Bazinga! 6 Genius Money Lessons from 'Big Bang Theory'

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The Big Bang Theory, Season Three
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Sheldon, Howard, Leonard, Raj, Amy, Bernadette and Penny -- the quirky geniuses of "The Big Bang Theory," Nielsen's No. 1 comedy -- are always funny, but especially in teaching us what not to do about money.

Money Can Buy You Love -- But Only for a Bit

Howard learns this lesson when he falls for Penny's gold digger friend and uses all his bar mitzvah bonds to buy her presents. When the bonds run out, so does she ("The Dumpling Paradox," season one episode seven). In "The Wiggly Finger Catalyst" (season five, episode four), Rajesh Koothrappali is torn when his traditional Indian (and "Scrooge McDuck"-rich) parents insist he choose between his non-Indian girlfriend and his generous allowance. Raj, the eternal romantic, chooses love and tells her she has to return all his expensive gifts. She chooses to leave poor Raj.

In "The Rothman Disintegration" (season five, episode 17), Amy wants Penny to be her bestie so she spends thousands on a huge and creepy portrait of them. Penny hates it. Eventually, Amy finds out the truth but also learns she never needed to buy Penny's friendship.

Neither a Borrower Nor a Sheldon Be

Sheldon may be weird about banks and rarely cashes his paychecks, but he has thousands put by in a Green Lantern action figure. When Penny needs money to pay rent, he loans it to her. Although initially grateful, Penny starts resenting the loan and the lender as so often happens.

How did Penny get herself into this dilemma in the first place? She pays a huge fine for her ex-boyfriend. He promises he'll pay her back -- eventually. Meanwhile knight errant Leonard and his posse confront the hulk and, though humiliated, emerge triumphant, with Penny getting all her money back ("The Financial Permeability," season two, episode 14).

Don't Quit Your Day Job

All of them have safe university jobs at decent pay, save aspiring actress Penny with her one hemorrhoid commercial gig and day job at the Cheesecake Factory, but that doesn't keep them from trying a sideline or two for multiple streams of income.

However, the hard truth of entrepreneurship is pointed up when Penny invents Penny Blossoms, a hair accessory. The business is a lot harder than she expected. "You are effectively paying yourself $5.19 a day. ... There are children in a sneaker factory in Indonesia who outearn you, " Sheldon tells her after he breaks down her production costs. Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard bail her out when they run an assembly line and get out her first big order ("The Work Song Nanocluster," season two, episode 18).

(Sales) Resistance Is Futile

The guys are suckers for their beloved comic and sci-fi collectibles or a Lego Midnight Madness sale. As Stuart, the store owner, says when they come in, "It's like shooting nerds in a barrel." Sheldon, despite his 187 IQ, is a sucker for anything Stuart deems "unique" or "limited edition," overpaying by hundreds for a squirt gun and various other "treasures" over the course of the series. Leonard, 173 IQ, convinces the guys to spend $800 on a time machine prop ("The Nerdvana Annihilation," season one, episode 14).

The girls don't understand wasting money like this. As Amy admonishes, "Sheldon, I'm disappointed. As a brilliant man, you're entitled to a vice. I could understand frequenting an opium den or hunting your fellow man for sport, but this is lame-o" ("The Flaming Spittoon Acquisition," season five, episode 10).

Talk Over Big Purchases With Your Partner

Sheldon can't decide between an Xbox One and a PlayStation 4 and so quite admirably researches it. But too much research has paralyzed his decision making. So he talks it out with Amy. Still, he overthinks it until the store closes, and he leaves without either gaming platform ("The Indecision Amalgamation," season seven, episode 19).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Raj and Howard impulsively spend $5,000 to buy a used 3-D printer so they can make action figures of themselves (worth a couple bucks). Howard gives one he made of himself and Bernadette to her. But when she finds out how much the machine cost, she hits the roof because he never consulted with her. Possibly my favorite clip (from "The Cooper/Kripke Inversion," season six, episode 14), it also includes Raj telling Howard he deserves to buy the machine, "You worked hard to find a woman who makes a lot of money."

Buy in Bulk

The ladies have their own blind spots, especially Penny, with her collection of pricey shoes on a waitress' salary. On "The Spaghetti Catalyst" (season three, episode 20), Penny also teaches us to be careful with credit when she goes through her mail, "Damn, they cancelled my Visa. (opens another letter) Oooh...yay, a new MasterCard!"

Leonard tries to help Penny, but it's the practical Sheldon (in "The Luminous Fish Effect," season one, episode four) who advises Penny, "There a lot of advantages in buying in bulk." He's talking about 30 years' worth of feminine products. She slams the door in his face.

