I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie in the 70′s. Each episode had a moral to it, but it wasn’t until I staged a marathon viewing session courtesy of Netflix that I realized how many of those episodes dealt with the subject of money in some form. Maybe some of my money habits did come from TV, after all.
If you have kids and want to teach them some solid lessons about money this summer (or just for your own enjoyment) here are the episodes that dealt most heavily with money and the lessons you can take from each:
Season 1: The 100 Mile Walk (Episode 3): When a hailstorm destroys his wheat crop and ruins his income for the year, Charles must travel a long distance to find work. He discovers that dangerous work in a blasting camp is the only thing available. Meanwhile, at home, Caroline recruits the other wives to try to salvage what they can of the wheat, even though it is an exhausting and difficult job.
Lesson: Sometimes, when times are hard, you do what you have to do to survive. If it means taking a job that’s not desirable in terms of work responsibilities or commute, you do it. If it means spending time away from your family, then that’s what has to be done, at least temporarily. There are times when the perfect job just isn’t available and you take what you can get to pay the bills. Caroline’s story teaches you to look beyond the obvious to find a solution to the problem. The wheat crop appeared lost, but the women found a way to save what they could so their families could eat. Maybe you can’t have the perfect solution, but often there is an alternate approach that will yield big results.
Season 1: Christmas at Plum Creek (Episode 15): The family finds themselves strapped for cash at Christmas. Some family members take extra jobs to fund gifts and others make the perfect gift. Laura, who is too young to work or make anything, decides to barter her horse for a gift for her mother. All celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with love and joy.
Lesson: The first lesson is that Christmas doesn’t have to cost a lot to be meaningful. Homemade gifts given with love can be very special. The second lesson is about the power of barter. Too often we assume that we have to buy something new, but a fair trade is still a good way to conduct business, particularly among friends and neighbors. The third lesson in this episode is that taking a temporary job to raise funds for Christmas is far better than buying things you can’t afford on credit.
Season 2: The Richest Man in Walnut Grove (Episode 25): Charles owes a large amount of money at the mercantile, but the money he was counting on to pay that bill doesn’t come through. He and the other members of the family all pitch in and take on extra work and chores to raise the money to pay. In the end, Charles opts not to charge anything more at the store.
Lesson: This one’s very basic. Credit can get you into trouble. Also, you shouldn’t buy things using money you don’t yet have in the bank, even if you’re 99% sure that money will come. Something may happen and that money may not come through, and if you’ve borrowed against it you’re in trouble. This episode also illustrates the power of taking on extra work, cutting expenses, and pulling together to retire a debt.
Season 2: For My Lady (Episode 43): Charles approaches the banker for a loan so he can buy a “new” set of dishes for Caroline. The banker declines because Charles does not have the collateral to back up the loan, so Charles goes to work for the woman who is selling the dishes and trades his labor for the china.
Lesson: Taking on debt for a want is almost never a good idea. The banker asks if this loan is for a need or a want. When Charles is forced to admit that here merely wants the dishes, the banker tells him that borrowing money for non-necessities is not a good idea and that he’s doing Charles a favor by declining the loan. This episode shows that it’s better to work for your wants and raise the money for them (or barter) than to borrow money.
Season 3: The Race (Episode 49): Laura enters her horse in the local race. Not to be outdone, Mrs. Oleson buys spoiled Nellie a thoroughbred horse so she can beat Laura. The thoroughbred is beaten buy Laura’s farm pony because Nellie refused to properly train and exercise the horse.
Lesson: The most expensive item in the store isn’t always the best. There are other factors that go into making something great and it’s not always worth it to buy the priciest item just because it’s expensive.
Season 3: Gold Country (Episode 67): The crops are (yet again) destroyed so the family heads west to try their luck in the gold fields. Greed and the lure of “getting rick quick” takes over, turning friends into enemies and ending with one member of the party shot and killed. Charles realizes that he might be poor, but at least he has his family and friends.
Lesson: First of all, there is no such thing as getting rick quickly. If it were that easy, we’d all be rich. Second, greed and a desire for money above all else can ruin families and friendships and drive people to do very bad things. It’s better to have less money than to let greed ruin all the other aspects of your life.
Season 4: The High Cost of Being Right (Episode 76): This time it’s the Garvey’s turn to lose their crops in a barn fire. To make ends meet, Alice takes a job, leading her husband to get angry at her and his perceived failure to provide for the family. Their marriage nearly ends in divorce.
Lesson: It doesn’t matter who earns the money. When things are tight, whoever can get a job takes a job to pay the bills. It may not be the most convenient or desired solution, but money is money. Both partners need to support each other and be grateful for the income, not get caught up in perceived gender roles and argue about who is the better spouse.
Season 4: The Inheritance (Episode 85): Charles is the beneficiary of a long lost relative’s estate. The relative is widely believed to be rich and so Charles should be due a large sum. The townspeople immediately hit him up for money and talk him into expensive purchases. When the relative turns out to have died penniless, Charles once again finds himself deeply in debt and is forced to auction off his farm and possessions. The townspeople realize that they are at fault for his circumstances and arrange to buy all of his assets at low prices and allow Charles to have them back.
Lesson: Again, never count on money that you have not yet received because it may not materialize. Also, do not let yourself get caught up in a frenzy of buying things you don’t need or even really want just to impress others. It leads to deep debt and chances are your neighbors won’t bail you out.
Admittedly, this is a strange way to learn about money. I don’t normally recommend watching much TV, but the lessons taught in these shows are simple, timeless, and worth learning. What better way to learn than kicked back on a sofa in an air-conditioned house on a hot summer’s day?