14 Money Lessons from Disney Movies

Let’s face it, Disney predominantly has a reputation for getting us to spend money, not save it. But during the cold, rainy weather in Southern California, I rewatched some classic Disney movies and found several valuable personal finance lessons embedded in these films.

14 Money Lessons from Disney Movies

1. Sharing Expenses Can Benefit Your Budget

In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” we learn the benefit of pooling resources and sharing expenses with our friends and family. In the film, the seven dwarves live together in a house where they divide the work and bills. The dwarves live together in a modest cabin and split the household chores like cooking and cleaning. They also happen to work together in the mines, which means they can even share the tools they need to uncover all of those precious gems.

While not all of us want to live in a house with seven other people, let alone our coworkers, it can be helpful for your finances to share a house or even buy a house with friends or loved ones. It’s also a good reminder that when it comes to expenses around the house or at work, sharing what we have with friends, family, and neighbors can benefit our bottom line.

For example, if you need to rent a carpet cleaner for a day, splitting the cost with a neighbor or nearby loved one may make sense. That way, you both have clean carpets at half the cost. You can also share a membership to a membership-only big-box retailer like Costco or Sam’s Club. Another way to pool resources is by taking advantage of local no-spend groups on Facebook or Next Door. In these groups, you can find everything from furniture to baby clothes available for a trade or for free.

2. Have an Emergency Savings, a Back-Up Plan When Things Go Awry

In “Sleeping Beauty,” the newborn Princess Aurora’s life is threatened by Maleficient, but the threat of death by pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel won’t happen until the Princess turns 16. In order to protect the Princess, the three good fairies come up with a plan with the King and Queen to save the Princess. Although the fairies have magical powers, their magic is not as powerful as Maleficient’s, so all they can do is change the curse from death to a sleeping spell or until the Princess is awoken from true love’s kiss. 

To further protect the Princess, the three good fairies take the baby Princess from her castle home in the middle of the night, give her a new name, Briar Rose, and raise her as a young maiden in a cabin in the forest until her 16th birthday. On that night, they tell the Princess about her true identity, and as hard as they tried to protect her from pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, Maleficient succeeds, forcing the fairies to put the entire kingdom to sleep until they can bring Aurora’s true love, Prince Philip to the castle and have him awaken her with a kiss.

When it comes to your financial situation, it can be hard to think 16 or more years into the future and devise a financial plan that’s guaranteed to succeed long-term, but it’s important to try nonetheless. Is it likely everything will go exactly according to plan long-term? Maybe not, but if you have an emergency savings plan in place, when things do go awry, you’ll likely have a better idea of how to pivot and keep moving forward. You’ll also be better prepared for obstacles that come your way, and instead of experiencing what feels like financial death, it may feel more like a financial nap.

3. Make Sure You Have a Detailed Will – Especially if You Have Children

In “Cinderella,” a young Ella loses both of her parents early in life. While we’re not sure when her mother passed away, the story begins with Ella’s father remarrying Lady Tremaine, who has two daughters of her own similar in age to Ella. Unfortunately, tragedy struck again, and Ella’s father passed away shortly after the two families merged together. Because Ella’s father didn’t have a will, Lady Tremaine inherited everything and chose to spend the money on luxury goods for herself and her two daughters. The house begins to fall apart, and instead of lovingly caring for Ella, Lady Tremaine forces her stepdaughter to become a maid in the house and sleep near the fireplace, which is how she garners the nickname Cinder-Ella. 

Although the movie doesn’t spend too much time focusing on Ella’s biological parents, it’s highly unlikely that Ella’s father intended for Lady Tremaine to not care for his daughter in a loving manner. But because there wasn’t a will outlining how exactly his wealth should be shared or how his daughter should be cared for, or even who should care for his daughter, Ella ends up in this disastrous situation. 

While creating a will can be scary, it’s an incredibly important part of any financial plan, regardless if you have children. A will essentially outlines how you want any money you leave behind to be spent or divided and amongst whom. If you have children, a will increasingly becomes important because it gives a directive as to how your children should be taken care of and by whom. 

4. Even if You Have a Will, It Can Be Helpful to Openly Communicate About Your Finances 

In the “Aristocats,” a wealthy retired opera singer is overheard by her live-in butler saying that her plan is to leave her entire inheritance to her cats, not him. The butler is fuming and does everything he can to get rid of the cats so that the money can be his and his alone. 

The lesson learned here is that even if you create a will, it can go a long way to openly communicate about what you wish to happen with your finances if something happens to you. Will these conversations eradicate all hard feelings and conflict? Not necessarily, but sometimes it helps to hear from you directly about what and why you want something after you pass away. 

