Let's Go To The Videotape...Five Personal Finance Documentaries To Consider

Oct 21, 2015
Research, Budgeting, Credit Cards, Personal Finance, Index Funds, Investing, Stocks, Current Events, Video Resource

Apologies for my Warner Wolf reference. He did sportscasting for CBS in NY in 70s/80s.  I thought I would do some research for teachers looking for longer-form documentaries.  Here are five documentaries you might enjoy:

The Madoff Affair (Frontline; 55 minutes)

  • SummaryThe Madoff Affair unravels the story behind the world’s first truly global Ponzi scheme. Who saw the warning signs? Why were they ignored for so long? Billions of dollars were channeled to Madoff’s investment firm, and his feeders became fabulously wealthy. The competition wondered how the man could produce such steady returns in good times and bad. There were allegations that Madoff was “front-running” or operating a Ponzi scheme, which the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigated several times over the last two decades. But Madoff remained untouched until Dec. 11, 2008, when he admitted it was all “one big lie.”
  • Topics: Investing, hedge funds, Ponzi scheme, Due diligence
  • Teacher’s Guide here

ESPN 30 for 30: Broke (ESPN, 1 hour 15 minutes)

  • Summary: According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life. Drawing surprisingly vulnerable confessions from retired stars like Keith McCants, Bernie Kosar and Andre Rison, as well as Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association, this fascinating documentary digs into the psychology of men whose competitive nature can carry them to victory on the field and ruin off it.
  • Topics: Budgeting, Investing, Credit cards, Spending more than you have is dangerous no matter what your income is
  • Discussion: Indicate the factors that brought down each of the featured athletes

The Retirement Gamble (52 minutes)

  • Summary: Ten trillion dollars in Americans’ retirement savings are invested in large and small accounts managed by banks, brokerages, mutual funds, and insurance companies. But whether your IRA or 401K will assure a safe retirement is largely a gamble. Building off reporting from the groundbreaking special Money, Power and Wall Street, FRONTLINE raises troubling questions about how America’s financial institutions protect our savings. The Retirement Gamble reveals how fees, self-dealing, and kickbacks bring great profits to Wall Street while imperiling the prospects of a secure future for individuals. The film questions who has the consumer’s best interests in mind, and whether there is a better way to manage our retirements.
  • Topics: Investing, mutual funds, active investing, index funds, fees, conflicts of interest, fiduciary
  • Discussion:
    • What is the gamble that the headline suggests?
    • Does this documentary affect how you think about investing?
    • Why do fees matter when it comes to investing for retirement?
    • What conflicts of interest are cited in the documentary? Why does this matter?

Affluenza (PBS, 56 minutes, 1997)

  • SummaryAf-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. 4. A television program that could change your life.
  • Topics: Consumerism, credit cards, materialism, budgets, commercials, marketing
  • Discussion:
    • Have things changed in the 18 years since this documentary was first released?  What has changed? What hasn’t changed?
    • What are the downsides of a consumer driven economy?
    • Why are companies so interested in advertising to your age group?

Living on One Dollar (56 minutes, 2013)

  • Summary: Living on One Dollar is a film and journey that follows our own experience living on $1 a day for two months in rural Guatemala.  We battle intense hunger, parasites and the realization that there are no easy answers, but find hope in the inspiring lives of our neighbors Rosa, a 20 year old woman, and Chino, a 12 year old boy.
  • Topics: Poverty, minimalism, budgeting
  • Discussion:
    • How does income inconsistency affect the subjects in this documentary?
    • What role did credit play in helping them?
    • What are three takeaways from this movie that apply to personal finance?

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.