Since its debut on December 17, 1989, The Simpson’s has broadcast approximately 745 episodes as of March 19, 2023, making The Simpson’s the longest-running prime-time animated series and longest-running sitcom in the United States.
While the animated sitcom is predominantly known for holding several American television longevity records, predicting the future, and doughnuts, I couldn’t help but notice while recently binge-watching the series that several episodes happen to be about money.
“The Simpson’s are rife with economics 101 lessons,” says Joshua Hall, an economist and author of the forthcoming book Homer Economicus: The Simpson’s and Economics.
For example, in the first episode, Simpson’s patriarch Homer takes on a side hustle as a mall Santa after learning he won’t be getting a holiday bonus in order to bring in some extra cash for the Holidays. When Homer goes to get his first paycheck, he earns far less than he thought he would after the company deducts taxes and the rental fee for the borrowed Santa suit. And, of course, when it rains, it pours. What little savings the family had in order to buy Holiday gifts, decorations, and food is spent getting their elementary-aged troublemaker son Bart’s new tattoo removed.
Some families may relate to the Simpson’s family’s holiday financial struggles or remember a time when there were a handful of small gifts and few decorations because that was all their family could afford, which is why I kept watching episode after episode to spot more money lessons.
Before we dive deep into money lessons from the show, here’s a little synopsis of what this show is all about in the event you’ve never seen one episode or need a refresher.
Homer, the patriarch of the Simpson family, is a high-school graduate with a union job at a nuclear power plant where he lives in Springfield with his wife, Marge, who is famous for her blue beehive hairdo. The couple has three children, Bart, a lovable rebel who is always getting into trouble for playing various pranks on other residents of Springfield, Lisa, the ambitious, intellectual middle child who is gifted at playing the saxophone, and Maggie, the adorable infant daughter of the Simpson’s clan, whose only form of communication is sucking on her pacifier.
In addition to the Simpson’s family themselves, there are hundreds of other characters we meet repeatedly throughout the series, from neighbor Ned Flanders to Homer’s father, Abe, to Marge’s twin sisters Patty and Selma, the local bartender Moe, Apu, owner of the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store, Elementary School Principal Seymour Skinner, Homer’s boss Mr. Burns, and so many more.
While Homer has a job, he doesn’t have a college degree, and his wife, Marge, is a homemaker. In one episode, we see from Homer’s paycheck that he earns $479.60 per week, which would give him an annual income of roughly $25,000 in 1996. Adjusted for inflation, Homer’s salary would be closer to $42,000 in 2019, which is slightly below the median U.S. income.
Still, on his single income, Homer is able to afford a home, a car, food, pets, and of course, frequently visits Moe’s bar where he indulges in Duff beer. While the family isn’t exactly wealthy, they are not always counting pennies like you maybe would expect them to based on Homer’s single-income.
While the focus of the show isn’t intentionally about money, I couldn’t help but notice money themes in nearly every episode. For example, Homer is never depicted as someone who is careful with the family’s money despite being the sole breadwinner. Instead, he is often portrayed as someone who is more likely to engage in overconsumption rather than save for a financial emergency.
Plus, there was that time when:
- Homer got illegal cable.
- Bart needed money, so he sold his soul to Milhouse for $5.
- Homer spent Bart’s acting money, which was supposed to go into the college fund.
- Lisa racked up a $1,200 bill on iTunes.
- Marge developed a gambling addiction.
- Homer got in trouble with the IRS for claiming he had nine kids.
- Marge bought a Chanel suit at a local discount store.
- Homer’s dad helps him with a downpayment on his home.
According to Steven Keslowitz, author of The World According to the Simpsons: What Our Favorite TV Family Says About Life, Love and the Pursuit of the Perfect Donut, Homer’s relationship with money is representative of the typical American’s relationship with money.
“Americans go through life not being careful with their money,” says Keslowitz. “A lot of people coast through life and they get a salary, but they’re not quite sure how things work, and that’s so much like Homer Simpson.”
As many on a debt payoff journey know firsthand, in order to save money, it often requires we stop spending money frivolously and instead create a budget where we are intentional about where and how we are spending our hard-earned dollars.
It’s hard to imagine Homer setting aside any of the family’s money in a savings account, Keslowitz says. “Homer often jokes that he’s spending Lisa’s college money, and that’s a joke that comes up every so often. He’ll make fun of the price of school and Ivy League schools like Vassar, but the point is, he’ll spend whatever is there.”
10 Personal Finance Lessons from ‘The Simpson’s’
Below I’ve included some of the most memorable money lessons from the show, but of course, with more than 700 episodes, there are dozens, if not hundreds, more that could have been included in this list.
1. Avoid Impulsive Investments
It’s no secret that Homer doesn’t enjoy working and is always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme to pan out so he can retire early. In one episode, “Homer vs. Patty & Selma,” Homer decides to try to earn millions by making an impulsive investment in the stock market. Specifically, Homer invests in pumpkin futures in December. But on Halloween, the pumpkin market takes a nose dive, and in an instant, Homer finds himself unable to make his mortgage payment.
