3 Finance Tips I Got from Cartoons

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 Dragonball 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.

1. 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?”

Or else she was asking, “Who do we ask for help when we don’t know which way to go?” And 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 advisor 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 5 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.

2. 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’s got buckteeth, his parents are inattentive, his babysitter 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.

3. 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 (but what do you expect from the Disney Channel?). Now that he’s 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; however, there are also 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?


3 Finance Tips I Got from Cartoons43 Comments

  1. Ha! I've got a lot of this to come I think!  Personally I don't think you can go past sesame street, plenty of good learning to be had and they throw in the occasional laugh for the parents too.

    • I remember Big Bird singing this song on the show when I was little - I think it's my life mantra. "Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, it's true. Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too. Big people, small people; matter of fact, all people! Everyone makes mistakes so why can't you?" Wow, I can't believe I remember that 25 years later. I guess I took it to heart!

  2. Ok…big secret reveal coming up….I like iCarly and sometimes watch it by myself.  There are very few financial lessons in iCarly.  In fact, they have a really cool apartment and no income other than Spencer's (the goofy older brother) occasional income from his art.  However, it is just a really, really funny show and I enjoy laughing at the silly antics.  There was one episode where Spencer became addicted to a video game and did not hit his deadline for an art sculpture.  He ultimately got everyone together to help and finally met the second deadline.  Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere…

    • I LOVE iCarly! You're right that money isn't really mentioned on the show - we're just supposed to assume that everyone in cities can afford huge apartments and do what they want all day. But it's still one of my favorites. I think a good takeaway from the show is that it's possible to recover from mistakes. Definitely something I know about!

  3. I firmly believe that if Dave Ramsey was animated and had an adorable animal sidekick I'd be more of a fan! I sense a letter writing campaign in the works…Dave Ramsey for Kids (or easily distracted adults).


    • That's actually a really good idea! I can't believe he hasn't thought of that yet. I think he does have some materials for kids/teens, but a cartoon would allow him to infiltrate a much larger number of brains. Not that I think he does that or anything… (senses Dave Ramsey post coming on)

  4. 4) If you freeze yourself for 1,000 years, your 93 cents will be worth $4.3 Billion.  (Futurama).

    Clever idea for a post!

      • Though, wouldn't you be in trouble for all the back-taxes you never paid on your interest-bearing account?  That's bound to add up as well…

        • Wow, way to rain on my parade, Steph! Now I'm really depressed to think that's no longer an option. Maybe I could hire someone to pay the taxes every year while I'm in my frozen state. Then again, what do people in comas do for tax time? Are they responsible since they're unable to pay? Hmm…. I need to do more research.

  5. Great message from Dora!  There are no stupid questions, even with personal finance :)  It's more important someone understands how to do something no matter how many questions it takes to teach someone the concept at hand.

    • I'm really bad about holding myself back when I think I "should" know the answer to a question. I'm more likely to wait until later and google it. Which is fine because I still get the information, but I know some people who won't do either. I wish we all intuitively knew how to explain anything to anyone!

  6. Neat post Andrea!  I love looking for inspiration in unusual places.  On my blog I've written about money lessons I've learned from watching cartoons like Ducktales and Samurai Jack.  They are always fun posts to write.

  7. The generation coming behind us is going to be miserable at business.  Seriously.  Have you ever seen money exchange hands for goods / services on Imagination Movers or Handy Manny?  Scary stuff!

    • That's a really good point. (I'm shuddering at the thought of Handy Manny, who frightens me.) Kids are going to think if you're a really nice person, people will do things for you and you just smile and thank them. Or burst into song. I'm not sure how those skills will transfer to the real world.

  8. I'll admit, I love Phineas and Ferb.  I've only watched a few episodes, but it's so much fun!  Love the characters :)

    As for lessons you learn (or mis-learn) in childhood, I think one that messes me up is Monopoly.  If you buy all the property, then hope to earn rent over time, unless you build a hotel on boardwalk you're not making much.  Hello, property bubble!

    • I have always hated Monopoly. It takes way too long and I lose interest after about 20 minutes. (Wow, that's probably a big insight into my finances.) When Jayden was little, I taught him that Monopoly ends when someone runs out of money. Then I just bought everything and, oops! I'm all out of money and he wins! Poor child still has no clue how the game actually works. I'm pretty sure that's some form of child abuse.

  9. Hahaha Hubby's nickname for Dora (having been forced to watch it/hear it with his little sister) is "Dumb dumb Dora". And I've definitely seen more than a few episodes of Fairly Odd Parents, for no reason other than I found it entertaining…

    Hmm..shows I watched when I was a kid…Arthur, probably had some sort of financial lesson, but I don't remember anything specific…I think there was at least one episode of Hey Arnold when some kid or kids got part time jobs to pay for…something. I can't really think of any others right now, but you have an entertaining list! 

  10. Love this! I love your posts about how the everyday and random things in life teach us lessons. :)

    You know what Cartoons have taught me? That no matter what other people think about your life choices, you have to live with you.

    Keep it up girl! You make my weekdays awesome.

  11. Dora is evil. She is the spawn of the devil. I can't think about her without shuddering in fear of that voice. But think about what she could do to teach kids about money. I see a whole episode with her following that damn map to the bank so Boots could deposit 87M bananas for when he's older and needs to retire. 

    • Very true! And kids would put that in their little brains for later use. Have you seen the kid finance videos PNC has made featuring Elmo? Those lessons are apparently much easier to learn when they come from TV characters.

  12. Sorry, the only thing I learned from Dora the Explorer is the song "I'm a Map, I'm a Map, I'm a Map, I'm a Map…I'm a MAP!" and that maybe I should go into children's entertainment for the big bucks/low effort ratio!

  13. That first lesson — dont be afraid to ask silly questions — is ultra-important. Its ironic how "not wanting to look stupid" results in a missed opportunity to learn.

  14. This is great - I love Phineas and Ferb and my littlest loves Dora. Nice to find ways to teach lessons when too often it seems that kids' shows are meant to encourage consumerism and bad behavior.

  15. Creative! I like how you connect cartoons with money. Good stuff :)

    As a parent, you get pulled back into cartoons whether you want to or not. The one that jumps out at me is Spongebob Square Pants, specifically the Mr Krabs character. It seems like a lot of lessons can be pulled from these shows on how money and the overpursuit of it aren't most important. That said, I do tend to enjoy his character on that show. Gives me a reason to sit down with my oldest and watch that show:)

  16. haha my daughter loves dora and has everything Dora related even her birthday was dora so i don't mind it! Shows like Barney and Teletubbies are the ones where im left scratching my head like huh?

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