Money Principles – It’s a Wonderful Life (If You’re Tuned In)

E L Emerson

For those of you who indulged in the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” over the holiday break – which I confess still brings a tear to my eye as George Bailey (James Stewart) finally realises how wealthy he truly is near to the film’s conclusion – there are a few great financial lessons in there that most folks probably miss.

One of them is that people lend a deaf ear to financial advice, and are usually the poorer for it.

A Wonderful Life Story

If you haven’t seen the film because you don’t have TV or a soul, George Bailey is a building and loan banker who sacrifices his dreams in order to help his community, to the point where he feels life has passed him by. And through the manipulations of a competitor and the actions of a forgetful family colleague, George ends up on the verge of losing everything and going to prison.

Now, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, but George does just about everything he can to try and help the people around him, while educating them at each turn about the evil financial traps and slum housing endgames of his rival, Mr Potter – who might be one of the best and most underrated film villains of all time.

Yet few listen.

Shocking, I know.

The Bedford Falls Lesson

Meanwhile, Bailey’s nemesis ends up bitterly wealthy and owning almost the entire town of Bedford Falls, while George struggles with dreams of travelling the world, a better life for his family and a torturously shoogly staircase newel.

So, what money principles can we take from that?

Is it better to be Potter?

Maybe one slightly facetious thought here is that all honest bankers are broke, which should give you an insight into what’s actually going on in the City, Wall Street and amongst high street lending shops near you and me.

A less glib conclusion would be that our primary natural inclinations towards money are usually wrong.

Do Not As Others Do…

Think about it: In the majority (and please don’t take this personally or feel inclined to write me an impassioned note about your own frugality or wonderful sense of saving and investing) we don’t save, we buy on impulse, we take whatever is in the first (or shiniest) financial window we see, and we tend to ignore advice that goes against the grainy consensus of opinion.

That’s the human condition, modern or otherwise.

And because of that we usually end up in much of a muchness financially because we’re all doing the same thing, and perhaps not taking up the opportunity to understand money, save and invest wisely, and perhaps some day live in Bailey Park; the black and white small town Americana version of Ocean Drive.

Don’t. Don’t do as everyone else is doing. Just don’t.

In The Blink of an Eye

Now I realise that I came to a very similar conclusion in a recent Money Principles article – avoid the consensus – but if and when you find yourself doing as everyone else is doing then you’re going to find yourself in the same financial predicaments as the majority does.

It’s not pretty as the inevitability of aging and retirement will feel like they’ve arrived in the blink of an eye.

And while the core message behind It’s a Wonderful Life is about anything but financial gain, if you want to live in Bailey Park you need to start listening to the right people and behaving differently with your money than most folks do. 

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We’ll see you next time on Money Principles.

E L Emerson, Editor, HNW Magazine

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