I grew up watching horror movies, which is a bit comical since I'm pretty much a big chicken.
No joke. If someone jumps out at me from around the corner yelling “Boo!”, I'm gone. You'll find me two miles down the road, without a thought of returning until the whole house has been purged of evil spirits.
I don't know why I consented to watch all of these films. Maybe it was a sign of the time. Because it seems like the '80s was the decade of scary movies, or that could be my warped recollection.
- But family fun night — let's watch Friday the 13th!
- Teenage sleepover — of course, Sleepaway Camp!
And for the annual Halloween party — well, I'd expect nothing less than gathering together to watch our favorite silent masked villain — no, not that one, the other one. Michael Myers, of course.
Watching horror movies was a legit rite of passage when I was a kid. It went hand-in-hand with checking under my bed, sleeping with the lights on, and asking my dad to check for monsters in the closet. And yes, as a full-grown adult, I am still afraid of the dark.
I once stayed awake all night after watching a horror movie (that I wasn't supposed to be watching) when my older sister had a slumber party.
When I went to bed that night, I was too afraid to close my eyes, because I kept on seeing the killer holding a machete.
So I spent the entire night sitting up in bed, eyes peeled & entirely awake. Reciting poetry, movie scenes, the alphabet — anything I could think of to not fall asleep. In retrospect, the movie wasn't even that scary. But I still won't watch that movie, to this very day.
So what could we possibly learn from watching horror movies? (Other than never go down the basement stairs if the light won't turn on.)
I'm glad you asked.
In the spirit of this upcoming Halloween (pun intended), I figured I'd round up a few classic scary movies and what they teach us about personal finance.
Because what's scarier than debt, insufficient retirement savings, and money emergencies? Also, I'm reasonably sure writing this post will give me nightmares. But here we go –
13 Lessons Horror Movies Teach us about Personal Finance
1. Friday the 13th (1980)
Premise – Teenage camp counselors are picked off, one by one, by a kid who drowned in a lake while his counselors weren't paying attention. Or, more specifically, by his mother, who was pissed off that the camp counselors didn't do their jobs. Because the crazed killer in the hockey mask didn't appear until the sequel.
Lesson Learned – So there are a couple of lessons in this one —
- The first might be, “Don't let yourself be distracted by shiny/attractive objects.” You were hired to do a job (i.e., camp counselor). You're expected to perform that job to the best of your ability. Sure, Kevin Bacon was pretty cute back in the day. But cavorting with your summer coworkers is no way to achieve Camp Crystal Lake Employee of the Month.
- A second lesson might be, “Don't underestimate the power of a woman.” This should be a given, in this particular day and age. However, women still have an uphill battle in certain fields, as well as in shattering the glass ceiling. During this movie, everyone assumed it was a big hulking man who was doing all of the killings. Nope, it was Jason's mom. So when asked if a woman could be a successful serial killer — I think Pamela Voorhees would elicit a resounding “Yes.”
- But ultimately, I think the most valuable lesson learned from Friday the 13th is the power of leaving a legacy. Mrs. Voorhees lost her beloved son. Then Jason was resurrected and discovered he had lost his mother. Talk about poor timing. How do you move forward from such unfortunate events? You lay the foundation so that your loved ones can be continuously supported. I don't know for a fact that Pamela had a life insurance policy. I also don't know if Jason was technically alive for all of the subsequent films. But he persevered, to Hell and back.
2. Halloween (1978)
Premise – A young Michael Myers is committed to a mental facility after he stabs his sister to death while she is babysitting him on Halloween. Fifteen years later, he escapes from the institution and goes on a killing spree, specifically targeting babysitters. The main Yin to Michael's Yang is babysitter Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Lesson Learned – Here's another one that speaks to perseverance. Because of the most recent installment, there have been 11 films in the Halloween franchise ultimately because Michael Myers has never been sufficiently killed.
At the end of the first movie, Dr. Sam Loomis shoots him six times, making him fall off a second-story balcony, presumably to his death. But nope. Michael persevered, and then disappeared. Until the next film. (Note that the third installment of Halloween, Season of the Witch, deviated from the storyline and had absolutely nothing to do with Michael Myers or Laurie Strode.)
Also, had any of the main characters done their due diligence, they would have ensured Myers was 100% deceased. Or at least fully incapacitated, tied up with steel chains, and locked up in a titanium bunker. Perseverance, doing your job and making sure it's fully complete, before moving on to the next challenge.
3. The Shining (1980)
Premise – Jack Torrance is a struggling writer, trying to make ends meet to provide for his family. He's offered a caretaker position at a creepy Colorado resort while it's closed for the winter. Jack's mental state becomes unhinged, and he sets out to murder his family.
