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5 Money Lessons From Classic Christmas Movies

Christine DiGangi

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it's officially acceptable to start watching Christmas movies. Not only do you get to soak in all sorts of holiday warm-fuzzies, you can also learn a thing or two when you curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and cue up your favorite films.

Here are some financial lessons from classic Christmas movies, so you don't have to learn the hard way (spoiler alert, if you somehow haven't seen these movies).

1. Sometimes, a Forced Career Change Works Out ("The Santa Clause")

Scott Calvin unexpectedly must take on Santa's responsibilities, after the jolly old man falls from Calvin's roof and vanishes, leaving his signature red suit behind, and a card saying whoever finds it must take over as Santa Claus. Calvin is in denial about the drastic change, which was forced upon him when he found the suit. In the end, though, his new job allows him to better bond with his young son and enjoy the newfound happiness that came with wearing the red suit.

2. You Must Prioritize ("Elf")

Before his oldest son, Buddy The Elf, comes into his life and warms his heart, Walter Hobbs could best be described as a cold, grumpy workaholic. Everything is about business. It's important to him to provide for his family, but until Buddy comes around, Hobbs doesn't realize how his work life has affected his personal one. When given an ultimatum by his boss, Hobbs chooses to leave the large publishing firm to start his own business and spend more time with his family, and he's a happier man because of it.

3. Money Isn't Everything ("How the Grinch Stole Christmas")

The Grinch, a bitter creature who occupies a cave in Mount Crumpit, overlooking Whoville, concocts a plan to stop Christmas, a holiday he loathes. He disguises himself as Santa Claus, and on Christmas Eve, he descends upon Whoville, stealing all the Whos' presents. He's certain he'll ruin their Christmas by taking their gifts and treats, but when he observes the Whos waking up on Christmas Day, still joyful to have each other's company, he realizes there's more to happiness than material possessions.

4. Don't Spend Money You Don't Have ("Christmas Vacation")

In anticipation of his holiday bonus, Clark Griswold makes an advance payment on a swimming pool, as a surprise gift to his family. As the last days before Christmas wind down, there's no sign of Griswold's bonus, and he starts to worry. At last, on Christmas Eve, a messenger arrives with an envelope from his company, and he assumes his bonus has come through. Before opening the envelope, Griswold gleefully announces his swimming pool plans to the family, but soon discovers that the envelope contains not a check, but a certificate to a Jelly of the Month Club, which certainly won't pay for a pool.

The outcome of this dilemma is much less realistic and should not be replicated: Griswold's cousin kidnaps his boss (who cut company bonuses), binds and gags the man and delivers him to Griswold as a last-minute present. The man's wife calls the cops, but upon learning the catalyst for this operation, yells at her husband, "Of all the cheap lousy ways to save a buck!" He reinstates bonuses.

5. No Matter How Dire Your Situation, You Can Find a Solution ("It's a Wonderful Life")

George Bailey's business is facing bankruptcy on Christmas Eve, and he contemplates suicide because he thinks his family and friends would be better off without him and could use his life insurance policy to settle his debt (NOT a good solution). His guardian angel, Clarence, helps Bailey realize how much his life matters to others, and he decides to live. Bailey rushes home and commits to somehow making everything work, despite the mess that's been made of his business and finances.

Another unrealistic outcome: As the police are about to arrest Bailey for misplacing bank money, community members donate enough to save him and his business. That's great and all, but let's focus on the more applicable lesson: There's always a way to recover from debt and bankruptcy. It's not easy, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

As we enter another holiday season — and face all the expenses that come up — it's important to not lose sight of what's important. Spending beyond your means can lead you into debt that you may very well be paying off well into the next year. Coming up with a spending plan, and sticking to it, can help you stay on track. If you carry a balance on your credit cards, you can use this calculator to see how long it will take to pay it off. You can also keep an eye on how your debt is affecting your credit by getting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.


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