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Money lessons from classic movies

Rocky could have used a good financial adviser.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 6:39PM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.


Movies today can rely on special effects, monster marketing efforts, and a few pretty faces (*cough* "Transformers 2" *cough*). In the 1980s and early '90s, movies had to rely on the story and the acting to achieve success.


Out of that era, which coincided with my childhood, came a lot of classic movies that teach powerful lessons about how to deal with your money, how to approach your career, and how to find success in both.

I thought it would be fun to pick out five lessons from just five movies from that era (one of them is from 2000, but no fancy special effects there).

Be careful whom you trust. Rocky is one of the iconic film franchises of my generation and there is a powerful financial lesson to be learned in the fifth film. If you remember, it's in "Rocky V" that you learn of the health effects of fighting the Russian machine, Ivan Drago. You also learn of Rocky's financial woes when he discovers that Paulie, his wife Adrian's brother, signed over power of attorney to Rocky's accountant. The accountant then proceeds to lose all of Rocky's money flipping real estate.


The lesson here is that you have to be extremely careful whom you trust, especially when it comes to your money. As you acquire more money, you put it into the hands of mutual fund managers, financial advisers and other "experts." You have to carefully vet them and I believe you should never sign over power of attorney.


Fake it until you make it. In "The Secret of My Success," Michael J. Fox plays Brantley Foster, a laid-off financial analyst who sneaks into a new job as a mailroom clerk at his uncle's company. From there, he finds out that most of the executives are making terrible decisions and starts to fake being an executive. The movie is a classic and the iconic scenes include Fox changing from the casual wear of the clerk to the suit of the executive while in an elevator.


The lesson here is that sometimes you need to fake it until you make it. Some use the adage "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." In the end, the message is the same: If you behave as if you belong somewhere, then you do. In the end, what's the difference between pretending and being? Nothing, really. (I don't advocate deception or lying though. I believe that crosses the line.)


All we need is the right opportunity. "Trading Places" is an awesome movie and one of my favorites. In "Trading Places," two commodity traders, Mortimer and Randolph Duke, decide to conduct a little social experiment. They want to know if the rich and successful are that way because they started rich and whether a common street criminal could achieve the same given the same starting point. So they take Eddie Murphy's character, street hustler Billy Ray Valentine, and have him swap places with Dan Aykroyd's character, a successful broker.


Life isn't fair, but sometimes two rich guys decide to make a bet and give you the keys to the kingdom to see what you'll do with them. The lesson here is that you should always be working hard, whether it's trading orange futures or street hustling, so that you can take advantage when an opportunity presents itself.


Keep emotions in check. "Bull Durham" is one of the most well-known baseball movies in history. It involves veteran catcher Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, and a powerful rookie pitcher named Nuke LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins. Crash is brought to the minor league team to try to mold and shape the promising Nuke. In their first meeting, which is in a bar, they almost come to blows as Crash taunts the hot-tempered Nuke.


The lesson here is that you need to keep your emotions in check. Had Nuke struck Crash, he could've broken his hand, ended his minor league career, and never achieved the success he would get to enjoy later. With finances and your career, you need to keep a level head. When making stock investments, don't let your emotions make decisions for you.


Don't do anything illegal. "Boiler Room" isn't quite a classic movie but it does have a powerful lesson to tell. It follows the story of Seth Davis, a college dropout who is running an underground casino in his house. He eventually gets a job at a brokerage, where he's paid to get rich investors to buy into penny stocks his firm is pumping and dumping.


At first he doesn't realize how the scheme works and that what he's doing is illegal. He sees only the lavish lifestyles the more senior brokers are living. Eventually he realizes he's just scamming people of their hard-earned savings.


There are two lessons in this movie. The first is that you shouldn't let greed overcome your decision-making process. The allure of a hot penny stock is like the siren song of Peisinoe, Aglaope and Thelxiepeia; it can make you do some crazy things.


The second lesson is that you shouldn't ever do anything illegal. 


Related reading at Bargaineering:

Published Sept. 29, 2009



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