Growing up, my family didn't have dozens of holiday and Christmas traditions, but we did have one that we took fairly seriously. If you asked any one of our family friends or extended family members if the Matthieson's had any Christmas traditions, odds are they would have told you that we watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as a family EVERY.SINGLE.YEAR, (usually around Thanksgiving) to get us into the Christmas spirit. Close to three decades later, not much has changed until this year when I saw this movie in a whole new light.
When you love what you do, it’s in all that you do, I can’t help but to see things that happen in sports, movies, and life in general that remind me of my career in helping families with their personal finances. I don't claim that this isn't some kind of weird personality trait, but I'm usually seeing things through the lens of a financial advisor. It’s bad enough that I compared golfers in the Masters to asset classes earlier this year.
So this holiday season, I thought the perfect gift would be to combine my favorite family tradition with arguably the greatest piece of cinema ever made and to bring to you:
The Top 10 Financial Lessons from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
1. "Poor Planning is Poor Performance"
This quote wasn't by Clark Griswold or any other cast member but is something I've heard my own father, Creig say at least 1,000 times in my life. The quote reminds me of the opening scene as the Griswold's go through a painstaking car chase and hike through the woods to find the "perfect Griswold family Christmas tree" only for Russ to ask Clark "Dad, did you bring a saw?" This should teach you that making a plan is usually more efficient than just winging it on your own.
2. Don't spend your bonus before the check clears...
Throughout the movie, Clark is stressed as he waits for his annual Christmas bonus to arrive so he can finish paying the deposit for his family's new swimming pool that will begin construction "as soon as the ground thaws." Clark then learns that his annual bonus has been replaced with a year's subscription to a Jelly of the month club. Even though his favorite cousin, Eddie, reminds him this gift will keep on giving throughout the entire year, Clark is devastated.
The financial lesson here: Are you planning your financial future based on things out of your control? 401k matches can be changed; bonuses can be eliminated. Bull markets don't last forever. "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."
Note: Due to this being a family friendly firm, I am not posting the clip from the movie where Clark finds out about the bonus...you know what happens.
3. If your income is your number 1 asset (It is) than you should protect it from unforeseen illnesses or injuries.
We now cut to Clark putting lights on the house at the top of a ladder while his neighbors wish injury on him. Has anyone ever explained and drawn out for you what would actually happen if you were hurt or sick and unable to work? You might have something through work but how much? Would it be enough of an income stream for your family to keep bills paid and to continue saving for your family’s future?
4. Protect your assets and income with an umbrella policy.
In this scene, Clark falls off the roof only to have his gutter shoot an ice spike across his yard. It flies into the neighbor’s, Todd & Margo, house causing damage to their window and stereo which led to the million dollar question, "and why is the carpet all wet, Todd?"
If you were in a wreck and caused bodily injury or something happened to cause damage to someone's home or property, any idea how your home or auto insurance would protect your balance sheet? A good idea is to explore an "umbrella policy" which is a form of excess liability that kicks in once underlying limits of home or auto insurance have been exhausted.
5. If you have a problem and want help, remain calm.
We cut to the scene where Clark fires up the Christmas lights only for the 25,000 bulbs fail to illuminate. Clark then loses his mind. I can relate to this one; I was always in charge of the "exterior illumination" at our house.
The financial lesson here: If you're having a financial struggle, approach the conversation with a calm and level head to get through it. Think your spouse wants to talk finances if you're screaming?
6. Don't insult your in-laws over their financial decisions...
In this scene, Clark's in-laws mock his decision to spend money on 250 strands of Italian imported Christmas lights...
Even if you disagree with a spouse or family member's financial decisions, insulting them in front of their kids probably won't yield the best results, even if you do want to help them. Maybe speak to them in private and let them know you're concerned but overall support them. "People don't care what you know until they know how much you care."
7. Have a well-funded emergency fund for any emergencies or surprises.
Clark finds out that his cousin Eddie has surprised them for a visit. This might have only set back Clark emotionally but the lesson here is that unexpected events happen. Are you prepared for a financial one? Most Americans are not.
8. The Holiday season is a time for giving.
In this scene, after Eddie lets Clark know that the Live Bait Industry isn't treating them well, Clark offers to chip in to provide their children some gifts for Christmas.
If tithing is important to you and your family, have you considered that as part of your cash flow or charitable giving?
9. Don't feel the pressure to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to vehicles...or recreational vehicles.
Here we have Clark and Eddie admiring Eddie's beat up RV through the living room in the window. "It looks so nice parked in the driveway."
In my opinion, financial discipline and behavior is the biggest indicator of financial success. Building wealth takes time. Do you have the ability to delay immediate gratification or does your neighbor’s new 7 series make you cringe with envy?
10. Christmas isn't about spending top dollar on gifts; its ultimately about faith and family.
After nearly being arrested for kidnapping, Clark finally discovers the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Life is not about money. Money is a resource that allows us to live, enjoy life, help others and provide for our families. Try to remember this holiday season what it’s all really about.
From everyone on my team at Ashford Advisors, we'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and wonderful Holiday Season!