14 Money Mistakes to Avoid in 2014
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Bazinga! 6 Genius Money Lessons from 'Big Bang Theory'
Interest rates are low, but that's no excuse to accept 0.01 percent interest rates on your savings. Just a little shopping can find you many FDIC-insured savings accounts paying as much as 1 percent in interest, usually with no fees and easy availability to your money through electronic funds transfers. Compared to the near-zero rates that uninsured money-market mutual funds and other alternatives pay, high-interest savings accounts are a much safer way to save.
Banks still try to get customers to pay more for less, with one recent threat to charge fees for basic deposit accounts if the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates further. But many online banks not only offer fee-free options on their checking and savings accounts but also pay interest, and many have extensive fee-free ATM networks or reimbursement arrangements. If your bank follows through on threats to raise fees, taking your business elsewhere is your best move.
Bankrate reports that the average credit card charges around 16 percent in interest. That's a guaranteed money-maker for the banks that issue cards, but a big loser for those who carry balances on their cards. With many cards offering promotional interest rates as low as 0 percent, using them to get rid of high-interest cards is a no-brainer move and can help you pay your debt down faster.
Mistakes on your credit history can keep you from getting a loan that you want to buy your next home or car, but they can also have consequences you'd never imagine. Increasingly, insurance companies, apartment rental agents, and even prospective employers order copies of your credit report to see if you're financially responsible. Be sure to take advantage of your free credit check at the government's website to make sure the three big credit-rating agencies have everything right before mistakes come back to bite you.
Payday loans have gotten more tightly regulated recently, but banks and other financial institutions still offer ways to let you get quicker access at your cash -- for a hefty fee. Resorting to short-term money fixes can land you in even more problematic situations down the road, because those solutions often create debt spirals from which it's hard to emerge unscathed. Set up an emergency fund instead and be prepared in advance for the money woes that life throws your way.
Interest rates have risen during the last half of 2013, with a typical 30-year mortgage carrying a 4.5 percent interest rate. But many homeowners still carry higher-interest mortgages from before the financial crisis. Now that home prices have risen, you might be able to refinance for the first time, and many homeowners have used lower rates to cut hundreds from their mortgage payment or shift to a shorter-term 15-year mortgage to pay off their debt faster.
Too many people never update their insurance coverage to deal with changes in their coverage needs, whether it comes from changes in family status for life insurance, health conditions for health-care or long-term care insurance, or even what types of property you own for homeowners' insurance. Don't wait for disaster to strike; check with your insurer or agent to see if your current coverage meets your needs.
In the past, investors had to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars just to make a simple stock purchase. Now, though, the rise of discount brokers, low-fee index funds and exchange-traded funds, and freely available investment news and advice have made it silly to spend large amounts to get access to the financial markets. If you're still paying your broker too much to invest, look into alternatives that can help you avoid cutting serious money out of your retirement nest egg.
Everyone likes a tax break, and one of the best ones for you to use involves making contributions to a tax-favored retirement account. By putting money in an IRA or 401(k), you can reduce your current taxable income and save on your taxes while also preparing for the future. With 401(k)s, your employer might even chip in a bit on your behalf. Even when times are tough, finding even small amounts to save can put time on your side and make a big difference down the road.
Many investors found out the hard way this year that bonds aren't as safe as they thought, with some major bond funds posting double-digit percentage losses in 2013. Despite those losses, bonds still carry substantial risk in 2014, with many calling for imminent interest-rate hikes that would erode their value further. Even now, bond rates are so low that they don't compensate you much for their risk.
In contrast to bonds, stocks have soared in 2013. That has some investors finally piling into the market for the first time since 2008 and 2009, while others remain shell-shocked from the massive losses they incurred back then during the financial crisis. Even with the Dow Jones Industrials (^DJI) and other major market benchmarks near all-time record highs, it makes sense to have some stock exposure in your portfolio. Just don't go overboard in the false belief that gains of 20 percent and 30 percent will happen every year.
If you pay full price for just about anything these days, you're paying too much. The rise of deep-discount stores has led to falling prices at stores and shopping malls. Moreover, online tools like coupon sites, daily-deal offers, discounted gift cards, and cash-back credit-card deals can cut your costs as well. With all these tools, you won't find many situations in which you have no chance of getting a bargain on the items you want.
In the past, many young adults focused on getting into as strong a college as they could, figuring that their degree would pay them enough to make up for the costs they incurred. With college graduates facing a more challenging job environment than ever, smart students are thinking about college costs before they make a decision on a school. By maximizing financial aid and looking at lower-tuition schools with nearly as strong educational quality, you can avoid creating a big debt hole that you'll struggle with for years into the future.
If you don't have a will, a power of attorney for financial and health-care matters, and an advance directive to tell medical professionals whether you want certain life-preserving measures taken if something happens to you, then you're putting your family at risk. Many people don't have even these basic estate-planning documents, but getting them in place is easier and less expensive than most believe. Get your affairs taken care of in 2014 and save your loved ones some big future hassles.
Resolving to be more financially astute and to avoid common mistakes will help you get your finances in order more quickly. These tips should give you more money to help you meet all your financial goals.

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