6 Practical Money Lessons From Netflix’s “Get Smart With Money”

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  • “Get Smart with Money” is a new money-focused documentary on Netflix.
  • He shares four monetary transformations over a year, with the help of different financial coaches.
  • It shows how money can affect our lives and how we feel – spoilers ahead.

Netflix recently launched a new personal finance documentary aptly titled “Get Smart With Money” directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Over the course of 90 minutes, we follow four stories about people struggling with different money issues – debt, living from paycheck to paycheck, lack of income and not knowing how to invest, and increased expenses while trying to pursue early retirement (FIRE).

The four main characters are paired with a money coach – Paula Pant of Afford Anything, Ro$$ Mac, Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, and Pete Adeney, who is often referred to by his nickname, Mr. Money Mustache.

Besides being a good watch, “Get Smart with Money” shares six smart lessons anyone can use to improve their finances.

1. High income means little if you don’t know how to save and invest

Everyone dreams of making a ton of money. This was the case for Teez, who says he knew one way to win a lot was through football. Reaching success at the age of 21, the film states that it initially earned $1.6 million. That number quickly dwindled after he paid taxes, bought a house for his family and one for his mother, and took various trips.

When Teez meets Coach Ro$$ Mac, he is left with around $280,000 of his original sum. Teez has no money invested for the future and worries about the longevity and stability of his career and supporting his family.

Looking at this history, it is clear that high income is not the only goal and the only path to financial success. It is essential to keep these funds and put them to use for your future. Ro$$ Mac teaches Teez how to open a brokerage account and invest in the stock market.

2. Your situation may change at any time

When you make a lot of money, it’s easy to think it will always be that way. But through the story of Teez, we hear about how he made a lot of money through football but was later released and subsequently injured. Suddenly he had received nothing.

Hence the sense of urgency to make the remaining $280,000 last as long as possible. No one likes to think about the next job loss or health issue that could have a huge impact on their finances. But it’s something we should all be prepared for, just in case.

Not having money coming in is a frightening reality for everyone, with varying degrees of difficulty. An emergency fund and disability insurance can help shore up your personal finances and ensure you’re ready to weather this kind of storm.

But just as your situation can change for the worse, it can eventually change for the better. We see Teez end up playing football again and earning an income.

3. Paying off debt can change your future

Debt is a monthly payment that can keep you in the past. But paying off your debts can also change your future. In the documentary, we meet Ariana, who identifies as an emotional spendthrift and admits to being afraid of money.

She remembers growing up and having parents who taught her “we deserve it” every time they spent money. This mentality led her to spend more than she could afford.

Ariana has credit card debt and is over six figures in student loan debt. We see shame and guilt flash across her face as she tries to cope with paying off her debts while raising two children. She mentions how her husband covers bills and works overtime so that half of his income – $2,000 – can be allocated to monthly debt payments.

At one point, Ariana describes taking out a personal loan to pay off her credit cards. But once those limits were released, she re-entered the cycle of debt.

Tiffany Aliche, aka The Budgetnista, works with Ariana to come up with a plan to split her check and budget all of her obligations through automation.

On top of that, The Budgetnista shares a Q&A column to help keep Ariana’s spending under control:

  • Do I need it?
  • Do I love him ?
  • Do I like it?
  • Do I want it?

Ideally, we want to focus on “needs” and “loves”. Throughout the documentary, we see how much Ariana wants to change her financial situation, not for herself, but for her family. Not working all the time, limiting stress and going on vacation – one of the dreams she shared with Tiffany when thinking about what she would like to do with her money. It is clear that paying off his debts can change his future.

4. Starting a small business can help low-wage workers

We meet Lindsey, who lives paycheck to paycheck despite working 50 hours a week at two jobs. As a bartender/waitress, her salary is simply not enough. Her out-of-pocket food expenses are also high as she is tired of working so much and being in the food industry.

A poignant part of her story is not having the health insurance coverage needed to treat her depression and anxiety.

When she meets trainer Paula Pant, she shares that she wants to break the paycheck cycle and pursue her dreams as an artist. Paula encourages him to organize concerts as soon as possible by walking his dog and to pursue his art in the long term.

A brilliant idea that would allow Lindsey to do both was for Lindsey to sit in a park and draw a dog and give the portrait to the owner, with his contact details on the back to walk his dog.

As her journey progresses, we see her making more money from her art and walking her dog. She’s even started selling prints of her paintings – something Paula calls “scalable” because the painting was created once, but Lindsey can sell the prints over and over again.

For low-wage workers, self-employment is a way to break the ceiling. We see that in Lindsey’s story, and it’s something that I resonated with as well. I quit my nonprofit job earning $31,000 a year in 2014 to become a freelance writer. The following year, I doubled my income and was able to pay off my student debt with a higher income, which has since increased.

5. Earning more can mean spending more

“Get Smart with Money” follows John and Kim, a married couple with two children. After becoming unemployed during the pandemic, John has become a stay-at-home parent – and John and Kim are adjusting to their new roles and financial reality.

As John takes care of the kids and household chores, a refreshing perspective rarely caught on screen, we see Kim earning big bucks from her business. She made $70,000 just a few years ago and was on her way to $300,000.

They’re classic high earners in many ways, but as we see in the documentary, the couple admit to earning more then spending more. There’s a big food budget and a lot of shopping on Amazon and the couple admit to using the spending as a reward or to manage stress.

Lifestyle inflation may be natural, but uncontrolled and too much can lead to misalignment. Mr. Money Mustaches tells the couple that we all have a “purchase justification machine” where our brain will do the mental gymnastics to justify any purchase our heart desires.

The couple set their sights on early retirement and, with the help of Mr. Money Moustache, cut their expenses by $3,000 a month.

6. Pursuing FIRE can mean making moves, literally

John and Kim have taken the first step by significantly reducing their expenses. But they realized that with their lifestyle and their desire to pursue FIRE, they had to make more moves. Like actually move.

We see the couple downsizing their home to reduce housing costs and boost their investments.

Moving is expensive and not something everyone can do. But if it’s possible, downsizing homes or moving to an affordable location can significantly reduce costs. For this couple, it was the right step to get closer to FIRE and, therefore, to have more flexibility in life and work.

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