Movies and books that can help teach tweens personal finance
My eldest is about to turn 13, but I feel lost when it comes to recommending resources to his age group. Do you have a list of appropriate books and movies for middle school students that will help them think about personal finance?
—Wendy, Kansas City, Mo.
It’s easy enough to find books offering simple money lessons for young children. Think The Little Red Hen (you reap what you sow) or Corduroy (save up for something you really want). But educational and entertaining materials that are sophisticated enough for middle-schoolers without being heavy-handed? Those are harder to find than Corduroy’s lost button. Lucky for you, I searched high and low, and put together a roundup of what tweens can read and watch. And, as the saying goes, if they’re not careful, they might just learn something along the way.
Gary D. Schmidt
(Clarion Books, 2011)
In this novel, set in the late 1960s, a middle-school boy arrives in a tiny New York mill town where his fearsome, alcoholic father is chasing work. The boy lands a series of odd jobs: delivering groceries for the local deli ($5 plus tips every Saturday), babysitting, and helping his PE teacher chart his students’ progress. At the local library, he discovers an unexpected gift for Audubon-style bird illustrations. Beautifully and realistically narrated by the boy, this National Book Award finalist shows how mentorship and an industrious work ethic can help an adolescent overcome his hesitation to grow up.
Money moment: “No one ever told me this stuff! How come no one ever told me this stuff?”
James McKenna, Jeannine Glista, and Matt Fontaine
(Workman Publishing, 2016)
Based on its “get rich quick”-y title, I thought I wouldn’t like this book. But I did. Using the idea of becoming a millionaire—so appealing to middle-schoolers—as a hook, the authors introduce key personal finance concepts like setting long-term goals, saving money, living within your means, the magic of compound interest, and, in considerable detail, investing. It’s written in a lively, wink-wink style, but a word of warning: The text sometimes lapses into jargon and it’s a bit too gung-ho about outsmarting the stock market. Oh, and about those get-rich-quick schemes I was initially worried about: As this book shows, none of them really works.
Money moment: “How to Save Money (The Short Version): Don’t spend it. The end. Seriously, don’t spend it. Thank you.”
Andy and Amy Heyward
Kids love to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth, and no one’s a bigger expert on making money than Warren Buffett. This book, based on a curriculum that the Oracle of Omaha himself helped develop, is full of sage advice about finance and life in general. With screen shots and plot summaries in just about every chapter, the book draws heavily from the TV series that inspired it to drive home its 26 secrets.
Money moment: “Secret #23: Prices are determined by supply and demand. … There are two things that everyone can supply without limitation: knowledge and love. … Supply all the positive things in life to others and you will definitely be in demand.”
Big (PG, 1988)
What would a 13-year-old suburban boy do if he got his wish to be “big”? This 1988 Tom Hanks comedy imagines the results. Magically transformed into a 30-year-old man, Josh Baskin scores a job at a toy company and (innocently) jockeys his way up the corporate ladder to an executive suite. (“Adulting,” in today’s parlance.) Then he uses his earnings windfall to rent a Manhattan loft and fill it with arcade games, pinball machines, a coinless Pepsi machine, and a giant trampoline. The movie would probably earn a PG-13 rating today because it verges into some unsettling areas (“big” Josh is initiated into some old-school workplace sexual harassment and gets very intimate with a grown woman) before, relieved, he returns to his normal life. Its be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale is pure gold as a preview of adult money responsibilities.
Based on Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball: The Art of Winning in an Unfair Game, this drama tells the story of Billy Beane (winningly portrayed by Brad Pitt), general manager of the small-market Oakland A’s, whose biggest stars sign on to other teams. Beane decides to rebuild his roster with cheap, undervalued players who lack classic baseball player bodies and looks but can get on base and manufacture runs. The judgment of fans and the baseball world is harsh—until the A’s reel off a record 20-game winning streak. There’s a metaphor for investing here. While the popular imagination is distracted by shiny objects like individual Apple, Uber, or Disney stocks, a smarter strategy is to invest in a broad range of companies that may be undervalued. (And you don’t need a lot of money to do it.) Beane’s decision to turn down an offer from the Boston Red Sox to make him the highest paid general manager in sports holds another valuable lesson in staying the course both in investing and in one’s career.
Money moment: Red Sox owner: “For $41 million, you built a playoff team. You lost Damon, Giambi, Isringhausen, Pena, and you won more games without them than you did with them. You won the exact same number of games that the Yankees won, but the Yankees spent $1.4 million per win and you paid $260,000.”
I hope these picks pique your middle-schoolers’ interest—and leave them with some money smarts. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below.