Money Lessons Learned from Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman movie

The movie, “Pretty Woman” came out when I was in college and it remains one of my favorites to this day. On the surface, the movie is about a prostitute (Vivian, played by Julia Roberts)) who finds the man of her dreams (Edward, played by Richard Gere) on one of her “dates” and they live happily ever after. Since prince charming is obscenely rich and the hooker isn’t, the movie also makes some interesting observations about money and class.

Poor Money Management Can Make You Do Desperate Things

You can make the case that the whole reason Vivian is a prostitute is because of poor money management. She left home with no skills and no money. Hooking is the only job she can get in L.A. Since the money she and her roommate earn is apparently blown on drugs and partying (mostly by the roommate), they are behind on rent and can’t save anything to go to trade school or to better their situation. As long as this pattern continues, hooking will be the only job available.

The Lesson: While poor money management doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have to become a prostitute, poor money management can make you do desperate things. If you get deeply into debt or find yourself with no job and no skills, you may start thinking seriously about things like payday loans, embezzling money from your company, stealing, or any of a thousand other dangerous, illegal activities. Even if you don’t become that desperate, poor money management can make you feel helpless and out of control. That panic leads to further poor decisions. Your best hope is to keep yourself out of debt, if possible, keep your skills up to date, adjust your spending so that you always live beneath your means, and don’t run away from home (or quit a job) unless you have the skills and a plan to make it work.

Class Isn’t the Province of the Rich

In the movie, Vivian is polite, kind, good-hearted, and honest, yet she has no money. Edward and some of the other businessmen in the film are, frankly, jerks at times. Especially Edward’s right-hand man (Stuckey) who never treats Vivian as anything more than a whore. If you subscribe to stereotypes, the situation should be reversed and the businessmen should be the classy ones and the hooker should be the boorish one.

The Lesson: Money is not always indicative of class or good behavior. Plenty of rich people are jerks and plenty of poor people are kind and generous. You can’t judge someone based on their occupation or earnings, nor can you expect them to behave a certain way just because they are wealthy or poor.

Money Isn’t Everything

Edward has everything money can buy, but he isn’t happy. He doesn’t have any friends or family. All he has is his work. Vivian doesn’t have any money but, despite her occupation, seems pretty happy with her friends and life. Maybe she’s not overjoyed, but you get the feeling that she’s happier than Edward, or at least better able to see the funny side of things.

The Lesson: You can have a boatload of money and still be miserable, and you can be poor and be content. Money can buy things, but it can’t buy you an optimistic outlook, quality relationships, or an ability to enjoy the crazy ride that is life. Those things can’t be bought because they come from within and from being the sort of person that others genuinely want in their lives.

Dressing-Up the Outside Doesn’t Change the Inside

When Vivian gets to go shopping and she returns all dolled up in designer duds, she is even more beautiful. Suddenly the shopkeepers and everyone else take her seriously, which leads to one of the best quotes in all of movies.

Vivian: “I was in here yesterday and you wouldn’t wait on me?”

Snotty Shopkeeper: “Oh.”

Vivian: “You work on commission, right?”

Snotty Shopkeeper: “Yes.”

Vivian: “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

But it isn’t the clothes that have made her beautiful and worthy of notice. We’ve already seen that she’s a kind, caring person inside. Dressing up the outside only enhances the inside. On the other hand, the business people who are all dolled up all the time are, for the most part, ugly inside and no amount of designer clothes or trampling on people they deem inferior will make them into better people.

The Lesson(s): First, if you’re spending a ton of money on clothes, make-up, cars, and houses to try to make yourself into a better, more likable person on the outside you’re wasting your time. You’d do better to spend the money and time to improve yourself on the inside, first. Go to therapy to deal with your issues, learn to become more generous and forgiving, work on being friendlier, and generally make yourself into the sort of person that people want to spend time with. If you just look good, people will eventually discover that you’re really not worth their time and exclude you from their lives.

Second, never, ever judge someone by their appearance. You don’t know anything about them and you may end up cheating yourself out of a good friendship (or a commission) if you treat them badly.

Negotiation, Done Well, Is a Powerful Tool

One of the best scenes in the movie is when Edward and Vivian are negotiating her fee for a week. They bicker back and forth and finally settle on three thousand dollars. She then says, “I would have stayed for two,” and he says, “I would have paid four.” The both get what they want and at a price they agree upon.

