When I was in my early twenties, my idea of a wonderful Saturday night was lounging in my apartment watching “The Suze Orman Show” and Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” on TV while my friend was playing video games in another room.
Super nerdy, I know. No wonder I finished writing about personal finance to make a living.
While I’m a staunch advocate of reading articles and books or taking courses to increase your financial knowledge, there’s value in watching shows and movies about money too – especially if you’re visually literate, or television is your medium of choice.
Some of the money-related content on TV and movies is definitely for entertainment purposes only, but the financial documentaries on this list are designed to inform and educate. They may even change the way you think about money.
So bring a bowl of popcorn — and a notepad. Happy watching!
9 must-watch documentaries about money and finance
Add these financial documentaries to your stream list.
1. Playing with fire
Retirement in your 30s or 40s may seem unrealistic to most people, but it’s the goal of many who follow the FIRE movement. FIRE is an acronym for Financially Independent Early Retirement, and it’s built on the premise that by investing aggressively in your early years, you can reduce decades from your retirement date.
Playing with FIRE showcases one spouse’s journey to understanding what it means to reject societal norms and strive for financial independence. It features prominent advocates of the FIRE movement, such as Vicki Robin, author of “Your Money or Your Life” and Pete Adeney, website creator Mr Money Mustache.
You can watch this 75-minute documentary on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, or purchase a DVD.
2. Explain the money
Money, Explained is a documentary series produced by Vox and Netflix that details five different topics: financial fraud, credit card debt, student loans, gambling, and retirement. Episodes highlight how people’s financial lives are affected by each topic.
Narrated by celebrities including Tiffany Haddish, Bobby Cannavale and Jane Lynch, each episode includes a mix of interviews filled with colorful infographics, making it both informative and entertaining. It’s pretty brief, each about 22 minutes long, so you can watch the entire series in one sitting.
3. Thinking About Money: The Psychology Behind Our Best and Worst Financial Decisions
Despite our best efforts, we all end up making mistakes with our finances. We indulge in retail therapy after a bad day, or fall victim to the impulse to buy after coming to the store to get one.
We are human after all, and we don’t always think rationally.
Thinking Money, a PBS documentary, gives us a look at behavioral economics – what drives us to make the financial decisions we make. Dave Quinn, presenter of this hour-long documentary, talks to experts across the country to explore the psychology behind why we spend and save.
4. Minimum: Lowest is now
Simplicity is a lifestyle that embraces living with less—something Joshua Fields Melbourne and Ryan Nicodemus know a lot about. They have made a name for themselves as The Minimalists and are teaching others how to ditch consumerism for a simpler life with less financial stress.
Bottom line: Few now share how Melbourne and Nicodemus got into minimalism and what are the benefits to this way of life. You can stream this hour-long documentary on Netflix.
Fun Fact: Melbourne and Nicodemus starred in another Netflix documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary About Things That Matter.
If you’ve ever had to block someone on social media after receiving too many “party” invites disguised as opportunities to lure you into a multi-level marketing company, this documentary series is for you.
LuLaRich documents the rise and fall of LuLaRoe, the iconic MLM best known for his sub-leggings. While business leaders claimed LuLaRoe was an opportunity for women to be their own bosses and work from home on their own terms, many found it drained their savings and plunged them into debt.
LuLaRich can be found on Prime Video. The story is divided into a series of four parts, and each episode lasts about 45 minutes.
Watch this as a cautionary tale to avoid job opportunities that sound too good to be true.
6. Inside the job
Warning: This documentary may cause screams on the screen.
Inside Job focuses on the 2008 financial crisis, exploring what led to the economic meltdown and how it could all have been prevented. It highlights how the decisions of the wealthy and powerful financial giants on Wall Street led to the massive collapse of so many.
This nearly two-hour documentary, narrated by Matt Damon, won an Oscar. It’s available to rent or buy on Prime Video.
7. The American Nightmare
Excuse my self-promotion, but this documentary produced by The Penny Hoarder had to make it on this list.
An American Nightmare offers a glimpse into families’ lives 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis. People who once believed in the American dream of home ownership found it to be a nightmare with long-lasting effects. This movie shows what it’s like to rebuild after a major financial meltdown.
This 42-minute documentary has been nominated for a Regional Emmy and is available on YouTube.
8. Spend: Seeking Change
Spent: Searching for Change explores what it means to be bankless, underwhelmed, and rely on check-cashing services and payday loans just to survive.
Narrated by Tyler Perry, this 40-minute film traces the lives of ordinary people who find themselves struggling with the added costs of being excluded from traditional banking. It also shows how a single event – such as a family member having a serious medical condition – can upend someone’s entire financial life.
This documentary, sponsored by American Express, can be viewed on YouTube.
9. The most important class you’ve never had
Do you wish you had learned about personal finance when you were in school? you are not alone.
Fortunately, there are some teachers and school districts that make personal finance part of the curriculum. The Most Important Class You’ve Never Got, a 37-minute documentary from Next Gen Personal Finance, features eight high school teachers who educate the next generation about money.
These educators raise awareness about making smart consumer choices, understanding basic financial concepts and investing in the stock market. This documentary shows that educating teens not only improves students’ relationship with money but can have a positive impact on their parents’ financial situations as well.
It is available on YouTube.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.