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5 Financial Lessons From Movies on Netflix

Joe Saul-Sehy

Ready to curl up with a good film this weekend? How about one where money isn't necessarily the main character, but still plays a surprising supporting role? Here are some films in which money plays an important role.

1. "How to Steal a Million." With the words "a million" as part of the title, you'd think this movie is about making a million dollars, but you'd be wrong. Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole star in this classic film about, of all things, insurance fraud. Hepburn's father in the film is an art forger, and his work is passable enough for the real thing, In fact, a statue he's copied is being shown in a prominent Parisian museum. The problem? The museum's insurance policy requires it to have the statue's authenticity tested, so Hepburn and O'Toole need to steal it before the insurance company can figure out that they're cheating the system.

The hidden money lesson: Read the contract before you sign anything. Had Hepburn's father actually read what he was signing, this whole film could have been avoided.

[See: 11 Expenses Destroying Your Budget.]

2. "Chef." Jon Favreau stars in this film about a famous chef who's fired because he doesn't understand the power of social media and goes toe-to-toe with a food critic on Twitter. Bad idea. He then wants to buy a food truck, but he doesn't have any money. While it isn't a huge scene in the movie, if Favreau's character can't score a loan (from a character played in a cameo by Robert Downey Jr.), the rest of the film won't happen. Money plays another role later in the film when Favreau, who's a wiz in the kitchen, still hits the beaches in Miami to test his product's viability before hitting the road. Once he has his truck and has finished his test, the road trip is on.

The hidden money lesson: How many times have you seen people fully fund an idea without having expertise or a business plan? While you may have to borrow to fund your dream, testing your idea first ensures that you aren't flushing money down the toilet. Another money lesson? Not understanding the role of social media can hit you hard in the pocketbook. Watch what you say online.

[See: 8 Big Budgeting Blunders -- and How to Fix Them.]

3. "Waffle Street." A bond trader, who helped destroy people's finances by selling them bad loans leading up to the housing crisis, decides to work in a waffle restaurant to experience how "real people" live. Because of his low income and desire to buy a franchise, he's forced to sell his house, car and deal with a spouse who can't understand his self-imposed penance for his past misdeeds. He works long hours for low pay, cleans toilets and has food thrown on him. He also works for horrible managers, makes friends with people he'd never expected to meet and learns a ton about life outside of Wall Street.

The hidden money lesson: Sometimes life isn't just about dollars. Waffle Street's main character learns valuable lessons by diving into a job that most people would never want and gains an appreciation of his own value. Taking on jobs is as much about accumulating valuable experience as it is about accumulating a large nest egg.

[See: 10 Foolproof Ways to Reach Your Money Goals.]

4. "Sing Street." A family is struggling to pay the bills, so their teenage son is forced to attend an all-boys, low-cost Catholic school in Ireland. Hoping to escape his new nightmare of daily fistfights, bullying and evil headmasters, he approaches an attractive girl and tells her that she looks like a model and should appear in his band's videos. The problem? He doesn't have a band. The movie is a romp through the 1980s, with a group of young boys creating fun tribute songs that sound a ton like The Cure, Hall & Oates, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. Where does money come in? During the film the main characters talk about chasing a better life in London ... because that's where the opportunities (supposedly) lie. At the same time, the family is losing their home because of an impending divorce. The crunch of financial instability drives this film to its conclusion.

The hidden money lesson: Divorce isn't only emotionally painful, but it can be financially devastating to the entire family structure.

5. "The Fundamentals of Caring." Paul Rudd stars in this film about a man who needs a job so badly that he takes a gig caring for a teenager who's confined to a wheelchair and isn't expected to live a long life. The boy's life is depressing, with no hope of getting rosier in the future. The worst part? The boy isn't a sympathetic character, consistently peppering Rudd's character with not-funny practical jokes, such as pretending that he's dead. While the film is really about each of these characters coming to grips with personal problems, if Rudd's character hadn't needed money so badly, he wouldn't have been involved in many of the teenager's schemes.

The hidden money lesson: A cash reserve would have saved Rudd's character from the entire mess he ends up in during the film. Likewise, it could save you from having to take jobs because they're your only decent option.

Bonus: "Stranger Things." I know ... "Stranger Things" isn't a film, it's a Netflix-only television series, but if you haven't watched this science fiction adventure on Netflix, you've missed a fantastic story. Winona Ryder's character loses her son to a creature in an alternate dimension, and the creature uses her home as a portal to our world. As Ryder's house is being destroyed through alien encounter after alien encounter, it's hard not to think, "What will she tell her homeowner's insurance company when this is over?"

The hidden money lesson: How about this (admittedly forced) one: While lying to your insurance company is a horrible strategy that could land you in jail, if aliens use your house as a portal to this world, you'll have to think long and hard about whether to file a claim.

While there are many films on Netflix that potentially could have made this list, most of these are gems that are often overlooked in favor of bigger box office releases. While money lessons aren't the primary takeaway from any of these flicks, you'll have a great time watching -- and maybe you'll glean a little financial knowledge to apply to your own life.



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