The Lesson: They negotiated well, actually. She aimed high, he tried to lowball her, and she hung in and got a good middle number. This is how all great negotiations work. When you negotiate, you should first quote a price that is high, but not unrealistic. Your opponent will probably come in much lower than that and then you should come back with a number higher than his offer but lower than your original. You’ll probably be able to settle in the middle, getting what you want for a reasonable price without screwing the seller.

Don’t Give up on Your Dreams

Yes, Vivian gets all of her dreams in the end in a pretty sappy (and, admittedly, unrealistic) way. She gets the money and the man. You got the sense, though, from the beginning of the movie that she wouldn’t have been a hooker forever, with or without Edward in her life. She seemed to want more than that for herself. Even Kit, the roommate, realizes the power of having bigger dreams by the movie’s end and is looking at going to beauty school.

The Lesson: No matter how bad things seem, you have to keep dreaming of something bigger. If you don’t have dreams and the desire to work toward something better, you’ll end up stuck in whatever situation you’re currently in. No, you don’t have to dream of getting the man and the money, but maybe you can dream of starting your own business, buying a modest home, paying down some debt, or achieving some other goal that you set for yourself. Dreams keep you moving forward and give you the motivation to get beyond the bad things.

“Pretty Woman” is a light, fluffy movie for a rainy day. It’s a true chick-flick. If you study it, though, you soon realize that it is also about class conflict, money management and mis-management, dreams, and the mistakes we make when we judge others too hastily.

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7 Responses to Money Lessons Learned from Pretty Woman

  1. Nika says:

    I thought that the money lesson in Pretty Woman, as well as numerous other “chick flicks” is that you can make bad choices with money, but as long as you are pretty and nice you will be ok — eventually a loving man will come and rescue you. When you find the right man your money problems will go away and you’ll never have to worry about it again.

  2. rob62521 says:

    Good points…thanks for the article!

  3. bben says:

    I have my own story about how sales people treat customers based on looks. I was 21 years old and had been fishing with a friend all day. We were both dressed in old smelly clothing with holes. On the way home, we stopped at a place that sold million dollar yachts just to look. We were in the Marine Corps and had virtually no money. The salesman at Hatteras Yachts treated us if we rich. He gave us a personal tour of the boats and never once implied that we were poor or couldn’t afford a yacht. I asked him why as we were obviously poor an in the service. He replied that you never know who really has money or who will come into money. By treating a couple of bums like royalty, he was getting the practice he needed when a wealthy client did come in. That was a real salesman who earned his commissions.

  4. Patty says:

    similar to bben. My then fiancee wanted to get an idea of the ring style and size I wanted for my engagement ring. We went into Macy’s and went to the high end jewelry counter. It was a hot day so we were in shorts, tee shirts, sandals, and the woman behind the counter looked us up and down. Showed us a few ring and my husband pointed to the ring that looked like Princess Diana’s rock. Snootily she said that she would have to have the security guard over if we wanted to look at that ring. Needless to say both hubby and I were insulted. Yes I have a beautiful engagement ring, I get tons of compliments, and yes the woman lost the sale and the store lost a major purchase. Never assume that the person because of how they dress aren’t the billionaire next door. When you have money you don’t necessarily flaunt it.

    PS the original ending to Pretty Woman was that Julia Roberts was killed by a client. The ending was changed because it was a downer.

  5. John | Married (with Debt) says:

    So the original ending with Vivian murdered by a client suggests that ‘work will kill ya’ is the ultimate money lesson.

    Work hard while you are young and get out while the gettin’ is good.

  6. Gail says:

    I remember walking into a home repair store and asked the clerk about their kitchen cabinets. She wouldn’t get up off her chair to talk to me and just told me the stock ones were over there–pointing. I asked again to be shown the cabinets and she did the same thing. I walked out of the store and ended up buying my custom kitchen cabinets elsewhere and incdiently that chain store went belly up about 6 months later.

    No you can never judge a person by their cover. Some may not look like they have much have plenty in the bank and those that look like they have lots are deeply in debt.

  7. Pingback: Carnival of Personal Finance: The Little Prince's Journey to Financial Enlightenment | Well Heeled Blog

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