that it's about someone who's addicted to shopping. Rebecca (Isla Fisher) can’t get enough clothes, shoes, and purses. In the movie she states, “A store always smells good... It can awaken a lust for things you never even knew you needed.” Unsurprisingly, Rebecca’s shopping addiction leaves her drowning in debt. Through a stroke of luck, she winds up writing for a publication about the dangers of shopping too much, while continuing to feed her need for shopping and ignoring the very advice she dishes out.
Yes, a romance blossoms, and yes, she learns the errors of her ways, but ultimately most “shopaholic” stories don’t have a fairy tale ending. The lesson here, of course, is to watch your spending. It can be difficult, but we’ve published quite a few blogs that may be able to help you beat your own bad spending habits, including How to Stop Impulse Buying and Learn to Just Say No.
7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
This is one of those interesting movies about stealing money where the theft isn’t actually about taking cash or valuables. Instead, a group of real estate agents are given an ultimatum: Everyone but the top two best performers will be fired. Partway through the film, one of the real estate agents, Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) robs the office to steal a set of promising leads that he can use to close lucrative deals and secure the top-performing position.
Other sales reps working in the office also take part in unscrupulous practices to secure their position as the top sellers for their company. For example, Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) practically browbeats an indecisive and meek prospect named James Lingk (Jonathan Pierce) into accepting a deal—and then lies to Lingk when the man’s wife convinces him to reconsider.
The movie is rife with coarse language, borderline villainous characters, and the lesson that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many of the main characters are scam artists who will twist words, lie, and cross various legal lines to close a deal—and not care about how their actions will affect others.
It’s a grim reminder to watch out for scam artists. If you want to learn how to recognize scams and avoid them, check out 15 Internet Scams Canadians Should Watch Out For.
8. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This movie is a perennial Christmas classic that highlights how much you can matter to the lives of those around you. In the movie, George Bailey (James Stewart) starts to believe that his family would be better off without him after a series of setbacks. This includes being blamed for the theft of $8,000 that was misappropriated by his nemesis, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who received the money by accident and decided to keep it.
Due to his low income and possible impending arrest, George makes a wish that he had never been born. Clarence (Henry Travers), an angel trying to earn his wings, shows Bailey what would have happened if he had never been born, showing all of the people who would be much worse off without George’s selfless acts.
Money troubles kick off the inciting incident, but with the help of his friends throughout town, George is able to cover his debt.
George’s family was able to live off of relatively modest means—even though there were several chances throughout his life to get more lucrative work. If you’d like to learn how to achieve financial comfort on a tight budget, read our article: Money Management for Low Income Families.
9. The Money Pit (1986)
Okay, this isn’t a great film, but it does offer some laughs and it’s fun to see a young Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. The duo play a young city-dwelling couple who decide to purchase a large country estate despite its suspiciously low price. It’s not long, however, before they realize just why the price was so low; doors fall from their frames, raccoons have moved in, the bathtub falls through the floor, and in one inspired scene an entire staircase comes crashing down leaving Hanks hanging from the second floor.
The lesson here? Buying a home is a major life decision and investment, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly (and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is). Our blog Should I Rent or Buy My Home, explores the benefits of renting and buying.
10. Boiler Room (2000)
Most people think of Wall Street or the more recent film Wolf of Wall Street, but this little-known classic really hammers home an important lesson (plus, who knew Vin Diesel could act?). The film focuses on a group of twenty-somethings engaged in a fly-by-night brokerage firm who get rich overnight by peddling questionable stocks to unknowing investors. A young Giovanni Ribisi is the only participant in the scheme with a conscience. There's a particular scene where he promises to try to make things right for a down-on-his-luck investor, from beneath his desk so as not to be heard, which is completely heartbreaking.
When it comes to investing, you need to be smart about it—and don’t ever play with your nest egg. Investing should only be considered if all your debts are paid off and you have a healthy emergency fund (about 3-6 months' worth of your salary). Learn more helpful tips to retiring smart with our blog Canada Retirement Planning and Credit Counselling: What You Need to Know.
11. Ivory Tower (2014)
Ivory Tower is a documentary that examines the value of a higher education in today’s economy—especially considering how the cost of college has rapidly outpaced the cost of inflation. While the documentary is focused on the cost of education in America, where tuition fees are so high that many Americans struggle to pay their student loan debt, the film’s insights can be just as valuable to a Canadian audience.
So, what's the "money lesson from movies" to learn here? Before committing to a long and expensive degree program, it’s important to research your alternatives, get to know how student loan debt can affect your finances, and carefully consider not only your degree, but also how it can be used to make a living after you graduate.
Need advice on dealing with student loan debt? Read the Best Student Loan Debt Advice for Students and Graduates.
12. The War of the Roses (1989)
This is a very, very dark comedy, featuring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (who were fantastic together in 1984’s Romancing the Stone). They’re a married couple, the Roses, going through a bitter divorce after nearly twenty years together. The biggest sticking point? Money (and their opulent house in particular, which neither wants to part with). In their efforts to make the home their own, they ultimately destroy it—and their lives.
Studies reveal that money is the number one reason why couples fight, and a leading cause of breakups and divorce. Don’t wind up like the Roses’—you can find support here: Managing Money in a Relationship.
Free Help with Your Money and Debt
Money movies have a way of reflecting the very real struggles we go through every day. And when it comes to movies about money, there’s no shortage of them. These are just a few; if we missed some of your own favourite money-themed movies, share them in the comments below! And if you need help with balancing your budget or finding extra savings, we're just a phone call away. Call us at 1.800.267.2272 or book online. All of our counselling is 100% free, confidential and judgment-free!
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