The Breaking Bad Guide to Personal Finance
I just sped through the first 4 seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad by borrowing the dvd’s from a friend.
If you can make it beyond episode 2 of season 1, you’re in for a stress-filled, guilt-ridden, very uncomfortable, yet incredibly satisfying ride. You’ll start to think, “I can go on. No, I have to go on, as that which doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger”.
The first season was good – but each subsequent season has raised the bar significantly on that performance – with the fourth being the best season of any show I’ve seen. Great acting, drama, incredible character development, and a story the watcher is guiltily interested in that keeps developing with every new episode.
But you’re not reading this for me to tell you how good Breaking Bad is. You’re reading this because you’re wondering how the heck I’m going to draw connections between a show about meth, Mexican drug cartels, and overcoming cancer, to the thrilling world of personal finance.
In order to do so, there will be some spoilers ahead. Here are 5 personal finance lessons taught in Breaking Bad.
1. Get Proper Health Insurance
When faced with life altering health circumstances (Walt’s cancer and Hank’s physical therapy), inadequate health insurance led to extreme financial commitments that would have led to catastrophe for anyone not on a “cook’s” salary.
In fact, it was a major factor in leading Walt in to the drug trade in the first place. He didn’t want to leave his wife, son, and newborn daughter with a legacy of financial hardship.
Lesson learned? Even if you are young and in seemingly great health, you simply cannot anticipate the randomness that life presents.
The legitimacy of many insurance types can be questioned. But not health insurance. Not at today’s health care expenses. At a minimum, you should have a high deductible health plan (HDHP) to limit your loss when high-cost events or illnesses strike.
2. Scarcity Leads to Job Security & Higher Income
At times, the ONLY thing keeping Walt alive is the unique knowledge that he has to do his job. As the only person with the knowledge to do his job as well as he could, he had the ultimate job security.
As soon as someone with similar skills was trained (first Gayle, then Jesse) who could do the job cheaper, Walt’s services were no longer needed and his life was threatened.
That same scarcity not only kept Walt alive, but it led him to receive a $7.5M annual income that would eclipse that of many Fortune 500 CEO’s.
With his knowledge applied in a non-scarce role (chemistry teacher), Walt’s income was so low he was forced to take on a second job at a local car wash in order to support his family. It’s not only knowledge, but how you apply that knowledge which makes your services highly desirable.
This goes for whether you are self-employed, or employed by others.
And – no – this is not an endorsement to take your accounting skills and get into money laundering or your sales skills and become a drug dealer. It is an endorsement to specialize and make your talents unique and desirable.
3. Money Alone Does not Lead to Happiness
The dramatic events and life circumstances that Walt and Jesse have encountered have completely overwhelmed the fact that they are now making millions.
They do not get to enjoy any of their money outside of Walt putting a little elbow grease into fixing a broken hot water heater, ironically.
Jesse becomes so disheartened that even someone stealing his last stash of cash has no effect on him whatsoever.
Lesson taught? Money alone does not lead to happiness. There are many things that are better than money – all things that Walt and Jesse rarely enjoy (but when they do, they are the happiest). The result? They are completely miserable human beings.
4. Greed is NOT Good
Despite opportunities to get out of the business and for Walt to protect his family, the promise of more money keeps Walt and Jesse in it.
The result is they dig themselves a deeper and deeper hole with lies, ethical misgivings, and cover-ups.
Why didn’t they just stop after the first big delivery to Gus? They got greedy. And the result of their greed was getting completely sucked in to Gus’s operation and giving up all personal freedom.
How many times during your career will you compromise your freedom for the promise of more money?
You will be offered more money – but there is always a catch.
5. “Better Call Saul”… and Mike
I teach a lot about self-reliance and learning how to do things on your own around here. And that’s all good stuff.
Occasionally, however, when you don’t know what the F you are doing and you are in over your head, it pays to bring in the pros.
Saul, a criminal lawyer, who is also a criminal, and Mike, a do-it-all henchman are clearly much more experienced in bad guy stuff than Walt and Jesse. Without their help, Walt and Jesse would both be dead in season 2.
Besides, I had to give Saul and Mike some love… they are my two favorite characters.
Breaking Bad Discussion:
- What lessons have you learned from Breaking Bad – financial or otherwise?
- What has been your favorite moment in the first 4 seasons?
- What are your predictions for the final season of Breaking Bad?
- Who is your favorite Breaking Bad character? why?