5 TV shows and films that have important money lessons


TV gets a bad rap for setting unrealistic expectations for lifestyle and spending, and for the most part it’s well deserved.

After all, no one on Friends ever seemed to go to work, yet they all had amazing Manhattan apartments and an aversion to inexpensively home brewed coffee. Okay . . . maybe Joey as a soap opera star could have afforded his housing, but you know that Phoebe’s part time massage therapist/musician career would have her living in squalor instead of the great apartment that she occasionally shared with Rachel.

Luckily, there are a few television shows and movies out there to combat the illusion that it’s normal to live beyond your means without consequence. Whether it’s TV or film, there are money lessons to learn from your idiot box.

Life or Debt

Hosted by salesman, author and motivational speaker Victor Antonio, this Spike TV show follows one financially troubled family per week. Antonio sits down with the family to figure what what they’re doing wrong. Whether it’s overspending, underearning or a combination of the two, Antonio does not hold back with the cold hard truth. The family proceeds to work Antonio’s plan with varying degrees of success. It’s on the dude-tastic Spike TV channel, so you know it ramps up the drama and intensity.

Ironically, this show can only be watched for ‘free’ if you subscribe to a pricey cable-TV package, although you can watch individual episodes for $2.99 apiece through Amazon Prime. However, there are 67 video clips that you can watch for free through Spike TV for us frugal types.

Read more: Life or Debt: 6 common financial mistakes from the hit TV show

‘Til Debt Do Us Part

Author and financial expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Canadian TV show ran on CNN for a few years, and is now available to watch online. Similar in format to Life or Debt, ‘Til Debt Do Us Part also works with couples who are in dire financial circumstances. The difference is that although Vaz-Oxlade doesn’t hold back on the tough love, there’s no obviously manufactured drama in the name of fake reality TV. Also, you can watch episodes for free, which helps to keep us frugal types from living outside our means.

Living on One Dollar

This documentary follows three privileged American college students who travel to rural Guatemala to try and live on one dollar per day. This film shines a light on the difficulties that billions of people throughout the world face on a daily basis. (And frankly, it puts some perspective on our own American money woes.) The lessons they learn and the relationships formed with the locals make this documentary worth your time. It’s available to watch on Netflix.

Shark Tank

ABC’s show where billionaires fund struggling businesses may seem an odd choice for a must-see money-themed TV show, but hear me out. Watching the presentations that the entrepreneurs give to the sharks is extremely illuminating, as are the follow up questions. Having a specific and directed plan for one’s business is the key to success, whether it’s for a multi-million dollar corporation or a household budget. And best of all, full episodes are free to watch through ABC.go.com. Gotta love free!

Queen of Versailles

This documentary follows the Siegel family, whose timeshare fortune was brought to a crashing halt by the great recession of 2008. Their sudden reversal of fortune stopped any progress on their Versailles inspired home, which was planned to be the largest single family structure in the United States. (It’s since been completed.) Unfortunately, this film is a stark cautionary tale more than anything else. The lesson here is that living beyond your means can only lead to disaster, whether you’re keeping up with the Joneses or Marie Antoinette. Watch The Queen of Versailles on Netflix.



Money lessons can be learned from those who dedicate their careers to teaching good money habits, but also from watching those who mismanage their fortunes. Either way, pop a bowl of popcorn and put your feet up. You’re in for an interesting evening of entertainment.  

Read more: What to do with your money when you get your first real job

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