Seven Money Lessons from the Oscars
I still have the Oscars fever in me and here are my personal best dressed picks: Cate Blanchett, Jessica Biel, Amy Adams, Naoimi Watts, Kate Hudson, Kristen Bell, Lupita Nyong’o, Olivia Wilde (in her pregnant glory), Jared Leto (despite his long hair), Kevin Spacey, Ryan Seacrest, Harrison Ford, Jaimie Foxx and Brad Pitt. I must say the acceptance speeches of Best Actor and Best Actress winners Matthew McConaughey and Lupita Nyong’o were inspiring. The one from Fil-Am Robert Lopez and wife Kristen for Best Original Song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen was cute and rhyming with a song. By the way, Lopez now joins the prestigious EGOT Club (people who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscars and Tony awards). Mind you there are only 12 members to date and he is the youngest.
The Oscars does not only bring us glitz and glamour, here are some money lessons I gathered from its 86th edition.
1. American Hustle. This is a movie about con artists loosely based on an FBI operation in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. Christian Bale plays the con artist who teams up with Amy Adams who improves their scam by posing as an English aristocrat. The reality is there are many con artists in our midst and despite the warnings of “If it’s too good to be true, it is.” a lot of people still fall prey to scams. Sometimes the glitz of gold blinds a lot of people into being duped. Do you remember our very own Birkin Lady, the flight attendant turned gallery managing director turned scammer? (link) She was a good salesperson and wrapped herself in glamour – signature bags, shoes, clothes, jewelry that no one dared question her dubious investment instruments until she disappeared with her investors’ money to the tune of P500 million.
When you do not understand something or feel uncomfortable, you don’t have any business putting your money in it. Sometimes we just don’t want to ask the first question because we’re afraid to look stupid, so we just go with the flow pretending to understand (Sasakay na lang!). Remember the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes? For all you know everyone already sees a naked emperor but no one dares to say anything. The next time you feel inadequate, not knowing all the highfalutin terms in investing remember what Warren Buffet said, “To invest successfully, you need not understand beta, efficient markets, modern portfolio theory, option pricing or emerging markets. You may, in fact, be better off knowing nothing of these. That, of course, is not the prevailing view at most business schools, whose finance curriculum tends to be dominated by such subjects. In our view, though, investment students need only two well-taught courses – How to Value a Business, and How to Think About Market Prices.”
2. Blue Jasmin. This is a story about a Manhattan socialite played by best actress winner and my favorite fashion icon Cate Blanchett. She falls into poverty and homelessness but still insists on travelling first class and acting as if she still had money. Everyone knows that downgrading one’s lifestyle if the need arises is easier said than done. It’s all a combination of our being creatures of habit and undue concern about what others may think if they see us downgrading. Baka magmukhang kawawa! One way to be proactive on this is to avoid lifestyle creep (when increases in earnings go to lifestyle expenses such that former luxuries become necessities), for this is the enemy of wealth accumulation.
3. Nebraska. This comedy-drama is about an old man played by Bruce Dern who insists on collecting his supposed $1 million Sweepstakes prize, which is really a mail scam to make a person purchase a magazine subscription. There are many twists and turns but this story reminds us not only of the scammers discussed in number one but also people’s penchant for pinning their hopes on winning the lottery to improve their lot even if the odds are way lower than being stricken by lightning. I love the line delivered by Best Supporting Actress nominee and 84-year old June Squibb who plays the role of the wife, “I never knew this SOB wanted to be a millionaire. He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it!”
4. Gravity. This movie dominated the Oscars bringing home seven awards including visual effects, cinematography and original score. Forgive me but despite being a Sandra Bullock fan, I got bored watching this movie that I actually fell asleep. It’s about a fictitious shuttle space mission with Bullock playing the role of a medical engineer on her first mission. Gravity is a force that attracts a body toward the center of the earth, or toward any physical body having a mass. And this is also observed in the movements of the stock market. Sometimes investors forget this that when the index goes higher and higher, they expect that the uptrend will never end. When correction comes, they panic. We should welcome healthy corrections.
5. 12 Years a Slave. This is the winner of the best picture award. It’s based on the memoir of a New York state-born free African American who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. Even if slavery is supposed to be a thing of the past, being born poor can make someone feel enslaved in his dire situation. The movie is the story of how someone fought for his freedom against all odds, keeping his mind and spirit alive. If we relate it to financial freedom, I remember a quote I got from financial literacy advocate Salve Duplito when I interviewed her for an article on her life story (link), “I believe that there is no shame in inheriting poverty. There’s only shame in not doing something about it.”
6. Meryl Streep. The lesson is Meryl Streep herself. She’s a veteran actress in theater, television and film, with the most number of Oscars nominations at 18! Now almost 65 years old, she has been there since the ‘70s but look at her, she’s still loving her craft and getting the accolades for it. Everybody loves her and would love to work with her in order to learn. I know that Oprah Winfrey auditioned for the role of the African American mother in the movie Doubt just so she could work with and learn from her. (The role went to Viola Davis who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for that role.) Time and experience together with hard work really make one become an expert in his or her field. With the increased awareness in financial literacy, we also see the proliferation of financial advice from all over the place. In choosing your financial advice, make sure it comes from someone who knows what he’s talking about. How long has he been in the industry? What’s his track record? For sure you will learn from the likes of Jennifer Lawrence who won an Oscars Best Actress last year at a tender age of 22. However, we do learn more from those who have been there for a longer time, who have experienced ups and downs, the cycles of life.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street. At first I was expecting Leonardo DiCaprio to win Best Actor in his role as the notorious ‘80s stock broker in this movie, but when I saw how Matthew McConaughey lost 50 pounds and how convincingly he portrayed the role of an AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club, I conceded. I wrote a whole article about The Wolf of Wall Street and the lessons learned from the movie (see link). Let me re-state the most fundamental one: Chasing money without a higher purpose is dangerous. It is very important that we know our values and we make sure that what we do with and for money aligns with our core values; otherwise, no amount of money in this world will make us happy.
There you go. Enjoy the movies and see what other lessons you can get from them.