Personal Finance

7 personal finance lessons to be learned from popular music

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Music has a way of making us feel special. Maybe it’s a sing-a-long chorus or a catchy guitar riff, but there’s nothing better than when the perfect melody hits us just right.

Some songs merely exist as a form of entertainment. They might tell a story. Or a track could be a chance for the musicians to highlight something interesting about their lives.

But there are plenty of songs out there that can actually teach us a thing or two. One of the best topics for musicians to chat about: wisdom around personal finance. 

From saving up money to investing in responsible endeavors, check out these seven songs that offer great lessons in how to manage your money

Wu-Tang Clan, “C.R.E.A.M.” — Embrace your side hustles

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Wu Tang Clan’s classic track has become such a ubiquitous part of pop culture that “cream” is now an actual slang word for money.

The acronym stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” and the song tells the story of growing up and learning the power of money — plus all the different ways you can get it.

Some of those ways may be more risky than others, but the song still offers helpful advice on looking at multiple ways to make income.

Remember: you don’t have to put all of your eggs in one basket to get that dollar, dollar bill, y’all.  

The Lonely Island, “YOLO” — Invest for the future

At the time The Lonely Island track “YOLO” came out, people were throwing out the term “you only live once” as a rationale for doing dangerous things. After all, you only live once, so why not go skydiving or try to jump a bike over a burning trampoline?

The song “YOLO” actually looks at things from the opposite point of view. You only live once, so you shouldn’t do anything that risks your health. The song suggests watching out for furniture (a.k.a. “killing machines”), investing in chastity belts with three locks and a straitjacket so you can also stay safe from yourself.

Perhaps the best advice comes from Kendrick Lamar, who encourages investing in a 401(k) and real estate and building up a dependable source of savings so you can retire with money in your bank account.

Lamar notes, 4.2% on a 30-year mortgage was a great deal in 2013, but you can definitely do even better than that today. While interest rates have been historically low lately, although rising housing prices have put real estate investment on the backburner for some.  

Kanye West, “Good Life” — Don’t let debt pile up

Kanye West has made headlines for all kinds of wild reasons. He stormed the stage to interrupt Taylor Swift receiving a Video Music Award. He ran for President during the 2020 election. And he lived in a football stadium to finish his latest album

Back during the days of his 2007 record Graduation, though, West was dropping knowledge left and right. His most poignant lyric comes from “Good Life,” a duet with T-Pain. And it’s a simple one: “Having money isn’t everything/Not having it is.”

When there’s a stack of bills to pay and you’re not able to make the payment, it can seem like an impossible mountain to climb. You can right the ship one step at a time. To start, create a budget and contact your creditors and lenders to ask for relief or payment plans.

Barenaked Ladies, “If I Had A Million Dollars” — Think carefully about spending a financial windfall

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This Barenaked Ladies song is a delightful call and response number about all the things you could buy with a million dollars. Things start off modestly enough, with a new house and a reliable automobile on the list, though they quickly start becoming more ambitious.

For example, the singers go back and forth about buying exotic pets like a llama or emu and the remains of The Elephant Man (the song erroneously calls him John Merrick, instead of Joseph). There’s even a line about how they’d take limousine rides to the store simply “‘cause it costs more.”  

A million dollars can certainly buy some exciting new objects, but it can also be used for paying off bills and debt, repairing your home or saving for emergencies down the line.

Besides, if you were given a lump sum of a million dollars, you’d also likely have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxes on it. That money could go quicker than you think!

Janis Joplin, “Mercedes Benz” — Don't compare yourself to friends

This tune really lets Janis Joplin show off her vocals, as she laments her current situation and prays for a Mercedes Benz. The main reason for wanting one? Her friends have Porsches and she wants to outdo them.

That might be a silly reason, but by the end of the song, Joplin doesn’t have a new ride and her friends still aren’t giving her any help. Hard work will lead to more success than expecting your friends (or anyone else) to hand you something. 

The song also serves as a nice nod to any kind of social media culture. Joplin’s driven by what her friends are doing. It’s possible — and maybe even likely — her friends aren’t happy despite showing off flashy cars. 

What we see on the outside isn’t always indicative of what’s going on internally. Even those Instagrammable road trips probably included a few occasions of bickering along the way.

The Beatles, “You Never Give Me Your Money” — Be smart about college

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While songs like “Help” and “A Hard Day’s Night” are more well known songs by The Beatles, you could argue they’re spiritual successors to “You Never Give Me Your Money.” At the very least, you’ll be screaming for “help” and experiencing plenty of hard day’s nights if you don’t take college seriously.

In the song, the narrator is “out of college, money spent” but has nothing to show for it. The next lines, “see no future, pay no rent/all the money’s gone, nowhere to go,” highlight a recent college grad in the midst of despair.

You may decide college isn’t for you, but if you do go, pick a major or focus area that will set you up for success after you graduate. College tuition ain’t cheap, you know.

Hall and Oates, “Rich Girl” — Be more than your money

One of Hall and Oates’ most popular songs, “Rich Girl” tells the story of...well, a rich girl. But she’s only wealthy because of her parents, and she “can rely on the old man’s money.”

As a result, the girl lives frivolously and does things that are out of line, and her only redeeming quality is that she’s rich and able to spend money.

The narrator also believes her obsession with money “won’t get you too far,” and the people closest to her will soon quit hanging out with her. Eventually, even her parents might stop bailing her out.

It’s a good reminder that no matter how much money you make, it’s important to still be kind to everyone else, from friends to strangers.

Want more advice while you hum these tunes? Check out our additional personal finance resources.

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Joey Held
Joey Held

As a writer, Joey Held has specialized in business, marketing, sports, music and insurance topics for more than a decade. He's also a podcaster and author of Kind, But Kind of Weird: Short Stories on Life's Relationships. His first car was a Buick Regal with an inconsistent radio but pretty good gas mileage.