Friends, the popular show that used to air on NBC, isn’t simply a show about a bunch of friends. It offers a lot of lessons about how to live one’s life, particularly when it comes to spending money.
OK, I know as far as Friends goes, the series wasn’t always realistic. Monica’s apartment always seemed way too spacious for a bunch of twenty-somethings living in New York city and don’t even get me started on Ross having a pet monkey in the first season. But you really can learn something about managing your finances from the show.
This is hardly an exhaustive list, but if you’re looking to brush up on your money management skills, Friends definitely offered up quite a few timeless pieces of financial wisdom.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
- 1. If your credit card is stolen, you won’t be responsible for the charges.
- 2. If there’s unusual activity on your credit card, you will be contacted.
- 3. Money won’t come between true friends.
- 4. Before you become a paid member anywhere, keep in mind that it's really hard to quit.
- 5. It’s always easier to do math when it will save you money. Math is harder when it won’t.
- 6. Before you take on a business partner in any venture, make sure they are as committed to it as you are.
- 7. If you make more money than your friends, try to be sensitive to that.
1. If your credit card is stolen, you won’t be responsible for the charges.
That was true back in 1995 when “The One With the Fake Monica” aired and Rachel said, “Monica, would you calm down? The credit card people said that you only have to pay for the stuff that you bought." And it’s still a true statement today.
(Well, essentially. You can be held responsible for $50 worth of stuff. But even that is unlikely. Generally, if you're a victim of identity theft, you won't have to pay for what some thief purchased with your credit or debit card.)
So when Monica’s identity thief spends hundreds of dollars on art supplies and money on horseback riding lessons and classes at a university, she isn't out any money.
“Wow, what a geek,” Chandler says when the friends are looking at the credit card statement and marveling at the identity thief's purchases. “They spent $69.95 on a Wonder Mop.”
“That was me,” Monica says.
2. If there’s unusual activity on your credit card, you will be contacted.
This was true on Friends, and it’s true in real life. Credit card companies are always on the lookout for suspicious shopping behavior. As happened in early in the first season when Monica got a phone call.
Monica: Rachel, it’s the Visa card people.
Rachel: Oh, God. Ask them what they want.
Monica: (to the person on the phone) Could you please tell me what this is in reference to? (to Rachel) There’s been unusual activity on your account.
Rachel: I haven’t used my card in weeks.
Monica: That is the unusual activity. They want to see if you’re okay.
3. Money won’t come between true friends.
I don’t know if I buy that. I’m sure plenty of solid friendships have gone sour because of money disagreements. But Friends does seem to suggest that if you're really friends, your finances won't derail things. Money certainly didn’t wreck Chandler and Joey’s friendship, and it probably made the bond between the two even closer. Joey was always borrowing money from Chandler. In fact, after Monica loses her job in one episode, Joey tries to make her feel better by picking up her $4.12 check at the coffeehouse.
“Let me get that,” Joey says, turning to Chandler: “You got five bucks?”
In another episode, Joey asks Chandler to put him in touch with a movie director. Chandler went to college with her.
“You gotta get me an audition,” Joey says.
“Oh, I don’t know, man,” Chandler says. “I haven’t talked to her in, like, ten years.”
“No-no-no, please-please, Chandler. I-I-I would owe you so much!”
“You do owe me so much,” Chandler says. “You owe me three thousand, four hundred--”
“--Hey-hey, dude, why are you changing the subject? Why? Will you make the call or what?”
Think about that. Joey owes Chandler $3,400-something dollars. At least. Some fans have estimated that Joey probably owes Chandler in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And other than occasionally reminding Joey of that, Chandler hasn't made a big deal out of it.
Whatever the cost, lending Joey money didn’t cost their friendship.
4. Before you become a paid member anywhere, keep in mind that it's really hard to quit.
Some companies and organizations don't take rejection well -- and they make it very hard to leave, once you become a member. That was true during Friends’ time, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s true now, too.
I’m not sure that there is a financial lesson to be learned in “The One with the Ballroom Dancing.” It’s more of a financial cautionary tale. Before you go joining a gym or a bank or anything where you pay money to an entity every month, don’t do it without giving it some serious thought. You may be signing up for life.
Because in this episode we discover that Chandler joined a gym some time ago – probably about three years earlier, if we take him at his word that he has missed the last 1,200 days.
He wants to quit, but Chandler says he just can’t.
“You don’t think I’ve tried?" he says to his friends. "You think I like having 50 dollars taken out of my bank account every month? No, they make you go all the way down there. Then they use all of these phrases and peppiness to try and confuse you. Then they bring out Maria.”
“Who is Maria?” Ross asks.
“Oh, Maria. You can’t say no to her. She’s like this lycra-spandex covered gym… treat.”
So Ross goes with Chandler, as moral support. But instead of Chandler dropping out, Ross is introduced to Maria and ends up joining the gym, too.
“We’re doomed,” Chandler later says. "OK, they’re gonna take 50 bucks out of our accounts for the rest of our lives. What are we gonna do?”
“Well,” Monica says, “you could actually go to the gym.”
Ross and Chandler laugh at that.
