8 Personal Finance Lessons From "Parks and Recreation"

by Tim Lemke on 20 January 2014 0 comments

The NBC show "Parks and Recreation" is dense with commentary on the dysfunction and gridlock of government. But the show also has much to offer for those seeking lessons in how to manage money. (See also: Financial Lessons From "Breaking Bad")

From Ron Swanson's fascination with breakfast to Tom Haverford's high-end clothing rental business, characters in the show are usually involved in some shenanigans that — usually unintentionally — offer a small lesson in personal finance.

Here are eight lessons from the show.

1. Protect Your Identity

The gruff but sensible Ron Swanson is notably untrusting of anyone who dares to request so much as his birthday. His maniacal devotion to privacy is a bit over the top, but it's no more crazy than sharing every detail about yourself without concern for the consequences. This is especially true when it comes to things like social security numbers and numbers tied to bank accounts and credit cards.

Identity theft is a real problem, impacting 16.6 million people in 2012, and causing $24.7 billion in financial losses, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Be careful about distributing any financial information unless you trust the person (or persons) receiving it. Use passwords that are hard to guess, and change them frequently. You don't have to live off the grid like Ron, but you should be smart. (See also: How to Pick a Better Password)

2. Invest in Gold

Ron Swanson once noted that his entire life savings is comprised of gold bullion buried in various locations around Pawnee. We must first acknowledge that Ron probably has lost a lot of money in the investment in the last year. But long term, gold has proven to be a solid investment worthy of inclusion in most portfolios. Most experts say it's a nice hedge against inflation. Shares of the SPDR Gold Trust, a popular vehicle that allows individuals to easily invest in gold, have risen 8% in the last five years, and did not crash along with the market in 2008.

3. Write a Will

In a recent episode, accountant Ben Wyatt and Ron Swanson argued over the importance of estate planning. Ron's wish was that all of his considerable assets be left to "the man or animal who has killed me." Ben convinced him that it's better to write a formal will ensuring the money be left to his wife and stepchildren. Ron agrees to follow Ben's advice after learning that without proper planning, the government could take a big cut of his money from inheritance taxes.

Writing a will can ensure that your assets will be passed on to those you care about most, and you can also outline other desires including guardians for your children. And it's best to complete this planning while you're young and of sound mind. (See also: Tech Tools for Planning Your Own Death)

4. Make Stuff

Yes, Ron Swanson again. We'd be remiss if we did not point out his skill in being able to craft things by hand. He's made everything from baby cribs to canoes to engagement rings on his own, likely saving considerable money in the process. This philosophy works for everything from cooking to landscaping to doing your own car and home repairs, too. (And, FYI, Nick Offerman, the actor who plays Ron Swanson, is an accomplished woodworker in real life. Offerman's woodshop is nothing short of awesome.) (See also: Home DIY Projects You Can Do in a Day)

5. You Can Always Afford Love

The lovable buffoon Andy Dwyer found himself dismayed when he realized that impressing new girlfriend April Ludgate would be hard without some cash. "I kinda forgot that you need money when you have a girlfriend," he said. "I want to treat April like a queen. And queens deserve… flowers and massages. Chocolate. Booze. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds. Some treasure chest full of scarves."

But as we learn, April loves Andy regardless of whether he can afford to buy her things, and they don't seem to mind being blissfully broke. (See also: Frugal and Romantic Dates at Home)

6. Borrow Instead of Buy

Tom Haverford is the resident entrepreneur, launching everything from an entertainment business to a line of cologne. But his most successful venture was born when he realized that parents were not keen on spending lots of money on designer clothes for kids who would quickly outgrow them. So he started "Rent-A-Swag," which allowed kids to borrow fashionable clothes and likely save their parents some money. (See also: Best Items to Borrow)

"Rent-A-Swag" may not exist in real life, but the concept can be applied to nearly any product that you'll either outgrow or won't use more than once or twice. Consider getting a Netflix subscription instead of buying DVDs. Think about going halfsies on that hedge trimmer with a neighbor.

7. Basic Is Best

When energetic city manager Chris Traeger entered into a hamburger cooking contest with Ron Swanson, he cooked up an elaborate sandwich made with tofu, tarragon, and papaya chutney on a brioche bun. It lost out to Ron's "meat, on a bun, with nothing."

When Chris went to order a top-of-the-line crib for his new baby, he learned that it was recalled due to safety concerns. (He ended up accepting Ron's handmade model.)

Ron Swanson said there are only three proper haircuts for men: high and tight, buzz cut, and crew cut. It's no coincidence that those hairstyles probably cost about $10 at your neighborhood barber.

Stick with what's simple and familiar, and you'll rarely be disappointed. And you'll probably save money in the long run.

8. Enjoy Breakfast

In "Parks and Recreation," characters have a slightly neurotic love of breakfast. During one meal, the waffle-loving Leslie Knope asks "Why would anyone ever eat anything other than breakfast foods?" Ron Swanson also says "I'm a simple man. I like pretty dark-haired women and breakfast foods."

It's commonly said that breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day. But it's also arguably the most financially sensible meal. Breakfast foods are generally cheap and easy to prepare, and if you eat a good breakfast you'll probably be less likely to spend money on bigger meals later in the day. Not to mention, it can be fun and economical to have breakfast for dinner. As Ron says, "I'll take a breakfast buffet anytime, anyplace."

Any lessons from Parks and Recreation that we've missed? Please share in comments!

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