We watched all five years of a television program that has already become a legend. It was one of the most intense shows we’ve ever seen. The program? Breaking Bad.
Word of warning – if you have never seen Breaking Bad, it’s very intense and watching it isn’t a happy experience. The protagonist, Walter White, is first seen as a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher. But then year after year he descends further and further into madness as he becomes more and more of a master criminal.
Despite this, we found there were some important financial lessons that could be learned by watching it. Walter and his meth-cooking sidekick, Jesse, made some awful decisions. But on a lighter note, some of Walter’s choices offer lessons in money management that could be helpful to any normal, law-abiding citizen. The seven that made the biggest impression on us were.
1. Do good estate planning
The reason why Walter began making meth is because he had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to be able to pay his medical bills and leave enough money for his family that they would be taken care of. However, there are definitely better ways to do estate planning. For example, everyone with a family should have life insurance. You should also make sure that you have enough coverage. You might check into buying an annuity or some other investment vehicle that would provide a consistent stream of payments to your family should the worst happen to you. Of course, you should have an emergency fund, which is something Walter definitely lacked. One we like is to use a Roth IRA because of its tax advantages.
2. Buy good-quality health insurance
For reasons that were never explained, Walt either had no healthcare insurance or went over its cap. In this post-Obamacare world of healthcare insurance, his medical expenses would’ve been capped at $12,700 a year if he had the low-cost “Bronze Plan.” However, an insurer wouldn’t have turned him down because of his pre-existing terminal illness. So even with Obamacare, you need to find coverage that won’t cost you thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. If you get insurance through you employer, make sure you review your coverage closely to ensure you have the proper amount. And you might check out the Gold or Platinum plans under the Affordable Care Act. These have higher premiums but offer more comprehensive coverage.
We were amazed to read this statistic but according to one foundation, 31% of American adults who have combined assets with a partner or spouse admit they have tried to conceal the truth about their finances. Even worse, nearly 60% of them said they had hidden cash from their partner or spouse. Since Walter’s wife knew about his “business,” she was able to help him. But if you try to hide financial truths from your partner or spouse, this can cause you to make bad choices. It’s always better when everyone fully understands the family’s finances.
Do you find it difficult to discuss finances with your spouse or partner? If so, here’s a video that could help.
4. Don’t let your money just sit around
Because Walter’s money was obtained illegally, he was unable to invest it. Instead, he had to hide it behind walls, under floors and even underground. The lesson to be learned here is don’t follow the “hide your money under the mattress” philosophy. It’s not possible to earn very much of a return with a savings account or money market account these days but there are safe investments that do provide a decent return such as bonds and index funds.
5. Don’t get greedy
Walter’s biggest mistake was that he kept cooking and distributing meth to the point where he had more money than he would ever need in 100 years. He continued to take big risks even though he didn’t need to. The lesson to be learned here is don’t be greedy and go after the highest return on your investments. Take a more conservative approach and work to protect what you have. This is especially true if you’re nearing the age of retirement.
6. Don’t buy flashy stuff – especially for your children
Even though Walter was trying to keep a low profile he broke down at one point and purchased a flashy sports car for his son. This not only put him at risk for being caught by the DEA but it didn’t give him the opportunity to teach his son about good money management. If you have a child who is about to reach that magic age of 16, don’t do like Walter and buy him or her something flashy and expensive. Instead, take your kid to the car dealer and help him or her learn how cars are priced and marketed. You might let your child help you negotiate the best price on what would be a sensible purchase – a small, fuel-efficient SUV or sedan.
7. Don’t be scared to ask for help
When Walter got into a pickle he would call either his lawyer Saul (Better Call Saul), or his henchman, Mike. In fact, without Saul’s help Walt and Jesse probably wouldn’t have lasted past season three. It just never hurts to consult with experts if you feel you’re into a situation over your head. For example, if you’re uncertain about the best way is to invest your money, find a good financial advisor. He or she will definitely charge for the advice you’re giving but this could be well worth the money. The same is true of home and auto repairs. If you run into a situation where you’re not certain you know what to do, call in an expert.