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10 money lessons from Judge Judy

The reality show offers some important lessons about money, emotions and the law. Here are some basic financial principles reinforced on the show.

By MSN Smart Spending editor Aug 27, 2013 1:51PM
This post comes from Danielle Warchol at partner site

Savingadvice logoAt some point in your life, you’ve probably watched at least one episode of Judge Judy as you’ve been flipping through the channels during the day. Maybe you’ve seen it playing in your doctor’s office or at a local diner.

Judge Judith Sheindlin (© Jim Spellman/WireImage)At first it seems like nothing more than a reality court show, but it actually is an excellent source of practical life lessons and money management skills. As most of the cases on the show tend to deal with money or financial matters, here are a few crucial money lessons that people can learn from watching the show. Below are some of the more important ones:

1. Money makes people act irrationally
Anyone who has watched even a snippet of the show knows that people become irrational when it comes to money. Even the nicest and kindest people can turn vicious when their finances are on the line. This is an important money lesson to keep in mind as you read some of the other tips below.

2. Be wary of co-signing

If you search for “lessons learned from Judge Judy” on Google, you’ll find many different life/money lessons people have learned by watching the show. However, one that appears on almost every single list is being wary of co-signing a loan unless you’re married or in a long-term, committed relationship with that person. When you co-sign a loan with someone else, you’re responsible for the payments even if you’re co-signing for an item that you don’t use. So, if that other person flakes out and doesn’t pay, you’re on the line for paying off the loan and it’s up to you to fork over the money.

3. Don’t put your name on a loan for someone else

Another tip to keep in mind is to never put your name on a loan for someone else unless it’s a dire circumstance. For instance, say your significant other wants you to take out a loan for them so they can buy a car. What happens when they decide not to pay that loan or break up with you? Since your name is the one on the loan instead of their name, you’re the one who is responsible for paying it off.

4. A gift is not a loan
Many of the cases that appear on the show deal with people who don’t know the difference between a gift and a loan, and the one thing that all should take away from this is that if you give money to another person as a loan, have them sign a paper stating as much.

If you are in a relationship and end up giving your partner money for a variety of things on a consistent basis over a long period of time without getting paid back, then you break up and want your money back because it was a loan, you’re likely going to be out of luck getting that money back without a signed document saying it was a loan. Since the money was never expected back during the relationship and only once that relationship ended, there is a good chance that it would be viewed as a gift.

Always get a signed document stating that any money given is a loan if you want to make sure you’re paid back.

5. Oral contracts aren’t binding
In addition to the last point, the show makes it clear that oral contracts aren’t legally binding. If a friend promises to pay you back, but you have no documentation to prove it, you have no case to take them to court. Many people believe others will honor their promises, but you cannot hold someone legally accountable when all you have is that “she said she would pay me back” and nothing else. Again, if you are making any type of financial transaction, put it in writing and have all parties sign it.

6. Loaning money can ruin relationships
As most of the cases that end up on the show demonstrate, loaning money can ruin relationships.

It doesn’t matter the type. Loaning money can ruin romantic, familial, and close friendships with equal force. People get protective and defensive over money they owe or are owed.

Judge Judy shows time and again that loaning money can cause a huge rift in a relationship that may never be able to be repaired. Not having a friend or family member pay back the money they owe you is a serious cause of tension and can fracture not only your relationship, but the relationships of those around you.
7. Don’t expect anyone else to pay your bills

If you watch the show more than a few time, you will soon see a pattern where there are a lot of people who expect that someone else will pay for their bills or debt.

Unless someone is a co-signer on a loan, people aren’t legally obligated to help you pay for your bills. A lot of the cases deal with parents or children or significant others who expect someone to pay for them while they don’t contribute anything financially.

One of the biggest money lessons to take away from the show is the knowledge that you are the main person responsible for your financial decisions and that no one is obligated to help you out of a financial mess you’ve created.

8. Be smart about managing your money
A general money lesson to gain from watching the show is the knowledge that you have to be smart about managing your money. Many of the people who end up on the show are there due irresponsibly spending their own money or making the poor financial decisions to help others who can’t manage their own money.

The show reveals that these poor money decisions can end up being costly and are a great reference of mistakes that you want to avoid making yourself.

9. Have paper trails for big purchases
One of the important lessons from the show is that if you ever make a large purchase together, give cash to someone or pay off part of a loan, keep accurate records on how much and when you paid. Again, just saying you did something without being able to verify it with a paper trail will usually cost you in the end.

If you make payments in cash, always get a receipt. Paper trails can definitely help you out of any unfortunate financial circumstances where you’re not to blame.

10. Don’t loan money you don’t have
Another of the many important lessons that you should take away when watching Judge Judy is that you should never lend money you don’t have.

If you need the money for something else, you are going to make a huge financial mistake letting someone else use it. Loaning money you don’t have means that you’re unnecessarily creating a financial problem for yourself. If you do need to loan money to someone, make sure that you’re financially stable enough to do so. Never put yourself into debt for someone else.

