Growing up I watched a lot of TV and movies, frequently while pretending to do my homework. The question would usually arise about how I would benefit from the copious amount of time I spent in front of the television. For one thing, I learned the word copious from TV. But looking back as someone in the industry, it’s also fun to note the hidden financial lessons that we can learn from some of our favorite movies and TV shows. Below are some basic, yet critical, financial lessons that we can take away from popular culture quotes.
1. “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ ”
(Forrest Gump)1 – The financial markets are also a lot like a box of chocolates. Maybe you’ve heard a financial lawyer’s favorite line: “Past results do not guarantee future performance.” While this is in part legalese, it is also true! Timing the market isn’t just something that is hard to do; it is essentially impossible to do it effectively. The stock market returned 8.21% over the last 20 years, while the average stock investor only returned 4.25%.2
2. “You can paint with all the colors of the wind.”
(Pocahontas)3 – Disney princess Pocahontas recognized that the beauty of the world wasn’t just contained in a few animals or a few trees—though undoubtedly her favorite was the little raccoon that followed her around. This is also true when it comes to investments. You might think that Europe is going down the drain and it is best to keep all of your investments in US companies or that it is safest to only invest in large Fortune 500 companies. But it can be very wise to take Pocahontas’s advice when investing and paint with all of the colors of the stock AND bond markets. You can reduce risk by having a well-diversified portfolio that takes into consideration big and small companies, domestic, foreign and emerging markets countries, as well as bonds from around the world and of various credit qualities.
3. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
(Gordon Gekko, Wall Street)4 – While Gordon Gekko was a villain and we certainly are not suggesting that anyone follow his advice, he did get one thing right: greed, in certain ways, can be good. The lesson here is that you need to be greedy with your paycheck and pay yourself first. Even if you start by saving just $50 or $100 a paycheck, pay yourself before you pay it all out at the mall or the coffee shop. You worked hard for that money and if you don’t pay yourself first, you may not have much in savings to show for all your hard work 10 or 20 years from now.
4. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
(Uncle Ben, Spider-Man)5 – This ties directly in with number three and number five. You may have a good job, a steady income, maybe even a spouse or family. Your job and financial independence have given you great spending power, but with that power comes the great responsibility to budget appropriately. After you are done paying yourself first, you then need to prioritize the rest of your spending. Creating a good budget—one that you can stick to—is an important first step.
5. “I’m the king of the world!”
(Jack Dawson, Titanic)6 – After you may have gotten a few promotions, the check every two weeks might look bigger and bigger and you may very well feel like climbing to the top of a mountain and screaming this famous line as loud as you can for all to hear. If you have followed numbers three and four above, you are potentially in good shape. If instead you have neglected these lessons and that big paycheck is being spent just as fast as it is coming in, then you have all of the fancy wears of a king, but your net worth won’t stack up. It is important to remember that it is better to have savings like a king than to only have the stuff of a king.
6. “I can’t take his money. I can’t print my own money. I have to work for money. Why don’t I just lie down and DIE?”
(Homer Simpson, The Simpsons)7 – This is a less famous line, but certainly from a character very well known. Yes, building a sound financial base when you are just starting out can be hard work. Maybe you even share Homer’s sentiment, but the most important thing to remember is that financial success takes patience and time. A quick example: let’s assume a reader is 25-years old and is going to retire in 40 years. If the reader contributes $5,500 to a Roth IRA today (the current maximum someone under the age of 50 can contribute) and earns on average 7.2% per year (this is the rate necessary to double the investment every 10 years), then that one contribution could be worth $88,000 at the time of retirement.8 Time and patience can be a powerful combination in the world of investments.
Finally, you don’t have to do all of this on your own. You can work with a financial advisor to get started on the right track. We can only learn so much from watching our favorite TV shows.