In order to ensure his family doesn’t lose a roof over their heads, Homer turns to his sisters-in-law Patty and Selma, asking for financial assistance. The only problem is that Homer doesn’t get along with either Patty or Selma. So in order for the sisters-in-law to agree to lend Homer the money, he is forced to agree to their loan terms, which include being able to treat Homer however they want. By the end of the episode, Homer is at his wits end and is unsure how much more of Patty and Selma’s cruelty he can take.
The lesson learned here is don’t let your impulses guide your financial situation. Whether that be taking the time to do your research before investing in the stock market or avoiding the shopping mall when you’re looking for an emotional pick-me-up. Make sure you are in control and understand what you’re spending and the risk of incurring any financial losses so that you lessen the likelihood you’re at the mercy of someone else for financial support.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Learn New Skills
As we mentioned before, Homer doesn’t care about his job at the nuclear power plant, so he’s not the best employee. In fact, Homer is so careless with his job that there are numerous times when there are near-disasters and workplace injuries that could have been avoided if Homer had been paying attention.
But as Chris Turner, author of Planet Simpson, notes, “Homer is not a guy who loves his work. He doesn’t find it fulfilling, but he’s not qualified to do anything else.”
“The show makes fun of the idea that you could get a good union job out of high school, and that that could float you through the rest of your life,” says Turner. “The easy, blue-collar path to that sort of good life was a lot more stable years ago, but not today. If you don’t diversify your skills and interests, you may wind up in a dead-end job, working for a dictatorial boss.”
It’s not just that Homer is lazy or doesn’t care about his job, his boss, Mr. Burns, “does a terrible job at employee morale,” says Keslowitz.
In one episode, Homer actually punches Mr. Burns because his boss doesn’t remember his name. While punching anyone, let alone your boss is not a wise decision, it’s hard not to empathize with Homer, given that Mr. Burns is so greedy and careless when it comes to taking care of his employees. But as the biggest employer in Springfield, Homer doesn’t really have a lot of options when it comes to employment, given his limited skill set and education. Even the public officials in town are bought and paid for by Mr. Burns.
The lesson learned here? No matter what you do for a living, don’t let your skills grow rusty, and don’t be afraid to learn new ones, either. You never know when you’ll need to find a new job because your current one is of no interest to you or your employer is corrupt and too cheap to give you a raise.
3. Look for Jobs with Benefits, Not Just a Salary
The summer of 2023 has been dubbed the “Hot Labor Summer” after various unions, including the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Writers Guild of America, Los Angeles Hotel Workers, and some Starbucks employees all went on strike. Thirty years prior, in 1993, Homer led his colleagues to strike against his employer after Mr. Burns decided to eliminate dental coverage for the nuclear power plant employees.
Homer was inspired to strike and have the union demand dental coverage for employees after discovering Lisa needed braces, and he wasn’t able to afford them without insurance. Joined by his coworkers, many of whom were also parents with kids who required orthodontia, Homer and the union successfully convinced Mr. Burns to offer dental insurance once again.
The lesson learned here? Pay attention when getting a new job to what benefits you are offered beyond a salary. Sometimes an employer may try to entice you with an attractive salary, but once you learn that you’re not offered dental insurance, for example, you may find that your salary doesn’t go as far as you expected.
4. Competition Can Be Good for Your Finances
In the small town of Springfield, there is one convenience store, the Kwik-E-Mart, owned by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Everyone in town knows Apu overcharges for just about every item in the store, but because it’s the only one, Apu knows he has the ability to set prices however he wants. The same is true for Comic Book Guy’s comic book store until a hipster named Milo comes to town and opens a second comic book shop, Coolsville Comics & Toys.
Milo is not only offering more affordable prices, but he treats his customers better, and as a result, his business soars while Comic Book Guy’s business starts to tank.
Lesson learned here? Having competition in your town likely keeps prices lower for you. While you may roll your eyes at another smoothie shop opening around the corner, the competition is likely what is keeping smoothies affordable in your area.
5. Hire a Professional
There are some chores around the home that can become do-it-yourself tasks after watching a few videos on YouTube or talking to a friend, but when it comes to home repairs or even mounting a TV on the wall, sometimes it’s a smarter financial decision to pay a professional. But of course, Homer didn’t pay attention to this advice. After discovering a leak in his roof, Homer thinks about hiring a contractor. But after a few beers at Moe’s Bar, he feels quite confident that he can successfully repair his roof himself and save money by not hiring a contractor. Ultimately Homer’s attempt to save money by DIY-ing his roof repairs instead of hiring a professional lands him in the hospital.
Lesson learned here? While some repairs may sound costly, the truth is hiring a professional often will often save you money in the long run, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Repairing a roof without the proper tools or know-how could have resulted not just in Homer visiting the hospital but he could have further damaged the roof. By further damaging the roof, you’re not only looking at paying more for roof repairs, but if there was a hole or leak in the roof and it rained, you may also now be looking at having to make repairs inside your home as well such as on the ceiling, walls, repairs to ceiling fans, lighting, electric wiring, and more.
