Published August 22, 2011
This summer, the movie theater is more than just a place to eat popcorn, slurp soft drinks and hide from the heat. There are some solid money lessons on the big screen. Even if some of them are of the learn-by-watching-these-mistakes variety.
Whether moviemakers meant to, this year's crop of blockbusters (and even some of their more modest cousins) offer wisdom that can enrich your financial life.
Along with the respected but dry financial journals, you can also glean a little money 411 from watching wizards and warriors. Or out of the mouths of bad-tempered babes and cuddly creatures.
So next time you want to spend a few hours staring at the big screen, just say you're brushing up on your fiscal skills. And here are five current movies and the financial takeaways you can apply to your own money.
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2'
In the last installment of the Potter saga, Harry and his pals venture into Gringotts Wizarding Bank to relieve one of the villains of a very valuable (and dangerous) object that is stashed within the vaults. But getting into (and, more important, out of) this bank -- which is run by goblins -- is not exactly easy. And their "inside man" proves a little less helpful than they'd hoped.
Real-world money takeaway: Always have an escape plan for assets, and understand exactly how that plan works.
That's "part of being an informed investor and being able to understand the pluses and minuses of various investments," says Peggy Cabaniss, CFP, president of HC Financial Advisors in Lafayette, Calif., and past chair of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
While some investments can yield larger rewards, they tend to be less liquid, which means you can't always get to that cash when you need it, she says. Her advice is to keep a rainy day fund that you can get to quickly.
"You need some of your money invested for long-term growth, but you also need liquidity," Cabaniss says.
The other lesson: Watch your back if you're dealing with goblins.
Along with insights into friendship, flying and the dangers of pink taffeta, this movie offered a realistic financial scenario: friends (and frenemies) with vastly different monetary resources.
Real-world money takeaway: Whether you have piles of the green stuff or you must stretch every dollar, it pays to be honest with your friends -- and sensitive to their situations.
It makes zero sense breaking your budget to keep up with more affluent friends. Or requiring those not as financially advantaged to either spend, or spend time alone.
"You can maintain your friendships, you can not embarrass anyone, and you can be thoughtful," says Karen Altfest, CFP, principal adviser and executive vice president of client relations for Altfest Personal Wealth Management, a fee-only financial planning firm based in New York.
For example, if you're meeting for dinner, make sure the place you pick is affordable for everyone. Keeping up or getting together with friends "doesn't always have to be spending the moon," she says.
The other lesson from the movie: Bridal fashion and food poisoning definitely don't mix.
'Cowboys & Aliens'
It's the Old West, circa the early 1870s. So what are spaceships full of aliens doing in the Arizona territory?
They're after gold. But with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig leading the woefully outgunned cowboys, you know those aliens are going to get more than they bargained for. And it's more likely to be measured in caliber than karats.
Real-world money takeaway: Just because a venture could net you some gold doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Too often investors think they can strike it rich with one good investment, says Jill Gianola, CFP and author of "The Young Couple's Guide to Growing Rich Together." There are two main problems with the get-rich-with-one-investment approach.
First, "there is no such thing as a perfect investment," Gianola says. "All investments, including gold, have had their ups and downs." Second, "you risk putting all your eggs in one basket if you only concentrate on a particular investment. That makes you more vulnerable."
Cameron Diaz's title character is the teacher you really hope your kids don't get for homeroom.
Out to raise some money for plastic surgery so she can ditch the teaching job she loathes, this woman makes life miserable for just about everyone who crosses her path.
Real-world money takeaway: Even if you hate your job, give it your best shot as you plan your next move.
Tell yourself "one, I have to make a living," says Martin Yate, author of "Knock 'em Dead: Secrets and Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World." "Two, it's important that I enjoy it and do something I like. And three, it's important for me to pursue my dreams."
You might not get all of those items in one place, he says.
There's also something to be said for a change in attitude. When you give the current job your best, you're more likely to get access to your profession's "inner circle" and access to raises, promotions and job security, Yate says.
At the same time, constantly looking for a better opportunity -- and networking -- is a skill that will help you find happiness and success, he says.
'Winnie the Pooh'
When Winnie the Pooh (admittedly a "bear of very little brain"), misunderstands a note from Christopher Robin, he fears the worst and rallies his friends to go on an unnecessary "rescue" mission.
Real-world money takeaway: It pays to read the fine print and understand a situation thoroughly before you act.
With money management, a big part of looking at the whole story is evaluating if a particular investment or action is not just good, but if it's a good fit for you, Altfest says.
"Look around at all the options and see how it fits in with the rest of you life," says Altfest. "What's good for you might not be good for the person next to you."
And if you're listening to an adviser, "understand what they're doing and make sure they have actually done those things in past markets," Cabaniss says. "And you, as a client, have to choose something that's comfortable to you."