7 Best Movies for Learning About Personal Finance
World history, Statistics, Calculus, Chemistry, Psychology … The list of required college courses covers everything you might or might not need to know in life — except personal finance. The one class that would benefit new adults is either an elective or not offered at all.
That’s okay, though.
We can all learn a lot about how to handle (or not handle) our finances by watching a few relevant movies.
These seven classic films should be “must-see” criteria in every high school and college curriculum.
They’ll teach you the nuances and extremes of budgeting and investing. That way, you don’t make the same mistakes in real life as they do in their fictional world.
The Best Movies about Personal Finance
1. The Money Pit
Released in 1986, the lessons Walter (Tom Hanks) and Anna (Shelley Long) learn in “The Money Pit” are timeless.
The couple is in a desperate situation.
Walter is in seven-figure debt thanks to his father’s bad financial decisions. They’re about to lose their apartment in New York City, where it’s almost impossible to find a reasonably priced shack.
Broke and in a time crunch, a miracle happens when they see a too-good-to-be-true beautiful home right outside the city limits.
Walter begs and borrows to come up with the money to move in. Anna tries to think smart with her assets but still sinks everything into the home. When it starts to fall apart in massive sections, they struggle to find the funds to fix their property. At the same time, their relationship is disintegrating, too.
The movie teaches the clear lesson on personal finance that if something looks to be too good to be real, it likely is. It’s also a reminder not to let anything rush you into a significant investment. So don’t forget to take your time and review all possible outcomes before putting your last dime into anything.
2. Broken Eggs
“Broken Eggs” came out in 2013, starring Carrie Walrond Hood, Emma James Timko, and Dawson McKay. The movie focuses on the all-too-real dangers of retirement without a long-term plan.
The good news of longer lifespans for Americans can’t compete with the reality that Social Security funds aren’t enough to live on. Worse, the entire Social Security program is on the verge of bankruptcy.
By the time today’s college students are ready to retire, there will likely be nothing left of the program at all.
Viewers should watch this movie and take away the crucial financial lesson that planning for retirement needs to start now. By putting away a few dollars out of each paycheck into a savings account, you can achieve a healthy nest egg for your Golden Years!
3. The Banker
Starring household names like Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicholas Hoult, “The Banker” is a documentary released in 2020.
Although it’s a modern-day movie, it tells the story of reality back in the 1950s. It’s the authentic tale of two African-Americans — Bernard and Joe — who had an entrepreneurial spirit.
Unfortunately, their skin color made their American dream almost impossible.
So, they had to improvise.
The duo convinced a white man named Matt to be their front person, training him to do the work while reaping the benefits. Eventually, the three were able to break through the color barrier.
Black citizens finally had a chance to integrate once all-white neighborhoods.
Today, it’s hard to perceive Bernard and Joe’s struggle on such a deep level. The movie is relevant, though, as people new to the realities of the financial world fight to break through pre-existing ceilings.
Watch the movie and learn the lesson that sometimes, you have to think outside of the box to make your American dream come true.
4. 30 Days on Minimum Wage
By now, everyone has heard of the fight to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. It’s a meaningful debate as people argue the pros and cons of this change.
So, what’s it like to live on minimum wage?
Morgan Spurlock and Alexandra Jamieson find out in the documentary short “30 Days On Minimum Wage.” The couple changes their lifestyle to survive for one month, working at jobs that pay minimum wage.
From trying to find a place to live to buying groceries and paying the bills, the struggle is obvious. But the movie has a happy ending because, after 30 days, the actors can return to their lives.
Unfortunately, the working class doesn’t have the light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to.
It’s a deep, scary look at the desperate situation of those whose life situations took them to a point where minimum wage work is all they can earn.
An eye-opening lesson to viewers is that learning as many skills as possible and getting an education is essential. To avoid the physical and mental toll of this kind of life, you must have something to offer of value to employers.
With its sports-related plot, “Moneyball” became an overnight hit after its release in 2011. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, a baseball team manager that needs to find star-quality players on a ramen noodle budget.
The movie parallels many people’s working-class lives.
As Beane scours the available players, he looks for people with flaws that other managers would overlook. Then, he outsmarts the old-school teams and their traditions by turning his group of bargain-bin players into a winning team.
Viewers love the underdog theme of the movie, but they can also learn a powerful lesson in personal finance. With patience and intelligent planning, anyone can take a small budget and turn it into a successful investment.
6. Capital in the Twenty-First Century
“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” released in 2019, is a serious look into the way our economy works today. Michael Douglas, Vanessa Redgrave, and Ronald Reagan have archival roles in the story of how our country ended up where it is today.
It’s all there, from the French Revolution to the Industrial Revolution, and now, the Digital Era.
The directors include interviews with experts describing how each event affected the economy.
The main takeaway from this film is that things won’t improve without a significant change incited by today’s citizens. The future of the country’s economy may continue its downward spiral.
7. American Factory
Another insightful and relevant documentary, “American Factory,” takes us into the reality behind the rivalry between the U.S. and China.
The movie first appeared in 2019 and tells the story of a Chinese billionaire who opened a factory in Ohio. The company hired 2,000 American workers, but the high-tech ideas didn’t sit well with working-class citizens.
Junming ‘Jimmy’ Wang, Robert Allen, and Sherrod Brown shed some light on the catalyst of the China/U.S. economic tensions. With two opposing views on progressing society, a compromise wasn’t possible, and our cultures remain separate.
Financial lessons abound in this documentary. People who are just beginning in the personal finance world can learn that leadership culture at any company is essential to success.
Be cautious of where you choose to work. A hefty salary doesn’t always mean the company has the same ethics as you.
There’s so much to learn before you can become successful economically.
Don’t take out loans and get in over your head. Plan early for retirement. Load up on as many skills as you can so you’ll always be able to find better work.
It can seem overwhelming, but grabbing onto these lessons early helps you avoid getting the knowledge the hard way.
What’s easier than watching a few movies and learning from the characters’ mistakes instead?
About the Author
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Varsity House Gainesville to help them with their online marketing.