5. Stay Away from Predatory Deals – No Matter How Tempting

In the “Little Mermaid,” Ariel strikes a deal with Ursula, the Sea Witch. Ursula agrees to turn Ariel from a mermaid into a human so she can try to win over a human, Prince Eric. The only caveat? Ariel strikes a binding contract with Ursula that requires her to give up her voice, meaning she can only use body language to meet and convince Prince Eric to kiss her. And she has a time limit – she must get kissed before sunset on the third day. If Ariel fails, she will be turned into a creature and be kept forever by Ursula. 

Based on the number of creatures Ariel is forced to swim over in order to enter Ursula’s cave, it doesn’t appear that many merfolk who enter into an agreement with the Sea Witch are successful. In fact, it looks like almost no one has been able to get what they want after striking a deal with Ursula. 

This reminded me of how sometimes, when we really want something but we are having a hard time getting approved by a traditional creditor, we may turn to a loan shark, someone who charges incredibly high-interest rates. But as anyone who has used loan sharks or payday loans knows firsthand, the interest is often so high that it is almost impossible to pay off and we find ourselves trapped in a high-interest debt cycle. And in the end, we may lose what we wanted in the first place because we can’t afford it. 

6. Make a Budget – And Stick to It

In “Aladdin,” the hero of the film, Aladdin, finds a magic lamp with a genie inside. As the one who discovered the lamp, Aladdin is awarded three wishes. Although it may be tempting to spend all three wishes at once, Aladdin bides his time and thinks through what he wants before making any wishes. Ultimately, Aladdin gets everything his heart desires with two wishes allowing him to use his third wish to grant the Genie his ultimate wish: freedom.

Although not all of us are lucky enough to find a magic lamp with a Genie who grants us three wishes, Aladdin’s ability to budget his three wishes is quite admirable and is a good reminder of why it’s important to create a budget for your money. There will be a lot of twists and turns along your financial journey that may tempt you to deviate from your budget, but in the end, if you stick to your budget, you may find that you have leftover funds in the end. 

7. Make Sure You’re Getting Sound Financial Advice from a Trusted Advisor

Another money lesson from “Aladdin”? Be careful about who you’re getting your advice from. In the movie, Jafar is the Sultan’s Royal Viseer, his advisor. But Jafar has ulterior motives and is not advising the Sultan based on what is best for the Kingdom of Agrabah or what the Sultan is trying to accomplish. Rather Jafar is trying to do everything in his power, such as scare off potential suitors for Princess Jasmine, so that he can become Sultan and have ultimate power. 

In fact, Jafar’s thirst for power is how he ends up getting defeated in the end. Aladdin is able to convince Jafar that a genie is more powerful than a Sultan, so Jafar uses one of his three wishes to become a genie. The only caveat is that as a genie, Jafar is forced to spend his days living inside a lamp, and he must grant the wishes of those who own the lamp – he’s not necessarily free to do as he pleases with his new powers.

The lesson learned here is to use caution regarding where you get your financial advice. It can be tempting to listen to a celebrity or other influencer on social media and invest in a certain company or try a different strategy with your money. But those social media posts are often paid ads. Not only are they often ads, but everyone’s financial situation and money goals are different. What works for one person may not work for another, which is why it’s best to find a financial advisor you trust who can look specifically at your financial situation and help you come up with a strategy to achieve your unique money goals. 

8. Don’t Ignore Your Problems

Hakuna Matata, no worries, is a wonderful phrase, but Simba in “The Lion King” has a lot of worries. After the young lion cub is wrongfully convinced by his devious Uncle Scar that he is responsible for his father, King Mufasa’s death, he runs away into exile. Rumors start to swirl across the Serengeti that Simba’s pack of lions, his family, is struggling. Even his childhood friend, and crush, Nala, finds him in exile and shares that the pack of lions is struggling from starvation and a slew of other problems. Nala says that without Simba’s return, it could be the end of life as the lions knew it. 

Simba doesn’t want to return. He still feels responsible for his father’s death, and the guilt is overwhelming to him to the point he doesn’t know how he can face the lion herd. Ultimately Simba is convinced he can’t run away from his problems for forever and returns to Pride Rock where he sees how Scar’s leadership has completely ruined the herd’s chances of survival. Not only that, Simba learns from Scar that he actually wasn’t responsible for his father’s death. This is enough for Simba to begin to fight back and ultimately take over leading the herd, as was his birthright.

The lesson learned here? Don’t run away from your mistakes. Not only will the mistake not go away on its own, but it could get worse. When it comes to money, all of us are bound to make financial mistakes at one point or another – spending over budget, forgetting to make a payment on a bill, or investing in something that is not successful. And while we may be tempted to bury our head in the sand, these financial mistakes are not going to correct themselves. The faster you tackle the problem, the less damage control you’ll have to do.

