Lisa Turtle had the fashion. Jessie Spano had the grades. Kelly Kapowski had the popularity. AC Slater had the looks. Screech had the – what did Screech have again? But if you had asked me back in 1993 who I thought had all the makings of a successful adult, it would have been Zach Morris.
Yes, I’m talking about the Zach Morris, of Saved By The Bell fame. To me, he’s more than just a fictional character from a 1990s TV show played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar; to my preteen and teenage self, he was the intersection of wit, raw intelligence, and just a little bit of danger: he was charisma personified.
And, it turns out, he taught me a lot about personal finance.
Playing Dirty Doesn’t Get You Anywhere
In season 4 (episode 14), Zach’s fictional high school – good ole Bayside – receives a large inheritance from a wealthy alumnus. Mr. Belding, always completely inept at earning his own paycheck, leaves it up to the students to decide how the money will be spent. Naturally, the boys want to use it to fund completely masculine enterprises: football, basketball, baseball, wrestling. The girls, on the other hand, want to use the cash for women’s sports programs. A typical Saved By The Bell-style competition ensues – only Zach plays dirty, sabotaging the girls’ bake sale in hopes of gaining an unfair advantage for the boys.
Lesson Learned: Whether in a made-up TV show or real life, cheating gets you know where. To quote Lisa and the girls, “We bad, we knew it! You cheated, you blew it!”
Frugality Pays Off
Later that same season (episode 17), Zach comes to the rescue with an idea to save his school’s cash-strapped senior prom. Rather than organize a high-profile event in a pricy hotel ballroom or local restaurant, he suggests holding the prom in the school’s own gym, using low-cost hay bales to create a western theme. The event is a smash – well, except in the romance department.
Lesson Learned: The best things in life aren’t always the most expensive.
You Can’t Cut Corners To Make Money
Saved By The Bell is chalk full of episodes involving Zach Morris’s numerous – and hilarious – ways to make money. In season 1 (episode 8), Zach and screech concoct a cream to get rid of zits, just in time for Kelly’s turn as homecoming queen (hint: the cream failed). The next season (episode 11), Zach tries to make money by running an ill-fated 1-900 number that gives out poorly-construed relationship advice (hint: it failed, too). Then in season 4 (episode 18), Zach turns his school’s video yearbook into the infamous “Girls of Bayside” dating tape (you guessed it: it also failed).
Lesson Learned: A solid business plan – including proper research and marketing – are intrinsic to the success of any organization, large or small. Oh, and alienating your best customers – ie, your closest friends – isn’t a strong business model, either.
Honesty Is The Best Policy
In season 3 (episode 16), Zach and the gang head to the local mall in hopes of scoring U2 tickets. Along the way, they find $5,000 in cash – which they’re going to need, since Screech managed to lose their place in line, costing them a chance at the tickets. Zach plans to use the cash to pay for scalped seats, although his most honest friends aren’t so sure. Ultimately, a pair of ne’er do wells show up on the scene, chasing Zach et al around the mall to get the money back. In the end, Zach does hand over the money – and the gang is rewarded with the coveted U2 tickets.
Lesson Learned: Keeping something that isn’t yours – whether it’s money you find on the street or taking credit for a project you didn’t execute – is wrong.

Reader, who are some of your favorite fictional TV characters – and what did they teach YOU about personal finance?

Libby Balke
Libby Balke