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Essential Personal Finance Lessons From Three Holiday Classics

  +Follow December 6, 2013 8:56AM

The 2013 holiday season is right around the corner, which means it's time to crank out the yearly Christmastime traditions:drinking egg nog, eating egg nog ice cream, drinking egg nog with egg nog ice cream scoops, and of course watching the old holiday classics. While movies like It's a Wonderful Life are consistently praised for their touching revlations about humanity and the importance of love, several holiday classics have hidden personal finace lessons buried within them, lessons just as important as

#1: Grocery Shop More, Order Out Less, and When Applicable Use Coupons

John Hughes 1990 classic Home Alone is the improbable tale of an 8-year-old boy being forced to fend for himself over the holidays. While he first revels in the freedom, the harsh realities of trying to survive as a single, unemployed child rears its ugly head, forcing him to learn some harsh, albeit important, person al finance lessons.  

After frittering away money on trivialities like pizza, Kevin learns that even in the holidays one must live within one’s means. In this scene, Kevin, as many boys who grow into men must do, rejects the easy yet expensive path of the childish bachelor and assumes the role of self-caretaker, dutifully buying staples while eschewing excessive extraneous purchases, remembering to utilize a coupon, and staying neatly within his predetermined $20 budget.

Of course, the one lesson little Kevin failed to heed was to bring your own reusable shopping bag to avoid extra bag fees. He pays for this transgression as his flimsy plastic bags split open, spilling his $19.83 worth of groceries all over the cold Chicago sidewalk. It is doubtful he will repeat the mistake in adulthood.


#2: The Buyer Must Initiate Negotiations

In A Christmas Story, the protagonist Ralphie marvels at the shrewd negotiating abilities of his father, even during the holidays. While purchasing a Christmas tree for the family at a discounted rate, Ralphie’s dad demonstrates the value of negotiating a seller down, even when purchasing a symbol of the season of giving.

Capitalism is engineered by the seller to silently suggest that all prices are final, when this is pretty much never the case. Ralphie’s father knows this truism, and ruthlessly (and smartly!) exploits it when buying the family Christmas tree. When quoted one price, Ralphie's father balks, openly talking of other options, like purchasing a cheaper, plastic varietal.

Ralphie’s father executes perhaps the finest move in any negotiation: making clear the willingness to walk away from the deal and leave the seller choking on his own wares. By taking this shrewd position, in addition to getting the tree he nets himself free labor and rope he otherwise would not have received, all because he took the first step in negotiation: questioning the price and voicing other options.

Another fine example in A Christmas Story is the admonition not to "shoot (one)’s eye out," as ocular damage can seriously negatively affect one’s future earnings potential.


#3: Eschew the Excessive Pursuit of Holiday Presents

In Bad Santa antihero Willy is shown time and time again to be an untrustworthy wastrel, who steals, robs, and denigrates and denigrates everyone around him. And he is simply terrible at personal finance management. He fritters away his first ill begotten windfall (acquired via burglary) on alcohol, and looks primed to do so again, before realizing that there will “never be enough” to satisfy one who just takes and spends.

In the next-to-last final scene in the film (which is, it should be noted is very NSFW), in traditional Christmas fashion Willy realizes that in the face of death all material possessions are fleeting, and one can never acquire enough possessions to be happy. He runs off to return a gift to his surrogate son and, after collapsing at the door, appears to die. However, we learn in a voice over in the last scene that he collected a hefty personal injury compensation - but instead of money he will no doubt waste on the devil's drink, Willy negotiates a settlement in the form of a job from the police, a smart move indeed.

Three cheers for smart personal finance, Willy!  


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  +Follow December 6, 2013 8:56AM



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