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3 financial tips I got from cartoons

It's true: I've learned several important money lessons from the cartoon shows my son used to watch on TV.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 24, 2012 5:12PM

This guest post comes from Andrea Whitmer at So Over Debt.


One of the unfortunate side effects of parenthood is the requirement that you sit through all the shows your kids like to watch. It's funny how small children learn the rules before they're even old enough to use the toilet -- the more annoying the theme song, the greater their insistence that Mom and Dad must be in the room and paying attention at all times.


When my son was younger, the shows he watched were much cooler than the ones my 3-year-old nephew watches now. Shows like "The Wiggles" make me want to poke sharp objects into my eardrums and eyeballs. Do kids honestly like that stuff? Give me "Blue's Clues" or "Dragon Ball Z" any day!


Even though I moan about the deterioration of entertainment options for kids, I'm kind of amused to admit that I've picked up several relevant financial lessons from the shows my son used to watch. Yeah, I said it. Some TV characters actually make smarter decisions than I do! Maybe if I'd had these cartoon influences as a kid, I wouldn't be working so hard now to straighten out my money situation.


Not convinced? Either you don't know me very well, or you have underestimated the hidden messages in children's TV programming. Or maybe a little of both.


Don't be afraid to ask the 'stupid' questions

"Dora the Explorer" first aired when Jayden was 2 years old. I HATED Dora and her friend Boots the monkey. They were always asking the dumbest questions. Dora would stand next to a basket and say, "Do YOU see the basket we need to pick the blueberries?" And I'm going, "IT'S RIGHT BESIDE YOU, IDIOT! ARE YOU BLIND?" Post continues below.

Or else she was asking, "Who do we ask for help when we don't know which way to go?" Obviously, it's that dorky map with the obnoxious song that's supposed to make kids love geography.


After I got a few years' respite from Dora (and my homicidal rage subsided) I realized that her questions, while obvious to me, were probably not as obvious to her intended audience of preschoolers. And I thought about all the times a bank employee or financial adviser started talking about a bunch of stuff I didn't quite comprehend.


If I had been willing to risk looking as clueless as I felt, I could have avoided a lot of mistakes and confusion. For example, can you quote the terms and conditions associated with your checking account? Do you read those little privacy notices that show up in your mailbox every five minutes? No one does those things! But we're also the ones who get upset when a customer-service rep says, "It was in the fine print."


Financial tip: When your money is involved, you have the right to understand exactly what you're doing. Even if you have to ask the same questions over and over, it's worth it to know what's going on.


All the money in the world won’t help you if you don’t know what to do with it

"The Fairly Oddparents" was actually one of my favorite shows when Jayden was younger, though not for its educational value. This boy named Timmy has a pretty rough life -- he has buck teeth, his parents are inattentive, his baby sitter is evil and his teacher hates him. One day he's given fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda, who try to inject a little joy (and toilet humor) into his otherwise miserable existence.


Every episode follows the same pattern: Timmy faces a mundane issue, like not being invited to his friend's birthday party, and attempts to use his fairies' powers to fix the problem instead of dealing with it himself. Some kind of disaster always strikes, and he realizes that the "easy" way out probably wasn't the smartest.


The correlation here should be easy to see. Many of us (including my former self) use credit cards, payday loans, or lottery tickets as a magic solution to our problems. Except none of those options deal with the issues that caused us to be broke in the first place. In the end, the only way to get out of debt or have more money is to do it the old-fashioned way.


Financial tip: Learn to live on the income you have right now. Then if you ever do have access to all the money in the world, you won't waste it on junk.


Don't lose your sense of fun in your quest for financial success

I guess I have a love-hate relationship with "Phineas and Ferb."When Jayden still watched it, I would come up with every excuse in the world not to watch with him. The characters were just a little too altruistic and innocent for my tastes. (What do you expect from the Disney Channel?) But now that Jayden is older and has teenage things to do, I find myself secretly watching reruns of "Phineas and Ferb" from time to time.


Phineas and Ferb are two kids with awesome imaginations. They just want to enjoy summer vacation, which apparently lasts forever, but their bratty sister, Candace, is always tattling on them. They also have a platypus named Perry who is a secret agent, which has nothing whatsoever to do with this post. But I love Perry so I couldn't leave him out.


Inevitably, Phineas and Ferb come up with a harebrained scheme, convince people to go along with it and become unintentional celebrities along the way. They don't intend for their ideas to turn into huge spectacles; it just happens. And when Candace is running to their mom to rat them out, things conveniently come to an end and they never get caught.


When was the last time you did something just because it sounded fun, instead of because you were obligated? For me, it's been way too long. I haven't completely stopped living while paying off debt, but it's easy to fall into the trap of working and paying bills to the exclusion of everything else. I'm all for being responsible, but there are times when you need to forget about that and find some excitement. Especially if you don't have to incur more debt to do it.


Financial tip: If you're serious about improving your finances, you've probably spent a lot of time creating a plan and working toward goals. But if you fail to enjoy yourself every now and then, you may lose sight of what you're working so hard to achieve.


What did we learn today, kids?

You can find financial information in some strange places. But I'm a firm believer that advice doesn't have to come from Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman to be useful. It's all a matter of how you apply it to your situation. The best part is, even kids can absorb positive messages from the time they spend in front of a TV screen -- and they can probably teach us adults a thing or two.


What TV shows do you watch with your kids? Or, if you don't have any kids, what TV shows did you watch growing up? Did you absorb any lessons from those shows that might guide your financial decisions as an adult?


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