More from

Aug 27, 2013 6:11PM
Aug 27, 2013 5:06PM
Question always on my mind:  When some who clearly is questionably receiving benefits, or hasn't paid taxes, or is commiting fraud is nailed on the show, how often is action taken by the responsible agencies?  Ever? 
Aug 27, 2013 7:54PM
JJ uses common sense-I  know people want to run her down all the time, but she does cut through the BS that most people place on the table, I have watched her time and time again and she don't put up with BS, I see people on her show constantly trying to get money THEY DON'T deserve. And Judy won't allow it. I think she is a much needed judge in this world of scammers, cheaters, liars, and traitors. I support you JJ.
Aug 27, 2013 5:26PM
Based on the show, your point about oral contracts is not true. She has honored oral/verbal contracts before, if someone slips up and admits that they said they would pay them back, even if there was never a written contract. Oral/verbal contracts CAN BE binding.
Aug 27, 2013 5:18PM
Very smart lady.  No wonder she makes big bucks.  Watched her last week and I think she is amazing.
Aug 28, 2013 7:40AM
All of these tips are common sense attitudes , but there doesn't seem to be much common sense going on in life .
Aug 27, 2013 8:17PM
I love Judge Judy!  My young son occasionally watches with me, and I have used the show to teach him some simple life lessons, like, "Don't ever loan anybody money," and "Don't ever live with someone unless you are married to them!"  I do think she sometimes rushes to judgment, but I try to remember that there are facts she probably knows beforehand that don't have time to make it into a 30-minute show.
Aug 27, 2013 8:55PM

I just love JJ. She tells it like it is and this Country is in need of a good wake up!  She will say the truth to people that their parents have never ever have said to them and that is just to be mature and be responsible for their actions. Most want a freebie from our government and just

don't want to work for what they want. If you are unemployed, you get Free Housing, Free Food (Stamps), Free Education and of course Free Health Care. Why on earth would they want to go out and get a job?  Let's open all the Boarders and let anyone from any country come in and sponge off of us!! God Help Us All.

Aug 28, 2013 9:03AM
I am smarter than you on my worst day. Are you trying to talk over me ?  Do you know when your children are lying to you ?  When they open their mouth.
Aug 27, 2013 6:18PM
Oral contracts are binding.  Even if the contract is not in writing, there are other legal basis upon which to enforce the agreement. Also, Judy has mention "quantum meruit" which is basically latin for "getting the merit" which means that if you perform a service or provide a good to someone without a contract, you are entitled to the value of that good or service (regardless of not having a contract).  
Aug 28, 2013 4:39AM
Judge Judy has a lot of common sense and practical knowledge and advise. Glad she was able to turn that into a rewarding law career. She also made another money comment that is usually business related but can also be personal in nature too. "Follow the money and you will find the answer." This also seems to be very true in banking and politics. Any time someone says they are doing something that will make things better, will give you something for a small fee/tax, etc. the one pushing for it is usually the one, the political party, a friend, or family member that will somehow benefit at the cost of someone else. It may be financial or it may be to gain power or an advantage. Perfect example is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Banks pushed for it very hard with promises that enough controls are in place that nothing will change. It was because Citi Bank and Travelers Group merged and it was going to cost millions to separate the bank and investment. Even today bankers don't want the act re-instated because it would cost too much to implement. With the way things are in the government and the media today, just keep the Judge Judy quote in the back of your mind anytime you see changes in businesses, laws, taxes, or statements by politicians and watch where the money goes and see how it benefit some more that others.
Aug 27, 2013 5:09PM
Great tips for the wary (even though the Smart Spending editor made several mistakes and typo's)...
Aug 28, 2013 11:41AM
Don't loan money to a friend unless you are prepared to lose forever the money or the friend or both.

Aug 28, 2013 11:09AM
The people on these judge shows are absolutely stupid. Can't believe the things they say and think they do it for the attention,what else is there. Judge Judy Rocks. I love that show.

Aug 28, 2013 11:44AM
What I have found is that loaning money is a leading cause of amnesia.
Aug 28, 2013 1:05AM
You forgot... take a peanut butter sandwich to eat for lunch
Aug 28, 2013 1:17PM
Kick O'DUMMY to the curb and put Judge Judy in....she can get rid of a lot of the BS in Washington!
Aug 28, 2013 11:08AM
I've been watching her show for years and it has served me well on so many occasions especially when people want to borrow money.  I don't loan money to anyone.  It is more trouble than it is worth.  I'll give people money before I'll loan it to them.  Also, never, Never, NEVER co-sign a loan!  I would never ask for anyone to do it for me and I expect the same courtesy.
Aug 28, 2013 12:45PM
Judge Judy cuts to the chase, She is practical, and gives sage advice! She can smell a liar a mile away!  I love to watch how some idiots that are on the show are left with the words in the mouths after she dismisses the case! Love you Judge Judy!
Aug 28, 2013 8:38AM

If you have a slam dunk losing case and if being made a fool on national TV means nothing to you, then the best thing to do is get on the JJ show.


There, the producers pay all damages, getting you off the hook.  In a REAL court, YOU would have to pay.


The only caveat is one visit to JJ per customer.  I don't think they accept return visits.  Just make sure you stay out of trouble and don't need the TV network to bail you out a second time.

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