6. Avoid Maxing Out Credit Cards
Homer takes his family out for dinner at a restaurant, and when he goes to pay the bill, his credit card is declined. Homer discovers that his card has been denied because he has maxed out his credit card.
When you are approved for a credit card, your card issuer will often share what credit limit you have been given. While many believe that a credit limit of $10,000 means you can spend $10,000, that is unfortunately not accurate. Spending more than 30 percent of your credit limit often signals to your creditor that you are financially struggling and may be at risk of not being able to pay back what you owe. This has an impact on your credit score, and the more credit utilization you spend, the greater the negative impact you can expect to see on your credit score.
Not only is this a lesson on how to protect your credit score, but it’s also a good reminder to pay attention to your credit card statements and know when you are over-relying on a credit card to make ends meet. Perhaps if Homer had been aware of how little credit usage he had remaining on his card, he wouldn’t have taken the family out for dinner and instead found healthy, budget-friendly meals to make at home instead.
7. Spend What You Can Afford to Pay Back
After receiving a credit card offer in the mail, Bart fraudulently applies for a credit card and is approved. Once he has his credit card in hand, Bart spends thousands on luxurious gifts – including a radio frying pan for Marge and a golf shirt with a company’s logo for Homer. His flashiest purchase comes in the form of a $1,200 collie named Laddie. It seems like the only place Bart’s fraudulent card isn’t accepted is at the local comic book store.
As Comic Book Guy tells Bart, “Oh, pardon me, Santos, if that is your real name, Bart Simpson, but your phony credit card is no good here. Now make like my pants, and split.”
Although Bart used a fake identity, that doesn’t stop the credit card company from trying to collect payment for Bart’s purchases. Soon debt collectors are after him, making phone calls and sending letters, all of which Bart chooses to ignore.
The lesson learned here, beyond avoiding using a fraudulent identity to open a credit card? You should only spend what you can afford to repay. If you find yourself struggling to make minimum monthly payments on your credit card debt, don’t bury your head in the sand and avoid phone calls and letters from your creditor or a debt collector. Before they even start chasing you, contact a nonprofit credit counseling organization like DebtWave Credit Counseling, who can work with you and your creditors to lower your interest rate and monthly payment to an amount that you can afford, allowing you to pay off your debt in three-to-five years.
8. Understand What You’re Financially Responsible For
The financial world is often filled with jargon that confuses the average consumer. In one episode of The Simpson’s, Homer takes out a home equity loan but mistakenly believes that because it was a home loan, the house was responsible for paying back the money to the bank, not him. Of course, the bank disagrees with Homer’s definition of a home loan, so they ultimately foreclose on the family’s home.
Unfortunately, home foreclosure is one of the most damaging things you can have on your credit report. But thanks to Homer, we are reminded of the importance of understanding what exactly we are financially responsible for any time we take out a loan, borrow money, or sign any kind of financial agreement or document. If Homer had taken the time to ask how his home would be repaying the loan, he may have been corrected that the home wasn’t responsible for the home equity loan, he, Homer was, and this whole foreclosure mess could have been avoided in the first place.
9. Financially Plan for Unexpected Expenses
Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu and his wife Manjula want to start a family but never expected they would have octuplets during their first pregnancy. At first, the people of Springfield rally around the Nahasapeemapetilon family and their eight babies, but at some point, Apu and Manjula find themselves on their own and are struggling to stay afloat financially.
While not everyone has octuplets, the lesson learned here is the importance of having an emergency savings fund for unexpected expenses. You never know when something won’t go according to plan, such as the water heater or air conditioning unit needing repairs or getting a flat tire. Having a well-funded savings account to tap into when things go awry can not only lessen the impact on your bank account, but it can also lessen the stress you experience during those times when things don’t go as planned.
10. Sometimes We Need to Make Sacrifices
While many of the financial lessons in The Simpson’s are examples of what not to do, sometimes the family surprises us and gives us a great example of healthy financial behavior. One such instance is in the episode “Dog of Death,” in which the family’s dog, Santa’s Little Helper, gets sick, and the family has a choice to either pay for an expensive operation, which they frankly can’t afford, or put their beloved family dog down.
Don’t worry, animal lovers, the family decides that in order to save Santa’s Little Helper, they will all cut back on something they enjoy and apply the savings to the vet bill. Homer sacrifices Duff beer, Marge switches from brand-name foods to a lower-quality store brand, and Bart gets his hair cut by student hairdressers. By making these cuts, the family is able to save enough money to afford the hefty vet bill, and Santa’s Little Helper ends up making a full recovery.
The lesson learned here? Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, at least temporarily, in order to improve our financial situation or to be able to afford something really important to us.
Are you a fan of The Simpson’s? What financial lessons have you picked up on in the show’s more than 700 episodes? Share your favorite Simpson’s money moments in the comments below!