I’ve long held the controversial opinion that you learn more about the world and society from fiction than non-fiction. The same is true for TV and film. This means you can learn key money lessons from Netflix.
While watching Netflix, I started thinking about what I could learn from some of the series I’ve watched. Seeing as money and finances plays such an important role in everyone’s lives, it’s also a key theme in many shows.
As a result, there’s a lot to be learnt about personal finance and managing money in many TV series. In this post I will highlight just some of the key lessons that can be learnt from five hit Netflix shows. I will also explain what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes as the characters.
Beware: There may be spoilers ahead…
A show all about student politics and aspiring to be US President one day, it features jealously, privilege and a healthy dose of backstabbing. It also contains plenty of money lessons.
In season 1 episode 2, a very wealthy dad decides to cut off two of his sons. Instead of the millions they would have inherited, he leaves them with just one item – The Harrington Commode.
The sons then exclaim: “But we have to pay taxes on the value of that. You’re sending us off into debt.” To which the dad simply replies: “I know.”
This is an important lesson in inheritance and tax planning. A lot of people don’t consider the tax implications of who they leave assets to in their Will. The beneficiaries can be left with large tax bills, which they cannot afford.
Seeking advice from a tax adviser and discussing your options can prevent this from being an issue. Some choose to make gifts while they’re still alive to mitigate the tax owed. If you live for 7 years after making a gift, inheritance tax is no longer payable.
While not a Netflix original, all 10 seasons are available on Netflix. The key money question that has been troubling fans for years is how does Monica afford her New York City West Village apartment on a relatively low salary?
In the first season Monica tries to explain this by saying the apartment is in her grandmother’s name. “If anyone asks, tell them an 80-year-old woman lives here,” she says. After her grandmother moved to Florida, Monica began to illegally sublet the rent-controlled apartment.
While this may appear like a win for Monica, the lesson here is not to illegally sublet properties. If you are illegally subletting an apartment you will not be properly protected by insurance if something goes wrong.
If you are the renter, you are also not protected. You will not be able to declare any rental income properly. This could cause a multitude of problems for you, from tax penalties to five years in prison – certainly not something to be taken lightly.
Renting out a property can be a great source of additional income if done through the correct channels. As a bonus, your first £1000 of rental income is tax free.
Jane the Virgin
This may not be the most ‘highbrow’ show on Netflix, but it does contain a lot of important money lessons.
When Jane and Rafael’s son is born, they argue about his trust fund and inheritance. The good thing is they know to update their Wills and finances as soon as he is born. This is such an important thing to do as we never know what is going to happen next and it is crucial to make sure your loved ones are taken care of if anything were to happen to you.
The show also tackles issues of insider trading, financial crimes and bribery. These issues won’t affect the majority of people, but there have been plenty of cases of people inadvertently getting caught up in insider trading. Remember it is illegal to trade stocks and shares based on any information that is not publicly available. This can include information from your job, a friend or family member or even after a conversation in a bar – which happens in Season 2 of Jane the Virgin.
There’s a lot to unpack in this series, which I look at in more detail in this post. Essentially the key money lesson from Netflix here is the importance of having an up to date and legal Will.
So many people neglect their Will, but they really are the only way to ensure your assets are distributed how you wish. The case of Don Lewis and Carole Baskin also highlights the need to take proper legal advice and execute it properly.
Make sure you, your lawyer and your executors have a copy of your Will kept in a safe but accessible location. This should help avoid any doubts about its accuracy and prevent forgery attempts. But, don’t be too scared about forgery, it’s very uncommon!
This show is more of a lesson in how not to manage money rather than how to protect wealth. The show centres around a very wealthy family who lose their fortune overnight and have to move to a small town they once bought as a joke. Firstly, this is probably a good example of how not to waste your money, regardless of how much you think you have.
Another key lesson from this show is to pay your taxes. This may seem like an obvious point, but a lot of people fail to file and pay them correctly. In this show, the fault appears to lie with a business manager come accountant who had not paid any taxes. This leads the IRS (the US tax authority) to come after the protagonist family and repossess all their possessions and assets.
For most of us without millions in the bank, it will be our own fault if we don’t pay. This is straightforward if your only source of income is from your job – your tax contributions will come out of your pay cheque. However, with more and more people having side hustles and making additional income, many more may find themselves liable to extra taxes.
How to avoid tax penalties
To avoid unnecessary penalties from HMRC you should keep track of all your income and file a Self-Assessment tax return if necessary. Your first £1000 of extra income is tax free but after this you will have to pay tax on your earnings.
Gifted items can also accrue tax as they are considered a ‘benefit in kind’. Properly reporting these is essential. There is a clear ‘paper trail’ of evidence as you’ll probably have been posting the items on your social media or blogging about them.
If all else fails, make sure you have a good accountant you can trust – they pay for themselves in the long run!
If you found this post interesting, please like it and share across social media or send it to your friends. I’d also love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so please do leave a comment! Have you been watching more Netflix recently? What do you think the key money lessons from Netflix are?