Lesson Learned – Some risks are just not worth the money. Sure, Jack was struggling to pay the bills. He had one bestseller and was driving himself crazy to replicate that initial success. But sometimes you need to take a hard pass. If you're offered a position you genuinely feel won't move you forward — then DON'T take it. No matter the pay, no matter the visibility. If it isn't leading you to your end goal, then it isn't worth your time (or your sanity).
Also, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Overwork and isolation may lead you through a maze of discontentment.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Premise – An elementary school janitor has been doing B-A-D things to young children. The parents catch the wind, and pull a mass vigilante effort, frying Freddy Krueger to a crisp. His evil self returns from the dead by way of appearing in peoples' dreams.
Oh, and he has super-long razor-sharp fingernails. So whatever you do, “Don't. Fall. Asleep.” Famous last words, Nancy.
Lesson Learned – This movie has always been near and dear to my heart. Mostly because it introduced me to a young and not-yet-quirky Johnny Depp. (A bed swallowed him, and spit back up in a volcano of blood.)
But my main takeaway from this film is basic numbering skills. You know the whole spiel: “One, Two – Freddy's coming for you / Three, Four – better lock your door / Five, Six – grab your crucifix / Seven, Eight – gonna stay up late / Nine, Ten – never sleep again.” *Cue the sing-song Hell's children nursery rhyme chorus*
Freddy was a Badass with a capital B., And he also enjoyed a good pun. Additionally, there's a fun little offshoot to the storyline — in which Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees meet to combine forces. Freddy vs. Jason enlist in an epic battle of evil vs. evil — one that Freddy sadly loses in the end (sort of).
5. Poltergeist (1982)
Premise – Family moves to a new neighborhood, finds a sweet deal on a great house. Strange things start happening on the home-front: moving objects, animated tree limbs, creepy clown dolls — oh yeah, and little sis starts talking to the TV set. Come to find out; the contractor built the house on an ancient Indian burial ground. They relocated the tombstones — but neglected to move the actual graves. Doh!
Lesson Learned –
First of all –, this is back in the day when television stations signed-off at a certain time. There was none of this all day/all night cable TV business.
By 2 a.m., everything was static and SMPTE color bars:
So what can we learn from a precocious 8-year-old who communicates through the snowy screen of the family TV set? Power it down, Carol Anne. Save some electricity. Go read a book. Barney will still be on tomorrow.
Also, there should be a moral limit to being frugal. The minute you contemplate re-purposing cemetery land without relocating the actual graves — well, that takes frugality to an entirely different level. And not a pleasant one.
6. Child's Play (1988)
Premise – Bad guy Charles Lee Ray is fleeing from the cops, gets fatally shot, and performs an ancient voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into a nearby toy doll. The next day, a woman unknowingly purchases the possessed “Good Guys” doll for her young son, Andy. Hijinks and terror ensue, for which Andy gets blamed. Innocent people get murdered by an evil, sarcastic, talking doll named Chucky.
Lesson Learned – Never buy a doll from a peddler in an alleyway. Even if you can negotiate for 70% off of the retail price, trust me, it's not worth it. Also, sometimes, the kid is right. So even if you're used to following traditional ways, there are times when a fresh, young perspective makes the most sense.
I saw this movie when I was in 8th grade. My dad dropped me off at the local movie theater, and I was supposed to meet my friend, Andrea, inside. The movie was rated R, which meant I was supposed to be accompanied by an adult (nope), or be an adult myself (double nope). But somehow, the movie theater attendant let me buy a ticket. Andrea was not so lucky. So what did I do? I stayed and watched the movie by myself. I mean, c'mon — I'd already paid for the ticket AND the popcorn. Sure wasn't gonna let that go to waste! (Sorry, Andrea …)
7. The Exorcist (1973)
Premise – A teenage girl plays with an ouija board, then is possessed by the devil. Her mom brings in some doctors and Catholic priests to help heal her. The priests attempt to perform an exorcism, to rid Regan of a vulgar and foul-mouthed demon.
Lesson Learned – First off, don't play with ouija boards. Ever. I mean never, never, ever.
Also, don't doubt your faith. Bad things can happen, good things can happen, and that is just a part of life. You can't have the peaks without the valleys. And you'll never fully appreciate the major highs without experiencing some deep lows.
Faith gets you through times of uncertainty. The stock market will rise, then fall, and then eventually rise again. And then eventually fall back, too.
In other words, sometimes you order the lobster bisque and wind up with pea soup. But don't let your head spin in circles while trying to figure it all out. Have faith, and things will eventually work out the way they're supposed to.
8. The Ring (2002)
Premise – A cursed videotape is passed from person to person in a diabolically evil pyramid scheme. Once you watch the video, you have one week to make a copy and give it to someone else to watch, or you'll suffer an obscenely painful death.
