Back in May, I told you about what Zach Morris, the ubiquitous schemer from “Saved By The Bell,” taught me about personal finance. Now, I’m going back even further in time to explore money lessons I learned from fictional TV characters.
I wasn’t even alive when “The Brady Bunch” premiered in 1969; actually, my parents were still in their teens when Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy became America’s happiest blended family. But my mom loved the show so much that I grew up watching it in syndication.
Ahhh, the early 1970s – it was a time of free love and Cold War era politics and economic policies. Yet, the Ruskies never even made it into a single episode… but lessons on personal finance abounded, if you were able to look passed the bell bottoms and corny songs.
Budgeting The Phone Bill Has Always Been Tough
Sure, there weren’t cell phones with massive talk, text, and data plans in 1969 – but that didn’t mean the Brady kids weren’t driving their parents crazy by talking on the phone non-stop. Frustrated by a sky-high phone bill, Mike and Carol decide to install a pay phone in the house in Season 1 (episode 9).
The kids don’t like it, but the family phone bill is under control, which makes mom and dad happy… until Mike finds himself without spare change during an important work call. He’s mortified when the pay phone operator urges him to insert more change or risk disconnection – which ultimately happens, embarrassing him further.
Lesson Learned: It’s always great to try and manage your family’s finances, but some cost-cutting moves may go just a bit too far.
To Move Or Not To Move? A Question As Old As Time
Apparently, I’m not the only person in America who has outgrown her current digs. Later on in Season 1 (episode 23), Mike and Carol are debating whether or not to move the Brady bunch to a larger home. My short answer would be yes – who puts six kids in two bedrooms and expects them to share a bathroom? (Especially because Mr. Brady was an architect – shouldn’t he have done some better planning here?)
The house goes on the market, but Mike and Carol don’t anticipate the kids’ strong reaction to the decision: they’re not happy. And, in true Brady fashion, they stage a series of tricks and treats to spoil the house during a scheduled showing with the perspective buyers. I’d be pissed if my kids did that, but Mike and Carol find it endearing and promptly take the house off the market.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes, a child’s emotional attachment to a piece of real estate is more important than having enough room for everyone to sleep comfortably and take routine showers.
Honesty Is STILL The Best Policy
Remember the lesson I learned from Zach Morris, about always being truthful when it comes to finding lost money? The plot line wasn’t original to Zach and his Saved By The Bell friends; “The Brady Bunch” did a similar episode more than 20 years earlier. In Season 2 (episode 7), Greg, Peter, and Bobby find $1,100 in a lost wallet while playing football in a vacant lot.
The boys have grand visions of what they’ll do with the money, but their father insists they work to find its owner. Ultimately, the elderly owner comes forward, and the boys are left cashless once again.
Lesson Learned: Doesn’t matter if its the Brady bunch in the 70s or Zach Morris in the 90s – it’s still wrong to keep something that isn’t yours.
What teenage boy isn’t excited to get his driver’s license? Shortly after Greg learns to drive in Season 3 (episode 4), he buys a car from a fast-talking friend. Greg thinks he got a great deal – until he tries to start the car.
As Greg tries to recoup the money he spent on the car, his dad teaches him the lesson of “caveat emptor” – Latin for “let the buyer beware.”
Lesson Learned: Even though Connecticut didn’t create the nation’s first lemon law until 1982 – a full ten years after Greg’s car-buying fiasco – it proves that you always have to be careful when making a major purchase, whether you’re buying a car, a fancy piece of electronics, or a new home.
Choose Your Personal Finance Idols Wisely
Pop quiz: who is a better personal finance role model – (A) Warren Buffet or (B) Jesse James? If you said Warren Buffet, hooray! If you said Jesse James, well, you’re not alone. In Season 4 (episode 17), Bobby becomes enamored with cowboy outlaw Jesse James.
The family tries to talk Bobby out of his James infatuation, but with little luck. Ultimately, they play to his emotions, introducing him to an elderly man whose relative was killed in a shootout with James. Bobby’s finally convinced the outlaw was a mean, ruthless killer.
Lesson Learned: It’s important to have strong role models at every age. Having Jesse James as a role model would be like saying you admire Bernie Madoff for his creative financing ideas.
Reader, are there any other fans of “The Brady Bunch” in the house? Any other personal finance lessons you remember from the classic sitcom?