ONE SUNDAY, MY SON was lamenting that he had a school project due the next day, but hadn’t yet taken any steps to get it done. When I asked what his plan was, he replied, “I could use a really good montage right about now.”
For those who aren’t procrastinating teens with a father who delves into media literacy, a montage is a series of quick shots in a TV show or movie that accelerates time around a theme—that theme often being the effort and time expended to achieve a goal. Think of the athlete training for the big event, the artist trying to create, the business group trying to formulate a project, or even a building slowly going up. One sees the passage of time condensed on screen, perhaps with a brief stumble or glint of frustration along the way. But in the end, there’s the assured and ultimate victory.
Such shows always detail the end result, but the long road to success seems summarized. Why is it truncated? You know why. It’s boring. It’s tedious. It’s often discouraging. Most of the time, those on the journey have no assurance of where the road will end.
But that’s life.
Think of the things you enjoy right now. A good relationship with a wonderful partner? It wasn’t built in a moment’s stare into each other’s eyes, but rather from working through issues, everything from easy ones about the kids to tough ones about the best way to load the dishwasher.
Most people who visit sites like HumbleDollar are already attentive to financial issues. But what are the messages that movies and TV shows give to the average money handler?
To be sure, no single depiction will cause a viewer to become a spendthrift. But just as stalagmites are slowly formed by constant dripping, so too are our attitudes about money. There are many factors at play, but movies and TV shows aren’t helping. As a media literacy geek, I could demand that entertainment be more financially realistic. But—speaking of being realistic—people want to see the fun parts of life. It’s why few documentaries are blockbusters.
How can we nudge ourselves along the long, uneven path of saving and delayed gratification? Perhaps we should treat our financial life like a movie, especially when we’re at that fork in the road where there’s a choice to spend or save:
It’s also important to leave room for a sequel. We achieve our short-term savings goal, so we climb the stairs and raise our arms in victory. There will, however, be other, greater challenges ahead. We might even be laid low and have to struggle to reclaim our earlier victory. But we will prevail.
Jim Wasserman is a former business litigation attorney who taught economics and humanities for 20 years. His previous articles include Changeup Pitch, Bored Games and Shame on Us. Jim’s three-book series on teaching behavioral economics and media literacy, Media, Marketing, and Me, is being published in 2019. Jim lives in Granada, Spain, with his wife and fellow HumbleDollar contributor, Jiab. Together, they write a blog on retirement, finance and living abroad at YourThirdLife.com.
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Nice write-up Jim. In the past I’ve compared a good long-term financial plan to watching paint dry–“dull” and “boring” are apt descriptors that come to mind. But when the job is finished, and you’ve used quality paint and good technique, the results are fabulous.
Your article is a good reminder, we all love great results, but sometimes the journey of getting to those great results is not so lovable. For the most part I’ve discovered that there’s very few worthwhile shortcuts; if you ever find any good ones you’d like to share please let us know!