Lesson Learned – Do I need to spell this one out? This is Multi-Level Marketing at its best … err, or its worst. Talk about one-upping the chain letter concept: Copy and send to your ten closest friends — and they may never speak to you again! While a sales pitch of “Perform this action, or else you die” is pretty convincing … How about you just don't get involved in the first place? Don't watch the video. And if something seems too good to be true … it probably is.
9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Premise – Newbie FBI agent Clarice Sterling consults with a locked-up Hannibal Lecter to shed light on an active case to track another cannibalistic serial killer. Hannibal plays mind games and orchestrates a gory escape plan.
Lesson Learned – Don't trust a brilliant psychopath. But also, sometimes playing it safe is the best choice you can make. The authority figures at the FBI and Baltimore Mental Hospital were overly confident with Hannibal behind bars. They let their guard down, which was a big mistake. Because no deal is ever 100%. If you're going with Plan A, make sure you also have an outline for Plans B and C in your back pocket, just in case. Quid pro quo, Clarice.
10. Psycho (1960)
Premise – Norman Bates had a tough childhood and an unhealthy attachment to his dead mother. He liked to play dress-up, was a Class-A peeping tom, and had a major guilt trip.
Lessons Learned – 1) Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) arrived at the Bates Motel during a rainstorm after stealing $40,000 from her employer. So first and foremost, Don't Steal. If you didn't earn it, and it wasn't legitimately given to you, then it isn't yours to take.
2) Secondary lesson – Water conservation: don't be wasteful. If Marion had taken a shorter shower, she might still be alive today. And last but not least, 3) Don't be a mama's boy (or girl). Start establishing your independence at an early age, and you won't need to depend on others so much as you get older.
Also of pertinence: Janet Leigh was Jamie Lee Curtis' mother IRL. Jamie Lee Curtis played Laurie Strode in Halloween and acted alongside Donald Pleasance, who played the esteemed Dr. Sam Loomis (“I shot him six times!!) In Psycho, Sam Loomis was also the name of Janet Leigh's boyfriend, who went looking for her at the Bates Motel after she went missing.
Anthony Perkins attended the same college that I did in Winter Park, Florida.
So did Mr. Rogers. All 3 of us were in the Theatre program (not at the same time, obv.) They were a lot more successful than I was. Being center stage has never really been my thing.
11. Cujo (1982)
Premise – A cute little St. Bernard puppy is bitten on the nose by a rabid bat. He changes into a drooly, foamy monster with a thirst for blood. Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro get trapped in a stalled Ford Pinto, while Cujo circles his prey.
Lesson Learned – Poor Cujo. (I always root for the underdog.) If his owner had only taken better care of him and vaccinated him for rabies. Also, pet insurance is a necessity, am I right?? Okay, so maybe that didn't exist back in 1982. But in this day and age, there is no excuse. Don't want to pay the insurance premium? Set up a pet care health fund, and self-insure instead. Because pet ownership can tend to be expensive.
12. Christine (1983)
Premise – Another Stephen King classic – Keith Gordon finds an old clunker, and rehabilitates it using tender loving care. “Christine” cleans up well, and also develops an other-worldly attachment to her owner. Cars can become possessive and jealous. Hell hath no fury– as a Plymouth Fury.
Lesson Learned – I suppose I can't transition away from pet insurance without also mentioning car insurance. In most states, it's mandatory. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to configure the various coverage options to meet your specific needs (which I won't get into right now since this isn't my day job.) But it's fair to say that you should protect yourself, your property, your assets — and any liabilities you might incur as a result of your (or your family members') driving. Consult your insurance company or agent to determine what coverages are explicitly recommended for you.
13. American Psycho (2000)
Premise – Christian Bale: pre-Batman, but post-Newsies. Affluent yuppie socialite Patrick Bateman leads a picture-perfect life. Successful investment banker, educated businessman, wealthy, famous, and loved by many. But the grim truth lies just beneath the surface. Bateman is no Dark Knight, and he's more or less the Angel of Darkness. Based on Bret Easton Ellis' book, which is even more warped & graphic than the movie turned out to be.
Lessons Learned -1) Money can't buy happiness. Patrick Bateman had an affluent upbringing and a successful career. But he was also mentally unstable (to say the least.) Also, 2) You can't judge a book by its cover. For all the money, education, material possessions, entitlement, and opportunities that Bateman had, he wasn't precisely husband material for his fiance, Evelyn (poor, naive Reese Witherspoon.) Sure, he was handy with power tools. But in the end, he took his creative license a bit too far. Lucky for her, he only wound up breaking her heart.
So there you have it — my complete list of money lessons learned via some of Halloween's most infamous cast of characters.
And with that — it's time to retire for the evening.
Night, all — Sleep tight.
I'll be over here … sitting with all the lights turned on … for the remainder of the night … until the sun comes up.
Because, ya know, scary things happen in the dark. WAIT, what's that noise?? Did you hear something…?!?
Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.