4 Timeless Money Lessons From Children’s Movies

by Emily Guy Birken · 14 comments

movie money lessons

Growing up, you absorbed a myriad of lessons from popular culture. No matter when you grew up, it’s likely that one of the movies you watched as a child helped shape how you think about money—without you even realizing it.

Here are four iconic children’s movies from the past 40 years, and how they may have influenced your view of money:

children's money movies1. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Charlie Bucket lives in extreme poverty with his mother and father and both sets of grandparents. His life changes when he finds a golden ticket in a Wonka candy bar, giving him the opportunity to tour Willy Wonka’s zany chocolate factory.

The money lesson: Your integrity is more valuable than any amount of money.

Throughout the movie, Charlie shows that he values his integrity more than money. When Willy Wonka refuses to give him the promised lifetime supply of chocolate, Charlie simply gives the candy back to Wonka, who surprises him by offering to give him the entire factory. Clearly, there are some things more important than money.

The (additional, not-so-positive) money lesson: Money protects you from the consequences of your actions.

On the other hand, the story also makes it clear that being insanely wealthy (like Willy Wonka) means you can act any way you please — without repercussions. In addition to employing slave labor (the Oompa-Loompas), Wonka allows four different children and their parents to be seriously injured in his non-OSHA compliant factory.

2. The Princess Bride (1987)

The lovely and poor farm girl Buttercup finds and loses the love of her life, Westley. Five years later, the prince wants to marry and then murder her in order to start a war, and her kidnappers end up working with a very-much-alive Westley to rescue her from that fate.

The money lesson: Follow your passion, but get a side job to pay the bills.

Inigo Montoya is one of the would-be kidnappers of Princess Buttercup, but he’s only doing kidnapping work to pay the bills. His real passion in life is finding and killing the six-fingered man who murdered his father. But, as Inigo puts it, “There’s not a lot of money in revenge.” Inigo is smart enough to be practical about his choice of career.

3. Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin is a young street urchin in Agrabah, and he dreams of one day becoming royalty — particularly after he meets the beautiful princess Jasmine. After finding a magic lamp containing an all-powerful (but imprisoned) genie, Aladdin pretends to be a prince to win Jasmine’s hand.

The money lesson: Don’t let money change your relationships.

After Aladdin experiences the life of a rich prince, he has the opportunity to wish for it to be permanent. But instead, he wishes to free the genie, just as he promised. Despite the fact he’ll miss out on marrying the princess, he knows his friendship with the genie is more important than riches. In the end, making the decision that is right for his relationship with the genie means he impresses Jasmine’s father and gets the happy ending anyway.

4. Up (2009)

Carl and Ellie dream of adventure in faraway Paradise Falls, but sadly, Ellie dies before they’re able to make their dream a reality. Carl decides to take his entire house (and an accidental stowaway in the form of a local scout) on the adventure of a lifetime.

The money lesson: Save up for the things you want to do.

Throughout their life together, we see Carl and Ellie diligently saving for their trip to Paradise Falls — only to find that they need to break the piggy bank to pay for “life happens” moments. Even though the trip money is never used for their adventure, we find out at the end that Ellie felt her life with Carl was the greatest adventure she could have. Their savings still bankrolled their adventure together, even though it wasn’t the one they planned.

What other movies have you learned money lessons from?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

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    Sales: “You want answers?”

    Expense Admin: “I think we are entitled to them!”

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    Expense Admin: “I want the truth!”

    Sales: “You can’t handle the truth!!!”

    Sales: “ Son, we live in a world that requires revenue. And that revenue must be brought in by people with elite skills. Who’s going to find it? You? Mr. Operations? We have a greater responsibility than you can’t possibly fathom.

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    I have neither the time nor inclination to explain myself to people who rise and sleep under the very blanket of revenue I provide and then question the very manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a phone and make some calls. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!”

    Expense Admin: “Did you expense the $4000 dinner for 4 and the $500 bottles of wine?”

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  • MrsTB4M says:

    Great article pointing out the messages that film-makers slid into these films. I bet there are people that have seen the movies you mentioned time and time again and completely missed the financial messages.

  • Awesome article! Maybe I should’ve been more attentive to all those movies I watched growing up… I could have learned a thing or two haha

  • Aladdin is a classic movie of monetary greed. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies are good examples of money not being the main thing but that love offers greater happiness.

    • Emily Guy Birken says:

      That’s a great example, Marbella. Since I grew up in the 80s and 90s, I had the hardest time coming up with an example from the 2000s. I only thought of Up because it’s one of my toddler’s favorite movies.

      The first Pirates movie even has the great symbolism of how coveting money that’s not yours literally makes you dead inside.

  • David Ning says:

    I really like Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) for the money lessons. Greed is good, but it can also destroy. Money is evil, but it can also be useful when used in the right way.

  • Great topic! You should do more like these. I like the Aladdin story. Your promise is more important than your money.

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