Financial Wisdom on the Small Screen: 5 Money Lessons Learned from Our Favourite TV Shows

By: Lucy Zemljic on January 26, 2015

The next time someone tells you that “TV will rot your brain!” it may be worth showing them this list.
Sure, it’s probably not a good idea to binge-watch Netflix until your eyes hurt, but every so often the small screen serves up some serious nuggets of financial wisdom.

Here at, we’ve found that personal finance advice can pop up in some not-so-obvious places. Back in August, we learned that there are plenty of money lessons to be found in literature. As it turns out, our favourite TV shows can teach us a few things about finance, too. Just take a look at these five memorable money lessons learned from the small screen.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
1. Breaking Bad: Plan for the Unexpected
Now here’s a TV show littered with bad choices – financial and otherwise.
Those of us who witnessed Walter White’s transformation from seasons 1 through 5 know that he provides more than a few glaring lessons of what not to do with your money. But the most fundamental mistake made by this former chemistry teacher is the precursor to all the others – not planning for a rainy day.
At the beginning of the series, Walter White is diagnosed with lung cancer. Not only does he not have the funds to cover the pricey cancer specialist, he also has no savings to make sure his family's taken care of after his death. We all know what happens next: meek-and-mild Walt is forced to take drastic measures to stave off financial disaster – namely, cooking up crystal meth. 
“I just want you to know that, no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart,” explains Walt in the first episode. Walter White’s ordeal reminds us that, although it’s not pleasant to think about, we all need to prepare for life’s unforeseeable circumstances. It’s wise to stay informed on what your own insurance covers or doesn’t – it may even be a good idea to find out if you have critical illness or disability coverage through work. Better yet, have enough money saved up so that you at least have a buffer if disaster strikes.
In Canada, healthcare costs are of course less of an issue, but it's still important to have money set aside and insurance coverage put in place in case you get sick or injured.
Since the passage of Obamacare, Americans are a little more protected from illness-induced financial ruin too. As Geoffrey Joyce, associate professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at USC explained to ABC News, under Obamacare Walter White's out-of-pocket costs would have actually been capped at a percentage of his income (somewhere around 6% - 9%). 
"Thus," said Joyce, "Walt would have been protected from catastrophic expenses and the financial ruin that led him to cook meth in the first place."
Heisenberg would be pleased.
Walter White Finance Lesson #2: You probably shouldn't toss your cash in the wash.
2. Game of Thrones: Pay Back Your Debt ASAP
House Lannister, one of the oldest, richest, most powerful houses in Westeros, is not a family to be trifled with. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably come across their famous catchphrase – “a Lannister always pays his debts.”
Sure, most of the time it’s used metaphorically, as in “if you mess with a Lannister, they’ll get their revenge.” Sometimes, though, the phrase is meant literally to mean that when a Lannister borrows money from your house, you’ll get it back – no matter what.
Case in point: Tyrion Lannister, youngest son of Tywin, lord of House Lannister, held up his end of the bargain after that infamous ordeal at the Eyrie, paying Mord all the gold he’d promised after the latter got him out of those draughty Sky Cells. Or, when the Bolton men complete a task set out by Jaime (fetching Brienne from Harrenhal,) the Lannister golden boy promptly pays them their rightful reward.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons they’re so ridiculously rich. The Lannisters may be deceitful, cold, and calculated, but they do seem to manage their money wisely. They pay back their debt, whether it’s in coppers or in blood.
The financial lesson? Don’t put off paying your debt, because it could leave your kingdom in ruins. Make a budget and stick to it, so that you can find out where your money’s going and see if there’s any that can be saved. Then, take care of the highest-interest rate account first before you get to the others.
It's safe to say that Tyrion made a good investment here.
3. The Big Bang Theory: If You’re Married, Make Big Financial Decisions Together
Most of the time, these brilliant, geeky buddies make solid financial decisions. The guys are gainfully employed physicists, and seem to spend their money pretty wisely – except for a few notable exceptions.
One of these exceptions is that one time when Howard buys a $5000 3D printer, without consulting his wife, Bernadette. To say she was upset is (understandably) an understatement. 
After this blunder, Bernie takes him off their joint account, hoping he’d learn his lesson. What is the lesson? If you’re married, or share finances with a partner, you can’t just make important financial decisions on your own – you need to consult your partner first, and decide on big purchases as a team.
Admittedly, those dolls that Howard whipped up with his pricey purchase were almost worth it – but not quite. Learn a lesson from Wolowitz and keep your S.O. in the loop when it comes to big financial decisions, for the sake of both your finances’.
Note: This was her reaction before she found out about the $5000 price tag.
4. 30 Rock: Where You Put Your Money is Important, Too
Between Jack Donaghy’s egomaniacal exploits, Tracy Jordan’s outlandish antics, and Liz Lemon’s attempts to keep them both in check, there are a few nuggets of financial wisdom to be found on this hilarious NBC sitcom.
He may be a narcissistic, no-nonsense network exec, but some of the advice that’s come from Jack’s mouth is actually right on the money. Specifically, his money management advice is surprisingly sound.
“So what are you gonna do with your money,” Jack asks Liz one day, “put it into a 401k?”
“Yeah, I gotta get one of those,” she replies.   
When he asks her where she invests it all, Liz explains she’s got “like, twelve grand in checking.”
Jack’s dumbfounded reaction says it all – she should have invested in a retirement account, or opened up a savings account instead.
Here in Canada, we’ve got RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) and Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA). The idea is the same, though – if you move that money out of checking and into a savings or retirement account, you can watch your savings grow, tax free.
Liz and Jack: a duo made in comedy heaven.
5. Seinfeld: There is Such a Thing as Being Too Cheap
Like any proud 90s kid, I’m a bit of a Seinfeld fan. So it’s only fitting that this classic sitcom shows up on our list – and yes, it’s about George again.
Time and time again, we’ve sung the praises of saving money. But there’s a fine line between being money-savvy and being, well, cheap.
Throughout the show’s nine seasons, George Costanza has repeatedly leaped over that line. Our favourite balding, neurotic, would-be architect is not only cheap, he’s downright parsimonious. But his cheapest, most ridiculous act of penny-pinching has got to be the one that (accidentally) killed his fiancé, Susan.
Sometimes, saving a little bit of money can cost you a lot more in the long run, as evidenced by Costanza’s miserly ways. When shopping for wedding invitations, George opted for the cheapest ones in the catalogue – the ones that had been discontinued because of shoddy adhesive.
As it turns out, that adhesive was toxic, and poor Susan had been licking those envelopes all day. Needless to say, there was no wedding.
The lesson here is simple: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you pay less for a poor-quality product, you’re not getting a deal at all – you’ll end up spending more money in the long run, either through repair or replacement costs, or other complications that could arise down the road.

So whatever you do, stay away from those cheap invitations. 

George Costanza: the Patron Saint of Cheap