Six Financial Lessons from Children’s Movies

If talking with your kids about money is as alien as “E.T.” or as tangled as “Charlotte’s Web,” you are not alone.

Apr 10, 2017

In the 1988 film “Big,” Tom Hanks’ character, a tween temporarily embodied in his 30-year-old self, is elated when he receives his first adult paycheck. He immediately goes to the bank and cashes the $187 in full, indulging in nonessentials like silly string, junk food and amusement park rides. Despite its far-fetched premise, this caricature of a financial juvenile residing in an adult body is an all-too-common reality. Children and teens who don’t learn budgeting basics may one day join the millions of Americans with minimal savings and massive credit card debt.

If talking with your kids about money is as alien as “E.T.” or as tangled as “Charlotte’s Web,” you are not alone. Nearly 70 percent of parents feel some reluctance in discussing financial matters with their kids, according to a T. Rowe Price “Parents, Kids and Money” survey released in March. In honor of National Teach Children to Save Day on April 28, following are six financial lessons from well-known children’s movies:

Switch places.

Powerful insight can be gained from walking in another person’s shoes, as told and retold in both “Freaky Friday” and “The Parent Trap.” Absent a magic fortune cookie or an identical twin, you can still give your child a new perspective on finances by temporarily swapping roles. Let them take a stab at the family budget using Monopoly money. Help them understand how funds must be allocated towards bills, groceries, and other needs each month.

"Everything is awesome when you're part of a team."

Though “The Lego Movie” theme song is dripping with irony, you can teach your child with full sincerity the value of financial teamwork. Bring your youngster along on your next trip to the bank and show them how transactions work. Ask the branch manager to explain how the bank operates, the importance of saving, and how money generates interest. Consider offering to match your children’s saving contributions.

Know where you want to go.

In Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Alice finds herself at a fork in the road, unsure which way to turn. When she asks the Cheshire cat which path to take, he tells Alice that since she doesn’t know where she is going, “then it really doesn’t matter” which way she goes. When you know where you want to go and what your goals are, it’s easier to navigate financial decisions. Encourage your child to set and work toward short-term and long-term financial goals. Help them allot a portion of the money they earn through chores, receive as gifts, or get through an allowance toward each goal.

Keep the change.

You don’t have to leave your offspring “Home Alone” to give them some financial autonomy. Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister’s solo grocery store trip could be successfully recreated — orange juice coupon and all — with a tad more supervision. Filling his cart with basics like milk, Wonder Bread, and laundry detergent, Kevin is able to eke under his $20 budget and even squeeze in a bag of plastic army men. Give your child a budget and a shopping list and see how they do. Explain the benefits of comparison shopping, coupons and store brands. You could also involve kids in the financial side of planning for a family outing or vacation (assuming you don’t mistakenly leave them behind like the McCallisters did). Consider setting aside a fixed amount for things like snacks, concessions or souvenirs and letting children and teens decide how to spend the allotted funds.

Counter "I want it now" syndrome.

Understanding the difference between needs and wants is the golden ticket to a sound financial future. In “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” spoiled heiress Veruca Salt screams, “I want an Oompa Loompa now!” No sooner does her father pull out his checkbook than Veruca demands a squirrel and a golden egg-laying goose. For many children like Veruca, “wants” carry a false but fading sense of urgency. Next time your child asks for something they don’t need, like a toy or electronic device, respond with a “not now.” If they still want the item later, you can help them set up a savings plan to work toward the goal.

Feed the birds.

Buttoned-up junior bank officer George Banks faithfully teaches his tots about the wonders of compound interest and the benefits of established credit, but only Mary Poppins can help him see that there is more to life than money (like feeding birds and flying kites, for instance). Model healthy financial attitudes that include giving to charity and recognizing that money can’t buy happiness.


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