Ross: Or! Or, we could go to the bank, close our accounts and cut them off at the source.
Chandler: You’re a genius!
Joey: Aww, man, now we won’t be bank buddies!
Chandler: Now, there’s two reasons.
Of course, Chandler and Ross go to Chandler’s bank to quit, and somebody brings out an attractive woman named Karen, and soon they’re back at Monica and Rachel’s, telling everyone how things went.
Monica: So you didn’t leave the bank?
Ross: No! And somehow, we ended up with a joint checking account.
Rachel: What are you ever gonna use that for?!
Chandler: To pay for the gym.
5. It’s always easier to do math when it will save you money. Math is harder when it won’t.
Think of this exchange in “The One With Rachel’s Sister.”
Joey: Okay Rach, that muffin and espresso, $4.50. Ross, double latte, $2.75. Chandler, coffee and a scone, $4.25. And Pheebs, herbal tea, $1.25. So, all together that’s... (calculates the total in his head) $12.75.
Chandler: This coming from the man who couldn’t split our 80-dollar phone bill in half.
6. Before you take on a business partner in any venture, make sure they are as committed to it as you are.
There has been plenty written about the wisdom, or "wisdom," of starting a business with a friend, and Phoebe definitely made an error when she teamed up with Monica to start a catering business in the episode, “The One Where They’re Going to Party.” They bought a van for their catering business, and, well, Phoebe was really excited. Monica was, too, but she is then offered a job as head chef at a restaurant called Alessandro’s, which leads to this exchange:
Phoebe: Okay, is this the day of good news or what? I got us a job! The wedding reception.
Monica: Ohh! Umm, Phoebe, I kinda need to talk to you about that. Umm, well, I-I-I think it might be time for me to take a step back from catering.
Phoebe: But we’ve only had one job.
Monica: I know, but now we have this second one and it just, it feels like it’s snowballing, y’know?
Phoebe: Yeah! What are you saying?
Monica: I got offered the head chef job at Allesandro’s.
Monica: It’s okay, ‘cause, y'know what? You don’t really need me for the business.
Phoebe: You’re the cook! Without you, it’s just me driving up to people’s houses with empty trays and asking for money!
On the other hand, maybe it does pay to go into business with a friend who cares about you, rather than some stranger who has only their own interests at heart. After all, Monica pays Phoebe back the money she invested – and lets her keep the van.
7. If you make more money than your friends, try to be sensitive to that.
In the episode, “The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant,” much of the plot is devoted to the fact that half of the six friends have really solid, stable incomes – and the other half, don’t. And when you aren’t sensitive to the fact that maybe your underpaid friends can’t afford everything you can, trouble is bound to follow.
When Monica gets a promotion, the gang ends up celebrating at a restaurant – and Ross really does come off as pretty clueless when it’s time to pay the waiter. He apparently didn't notice that Joey ordered a small Thai chicken pizza and asked the waiter, “But, hey, look, if I get it without the nuts and leeks and stuff, is it cheaper?”
Rachel ordered a salad. Phoebe ordered a cucumber soup.
The others get expensive food, like the Cajun catfish that Chandler orders, and what does Ross do? He uses his calculator and announces: “Plus tip, divided by six. OK, everyone owes 28 bucks.”
Rachel asks, “Everyone?”
Ross, realizing that it’s Monica’s big celebratory night, decides his sister shouldn’t pay.
“So five of us is, $33.50 apiece,” Ross says.
Phoebe calls foul, saying, “No, huh uh, no way, I'm sorry, not gonna happen.”
Chandler then quips, “Whoa, whoa, prom night flashback,” and they all talk about the differences among their paychecks.
It’s an interesting episode, and nothing really truly gets resolved, but it’s safe to say that everybody could be more understanding of each other's financial situations. At some point, recognizing that their friends don't make as much as they do, Chandler, Monica and Ross buy all of them tickets to see a Hootie and the Blowfish concert. In return? Phoebe, Joey and Rachel blow their friends off – and don’t go!
“It’s a nice gesture, it is,” Joey says. “But it just feels like… charity.”
But later, Chandler doesn’t make anything better when he tells Joey, Rachel and Phoebe, “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry that we make more money than you. But we're not gonna feel guilty about it. We work really hard for it.”
“And we don't work hard?” Joey asks.
Chandler tries to clarify things. “I'm just saying that sometimes we like to do stuff that costs a little more,” he says.
“And you feel like we hold you back?” Joey asks.
“Yes,” Chandler says, quickly switching to “No!” after Rachel gasps.
Chandler is pretty dense on this issue. Earlier in the episode, he tells everybody that everybody owes him $62 for the gifts and cake for Ross’s birthday.
Phoebe asks: “Um, is, is there any chance that you're rounding up? You know, like from, like $20?”
As it turns out, by the end of the episode, Monica has lost her job – and is now broke, and instead of half of the friends being cash poor, two-thirds of them are. On Friends as in real life, fortunes can change on a dime. There’s probably a lesson somewhere in here about the merits of not spending too much on “stuff that costs a little more” and instead, opening up a savings account.