The following essay was written by Lauren Sash, a student at Arizona State University and the winner of the fall 2019 Policygenius scholarship. Applicants were asked to write an original essay about a book, TV show, article, song or movie that taught them a lesson about money or changed their understanding about money.
Financial literacy has long been an area I’ve prioritized as a developmental necessity. As a business major in undergrad, I was fortunate to take extensive accounting and finance classes. I subscribe to “Motley Fool,” have attended seminars with Suze Orman, listen to the “Stacking Benjamins” podcast, and work in corporate procurement. Money management has been my life for a long time. The one thing I can tell you that absolutely shifted my financial perspective, and what I would call the epitome of truth in unexpected places, is the show “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix.
“Grace and Frankie” is a dramatic comedy that chronicles the lives of two drastically contrasting single women. Grace is a collared-shirt wearing business and society woman, while Frankie is a free-spirited wildling. They are both financially well-off, enjoying their beach house by the sea.
The dynamic between the businesswoman and the artist allowed me to observe variations in perspective about the value of money. What I learned wasn’t the type of fund valuation I learned about in the books, such as investing 65% of your income, calculating return on investment, or how to diversify your portfolio. It doesn’t teach you about budgets, debt consolidation or savings. It does teach you that money is a vote.
Get the smartest money moves in your inbox every week. Sign up for the Easy Money newsletter.
We vote with our money every time we spend it. As an example, imagine you’ve found yourself in need of a gift and you’ve chosen to purchase a painting. You’ve considered two options to facilitate your purchase: order a print from a national art distributor online or buy from a local artist. To utilize the online corporation would be convenient. They direct-ship and the demanded effort on your part is minimal. With your click and purchase through the large company, you are casting your vote for your prioritized values of time and convenience.
What if, instead, you choose to buy local? You throw on some comfy pants, venture out to the weekend farmer’s market, and find some local art at a booth. The farmer’s market doesn’t bring it home, wrap it up, and ship it. You need to take on those tasks. With your local market purchase, you’ve lost time and convenience, perhaps had to downgrade the size to accommodate shipping costs, but you’ve supported a tangible human, one who lives and breathes in your micro-universe, and you have personally contributed to their ability to make a living. With your money, you’ve impacted a beating heart, not a bottom line. Which do you vote for? To save some time? Or to support a fellow human? Either choice gets you to the art, but one of the choices carries a higher percentage of direct impact on a human life.
Grace puts the bulk of her time and money into branding. She curates her image, buys expensive clothing, and creates companies. Grace votes to the benefit of herself and her brand. Frankie spends her money on yurts to share, local culture, art supplies and jewelry made from the Earth. Frankie also votes to the benefit of herself, but typically in ways that will additionally benefit a cause, community or social responsibility.
Grace is also very strategic with her management of funds. Left to fend for herself, Grace would be fine, and could sell her assets for cash. Given an economic downturn, Frankie would probably move to a compound off grid, sharing her lemons and making lemonade for her new friends. Frankie is not strategic with her finances but is simultaneously not dependent on money. Frankie understands money is a generic material used to facilitate trade. Money makes her life simpler, but in a pinch, she could be resourceful and trade something she had in more abundance than cash.
A lot of new graduates leave college looking to find that magic career with a six-figure salary. They want the fancy clothes, the new car, the pool. They want money to pay for the symbols that will socially translate to success. Grace has all those things. She also drinks a martini to calm her nerves before breakfast and appears to have an allergic reaction to smiles. Frankie buys with intent to do good and only frowns at social injustice. Success, to Frankie, does not baseline at a six-figure salary. She could survive on minimal income and be happy. Success, to Frankie, is sharing the wealth and supporting those who can make the world better.
In between the bouts of laughter, and sometimes tears, the show taught me that money isn’t out there to be made so that we can have things. Money is printed trade that can be utilized as a tool to vote for the world you want to live in. I learned $10 can pay for a $10 item or can support something that holds infinite valuation. I realized that I don’t actually need a six-figure salary because the things that I would vote for, those which translate to me as a symbol of success, don’t cost very much. In this new perspective, spending, for me, isn’t a necessary action for maintaining status, but instead a means to change the world.
The true story is, Frankie made me rethink my life. The perspective I gained from her character was a driving force in changing my master’s program from business administration to education. Now that I understand the power of my money, I’m prepared to change how I value it, how I vote with it, so I can change the world.
Of course, I should probably consider my retirement savings. Just in case.