3 Funny Money Lessons from TV's Greatest Minds

Q A Nick Offerman
Carlo Allegri/Invision/APRon Swanson (the "Parks & Recreation" character played by Nick Offerman) follows an iffy investing strategy.

Reality TV shows offer a handful of average Americans the chance to race around the world, outwit, outplay and outlast their rivals, or lose weight, all to win serious money. Luckily, the rest of us saps tuning in can hope to better our financial futures from the comfort of our couches -- without eating bugs or faking love for a millionaire. Because some of the best sitcom characters can offer us some excellent (and hilarious) money advice.

Admittedly, sometimes, their advice is off base. But, even then, you can learn from their mistakes.

Here are three of my favorite fiscally savvy (or at least fiscally enthusiastic) characters, and what they have to teach us.

1. Don't Make Your Nest Egg Out of Gold Alone

Ron Swanson: "You won't find any bank statements either. I've heavily invested in gold which I've buried in several different locations around Pawnee. Or have I?"

Ron Ulysses Swanson is the Scotch-swilling, meat-loving, woodworking, uber-private Libertarian who has redefined manliness for TV watchers on the NBC sitcom "Parks & Recreation." Due to Swanson's hatred and general mistrust of the government, he's invested most of his savings in gold.

Swanson started working for a sheet metal factory at age 9, and he's held down regular jobs ever since. He resides in a secluded log cabin, hunts, is a DIYer, and generally lives well below his means, which makes hims something of the millionaire next door (though few people know where he lives).

Unfortunately for Swanson and his heirs, this solid-gold strategy may not be the most financially sound. Not that gold is an inherently bad investment -- in many years, its gains have beaten the stock market -- but Swanson's lack of diversification is risky. Should gold suddenly become worthless, or nose-dive in value (as it has from time to time) Swanson could lose most of his fortune. Granted, Swanson could capably live off the land -- but could you?

Other notable (and hilarious) bits of Ron Swanson financial wisdom include:

  • "There is only one bad word: taxes."

  • "People who buy things are suckers."

  • "Capitalism: God's way of determining who is smart and who is poor."

2. Invest Early in Tax-Advantaged Retirement Accounts, and Watch Your Savings Grow

Jack Donaghy: So what are you gonna do with your money? Put it into a 401(k)?
Liz Lemon: Yeah, I gotta get one of those.
Jack Donaghy: What? Where do you invest your money, Lemon?
Liz Lemon: I've got like twelve grand in checking.
Jack Donaghy: Are you an immigrant?

Jack Donaghy -- the egomaniacal, politically incorrect, private-plane-riding, corporate-ladder-climbing, C-suite executive on NBC's "30 Rock" -- was the epitome of what the Occupy Wall Street movement wanted to scourge and remove from society. Stitched on a pillow in his office is the motto: "Ambition is the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them to survive."

%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-1049%Donaghy's series-long goal is to become CEO of General Electric, but most of his time is spent trying to make the entertainment division of the company profitable while mentoring Liz Lemon, the head writer of a sketch comedy show.

Donaghy may support (and perhaps help manipulate) the stock market and big banking, but his advice Lemon to begin investing is sound.

Too often, people hesitate to invest their hard-earned dollars, for a range of reasons: fear; lack of knowledge; indebtedness; even simple inertia. This dangerous condition is rampant among millennials. That's unfortunate, because they have the most precious commodity an investor can posses: time. If you're just starting your career, even if you're in debt, listen to Donaghy's advice: Take advantage of employer-matched retirement plans or open an IRA in order to harness the power of compound growth.

And if you aren't going to invest, at least move some money out of checking and into a savings account, where you can build up an emergency fund.

Other money-related, politically incorrect quotes from Jack Donaghy:

  • "Money doesn't buy happiness. Money is happiness."

  • "I have faith ... in things I can see and buy and deregulate. Capitalism is my religion."

  • Lemon: "Hey Jack, do you treat me any differently because I'm a woman?" Donaghy: "Well, I pay you a little less, yes."

3. Multiple Income Streams Are Powerful Path to Success

Dwight Schrute: Actually, I do own property. My grandfather left me a 60-acre working beet farm. I run it with my cousin Mose. We sell beets to local stores and restaurants.

Dwight Schrute is an insensitive, weapons-obsessed, power-hungry paper salesman on NBC's "The Office," who proves you can be successful at both your day job and a side hustle.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Throughout the series, Dunder Mifflin employees fight for economic survival in a world going increasingly paperless. While Schrute's co-workers stress about losing their jobs, he creates a successful side business by turning his family's working beet farm into a bed and breakfast. When he reveals the existence of the Schrute Farms B&B, his situation is contrasted with that of his boss, regional manager Michael Scott, realizing that his live-in girlfriend has amassed massive amounts of debt, making his financial situation even more precarious.

Several times in the series, Schrute suggests he'd be financially stable should he ever lose his Dunder Mifflin income, yet he still works tirelessly to be the company's top salesman.

You too, can follow Dwight's road map: Create multiple income streams; it'll grant you some protection against a recession or being faced with downsizing in your industry.

Other facts he tells us about Schrute Farms:

  • "Agritourism is a lot more than a bed and breakfast. It consists of tourists coming to a farm, showing them around, giving them a bed, giving them breakfast."

  • TripAdvisor is the lifeblood of the agritourism industry. A couple of bad reviews there, you might as well close up shop. That's what happened to the Stalk Inn. One of the cutest little asparagus farms you'll ever see.

Do (or Do Not) Try This at Home

All these characters embody extremes for the sake of good television, but their lifestyles reflect important lessons. Whether you identify with the capitalist kings of finance, or camped out with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, it's important to know how to handle, invest and grow your wealth.

Or don't bother taking any advice. As Swanson would say: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don't teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He's a grown man, and fishing's not that hard."

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. Popular posts include: