Sesame Street has taught valuable financial lessons over the years. Here are 8 money education takeaways.
If your childhood was like millions of others, you learned a lot from Sesame Street, like how to count and treat other people. It’s their mission, and they do it very well.
In recent years, Sesame Street has also tackled financial topics like saving money. But even when they weren’t specifically discussing money or budgeting, the classic show taught us many underlying financial lessons along the way.
1. Numbers Don’t Change
The Count helped us with our basic counting and math skills. From a general standpoint, what this has to do with our finances is pretty apparent. But it goes deeper.
Sesame Street also showed us numbers are consistent. Three always comes before four and after two. Five plus seven always equals 12. Numbers aren’t subject to mood, debate, or differences of opinion.
It’s an essential thing to understand when examining our financial situation. Whether or not our numbers are what we want them to be, they are precisely and only what they are. Accepting this is the first step in any successful endeavor with our money.
2. Have the Hard Conversations
The show went beyond teaching the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Many episodes included honest talks between one of the childlike monsters and the adult humans who care for them, and they weren’t always straightforward.
Subjects Sesame Street has tackled in its 53-year run include death, divorce, and the anti-vaccination movement. The South African edition of the show even has a Muppet with HIV. They have not hesitated to take on essential topics, nor have they pulled punches when doing so.
Making sound financial decisions often means talking with your partner about complex topics. If we can be as courageous as a Muppet, we can be more successful with those discussions.
3. Watch Those Addictions
Cookie Monster’s infamous appetite for cookies, the Count’s penchant for reciting numbers in order, and Grover’s compulsory curiosity all have one thing in common: their behaviors the character can’t help.
Costly behaviors such as a fancy coffee habit or compulsive Amazon shopping are forms of addiction too. Like Cookie Monster chomping on a cookie instead of interacting with his friends or grasping a sketch’s core lesson, they get in the way of our financial goals.
Although the monsters of Sesame Street don’t do anything about their habits, we viewers can see the impact those habits have on their interactions and make different, better decisions for ourselves.
4. Do What You Can Where You Are
The Sesame Street gang is a group with wildly different personalities and ways of being. They’re often in opposition and can get on one another’s nerves. Despite this, the overriding rule among all the Street’s residents is one of love, support, and coexistence. No matter how many times Ernie makes Bert’s eyebrows furrow, there’s never the slightest hint that he will move out.
When it comes to our finances, it’s essential to accept who we are at the moment. No matter how bad our situation is right now, we can do better starting tomorrow.
Having the energy and motivation to do that, though, means accepting yourself and your situation today without regret or judgment. Just be yourself, just as the Muppets are always truly themselves, and move on from there.
5. Sharing Is Important
The importance of sharing is a throughline in Sesame Street, whether that’s splitting a cookie with a friend or organizing large-scale giving.
Charitable giving provides some neurochemical support for our financial wellness. It triggers dopamine and serotonin and can help motivate financial discipline for people who have trouble making changes just for themselves.
6. Feelings Are Valid
Nobody on Sesame Street hides their emotions. They wear them on their sleeves. The Muppets, as stand-ins for young children, sometimes lose control of their feelings and explode with anger or cry from fear and sadness. The adults help them learn how to manage these big emotions.
What does this have to do with finances?
Money in our culture is tied to our emotions. It’s tied up with desire, ego, aspiration, embarrassment, fear, and even love. Very few people can escape these emotions when making financial decisions, and it’s a mistake to try.
Instead, like our Muppet friends, we should acknowledge and respect those feelings, thinking about how they influence our decisions and identifying how that influence affects us. That’s the only way we can make changes to that influence and improve our financial decision-making.
7. There Is Always Someone Wiser
When a monster on Sesame Street has a problem, they can always find somebody who knows the solution. Sometimes that’s another monster, and other times it’s one of the human adults. In either case, the show consistently models going to a more knowledgeable person for help when you need it.
Asking for help is a crucial step in improving your financial situation. That help might be the advice of a financial advisor. It might be accountability coaching from a good friend. It might even be job mentoring from your boss or a short-term, low-interest loan from a family member. Whatever help you need, you can only get it if you ask.
8. Face Your Mistakes
The characters in Sesame Street regularly make mistakes. Oscar says hurtful things. Grover goes overboard. Many teaching segments feature a character doing an essential skill wrong and then learning the right way to do it.
This sends the powerful message that mistakes aren’t just OK; they’re an essential part of the learning process. Nobody on the show shames another for their mistakes, and nobody tries to hide a mistake.
If you’ve ever put off opening a credit card statement for fear of what it says, you can learn a thing from these Muppets. We will all make mistakes with our finances. What matters is how we acknowledge them and move forward.
Another vital lesson Sesame Street taught us is what educational psychologists call a “discrepant event.” That’s when you see something that doesn’t make sense with what you expect from the world. From Ernie frustrating Bert to Grover’s antics, the show makes kids laugh because of these curiosity-arousing surprises.
As adults, discrepant events can pop up in our finances when what we do doesn’t match what we planned. Take a month and note down every time something in your finances surprises you. It can help you make more realistic plans and better prepare for the next emergency.
Stephanie Tabiling is a New York-based financial consultant who learned a few tricks from her favorite children's show.
Article published in partnership with Money Crashers.