9. Some of the Best Deals Happen Out of Season

In “Frozen,” Elsa’s anger unleashes a cold front across Arendalle in the middle of summer. This meant that the price of ice, usually quite high in the hot summer months, suddenly plunged as demand essentially become non-existent. But at Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, there was a huge summer blowout on summer-related clothing and accessories because it was suddenly too cold to wear a swimsuit.

The lesson here? If you’re on a tight budget, perhaps you’re trying to pay off debt, you may want to take advantage of out-of-season sales and discounts. For example, purchase winter coats in spring and summer when the need, or demand, plummets, and purchase swimsuits in fall or winter when again, demand is at an all-time low. 

Out-of-season discounts apply to more than just clothing too. Going on vacation during an off-peak tourist season can land you big discounts not only on your hotel stay but you may be able to score discounts on your airfare, restaurants, and popular tourist attractions. Even those planning a wedding can benefit from picking an out-of-season date based on their wedding venue. 

10. Get Your Kids Involved in Finances Early On

While your kids don’t need to know how much your mortgage is, how much credit card debt you have, or that you’re worried about the skyrocketing cost of groceries, it’s a good idea to get your kids involved and thinking about money from an early age because most of their beliefs around money will form by age seven. This is beautifully illustrated in “Lilo and Stitch,” when Lilo goes to adopt the dog-alien Stitch from the animal shelter. 

In the movie, Lilo is brought to an animal shelter by her older sister and guardian, Nani. Lilo goes to pick out a dog and falls in love with Stitch, who is really an alien but is pretending to be a dog. The adoption fee for Stitch is $2, which Nani happily hands over. But given this dog is for Lilo, and is supposed to be a companion, a friend for her, Lilo feels a sense of responsibility to care for Stitch immediately. In fact, she tells Nani that she wants to be the one who pays the $2 licensing fee in order to adopt Stitch. Only Lilo doesn’t have any money, so Nani lends her the money to pay for the licensing fee. 

While Lilo technically now owes her sister the $2, Nani is not charging interest, and Lilo feels a sense of pride that she’s taking care of Stitch and becoming more responsible little by little. 

11. Prioritize Long-Term Money Goals

In the “Princess and the Frog,” Tiana has a life-long goal of opening up her own restaurant where she can serve her own food, and she’s almost there. This goal is so important to Tiana that she works multiple jobs, saving every penny she can in order to accomplish this feat. Although it costs Tiana some nights out with friends, she knows every penny counts, and Tiana’s focus on achieving her long-term goals is admirable. 

The lesson learned here is that it’s important to learn how to avoid distractions that will cost you and take away from achieving your long-term goals. 

12. Diversification is Important 

When it comes to investments, including your 401k, diversification is important. This is beautifully illustrated in “Moana.” The island of Motunui is a beautiful Pacific paradise teeming with life. The people who live in the village are able to support themselves by fishing and by using just about every part of the coconut tree until they encounter issues. The coconut trees are rotting, producing rotten fruit, and the fishermen are coming back empty-handed; there seems to be no fish left anywhere near the island. 

The lesson learned here is to learn how to diversify your investments so that if one stock ends up rotting, you’re not left hungry and panicked on an isolated island. By diversifying your investments it’s more likely you’ll always have something to chew on. 

13. Don’t Let Your Emotions Run the Show

When it comes to personal finance, 90 percent of the decisions we make come from our emotions, our psychology, and our money mindset, while the other 10 percent is based on the actual math, the numbers. 

In “Inside Out,” we witness firsthand how our emotions like fear, disgust, anger, and envy can lead us astray and make decisions that don’t exactly benefit us long-term or short-term. It’s a good reminder that when it comes to financial decisions, sometimes we need to take a second and figure out if we’re making a decision based on money math or our emotions. For example, if you’re shopping at the grocery store on an empty stomach, you’re more likely to go over budget and add a few snacks, regardless of the price, to your basket because your hunger emotions will overpower your mindset that sticking to your grocery list and budget is more important long-term.

14. Work Together with Your Spouse on Your Financial Goals and Budget

In “Up,” Carl and Ellie have a lifelong dream of adventuring to Paradise Falls. But as many couples know, life kept getting in the way, and they had to borrow from their adventure fund regularly to pay for unexpected expenses that came their way. 

Although the couple didn’t get a chance to make their trip Paradise Falls trip dream come true, they worked together over the years as a team to handle the financial hiccups that came their way. There was no blaming, shaming, or finger-pointing, which is incredibly important for all couples to keep in mind when it comes to managing money. 

While not every couple will have the same relationship with money, it’s important to work together as a team and keep the big picture in mind. 

Have you noticed any important or memorable money lessons in Disney movies? Share with us in the comments below!

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