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Free Financial Literacy Movies for Students (Spark Debates, Unit Intros, etc.)

Are you an educator? Get help with your fin lit courses with this list of best, free financial literacy movies for students to learn money topics.

Need some juicy, educational, and free financial literacy movies for students?

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These can be great for any number of reasons:

  • Kick-off to a new fin. lit. unit
  • Prep for a sick day when there will be a substitute teacher
  • End-of-unit reward
  • To spark some group debate on hot financial topics
  • Etc.

I’ve curated a list of the best, free financial literacy movies (most on YouTube, plus a few other free sources) by watching each of them.

Included is a summary, plus a Heads UP section detailing on any possibly inappropriate snippets throughout.

Hint: these videos don’t come with a suggested age, so I’m going to divide them into what I think they’ll work best with – middle or high school (yes, I watched each of these movies below).

Free Financial Literacy Movies for Middle School Students

Choose from these videos to get your middle school students interested in the financial unit you're about to start teaching them, or to do some of the teaching, too.

Hint: it was challenging to find free financial literacy videos for middle school students, but I'll keep adding to this list as I find more good ones.

1. What’s Your Money Personality?  (all less than 3 mins., BizKids)

Looking for a fun intro to your personal financial literacy class?

This one could be it – a deep dive into the different money personalities, complete with a lesson plan.

There are 5 short video clips, including two videos introducing the different personalities, a video about a middle school girl who couponed way too much, and then two videos on the Oblivious and Money Star money personalities.

2. Get Your Money Right (3:10, GoNoodle)

Sooo…this rap song might be totally too young for your group of middle schooler. BUT, I’m including it because:

  • It’s fun, and could be a cool intro to a course
  • It’s a really quick, summary lesson on how much each coin is worth (in case you want to refresh their memory)

3. Everybody Loves Raymond S 2 E 16 The Checkbook (2:39 minutes, YouTube)

This little, 2 minute and 39-second ditty is perfect if your students are going to be learning about writing checks and/or paying bills.

Raymond has taken over paying the bills (looks like Debra is the one who normally handles it), and he’s talking to a friend, Andy, about how he doesn’t understand why the electric company is turning off his service.

Turns out, Ray bounced 14 checks and has been charged over $300 in penalties. He now has to come up with $3,000 to take care of his over-withdrawn bank account.

The guy helping him briefly goes over how to balance a checkbook. Very funny scene!

4. What is Saving? Finance 101 (3:00, Easy Peasy Finance)

Easy Peasy Finance offers a series of quick, cartoon videos where an 11-year-old explains different financial concepts to kids (or, adults, in some cases).

Here’s a quick video all about what saving money is, and why kids might want to do it.

5. CashVille Kidz Episode 19: Paying for stuff (7:04, YouTube)

A group of kids are in a store, discussing stuff to buy and how to actually buy what they want. Including saving up for it first, using a credit card, etc.

Also discusses needs vs. wants.

Free Financial Literacy Movies for High School Students

I have to put a disclosure here: it’s difficult to find personal finance documentaries and financial literacy movies for high school students that are POSITIVE, and not only glimpses into financial catastrophes.

And you know what? I want your students to feel GOOD about money, and to not fear it.

Which they might already be doing – either because most people fear money, or because their family is dealing with financial problems and they have to watch their parents go through it.

Still – we can all learn from watching others make financial mistakes. Understanding how others have found themselves in bad situations can help teens avoid some of the worst ones that can get them stuck in young adulthood.

So, I’ve tried to do a mix of both types of documentaries – positive financial management ones, and dire-financial-warning-types.

1. That Film about Money (6:40, WetheEconomy.com)

Here’s a slightly snarky, short story on how banks do not actually hold your money (or, at least not all of it), and how banks use your money to earn interest from others in the form of loans they give out.

Hint: there’s also a second, 8-minute part that explains how money is created and put into the economy, plus the banking crisis back in 2008.

Heads UP: about 6 minutes into the second one, there’s a picture of Hefner with bikini-clad ladies.  

2. Spent: Looking for Change (40 minutes, YouTube, 2014 by American Express)

70 million Americans who are locked out of “normal” financial services, they have to pay to cash checks (though it’s immediately getting the money instead of having to wait 3-5 days for a check to clear),

Discusses bank fees and how they can get out of control + boot them out of the financial system, and the issue of trying to get a loan when you don’t have a credit history, payday loans and how the fees grow and grow (and how people can get stuck in a payday loan loop – specifically, one couple’s $450 loan has now cost them $1700 so far),

Several of the families had been doing fine, but had some major medical situation that happened, which led to things like no longer being able to work, big medical expenses, and being kicked out of the banking system.

Follow along on these stories, and see how just one money situation can cascade down the road to affect most of their lives.

3. My Money My Way Mini-Lesson Day 3: Financial Goals (20:29, Kumiko)

Help your students to marry their finances with their personal priorities and goals in life.

This can be incredibly empowering, and not only that, but motivating. Motivating to a student trying to budget for the first time but not finding it important, motivating for teenagers to get their first job despite being nervous about it, and motivating to learn about money.

Discusses:

  • how it’s better to focus on just a few priorities with your money rather than lots at once, because you’ll make more progress that way
  • defining your own needs and wants, depending on your situation
  • coming up with the goals you want to put your extra money towards

FYI: she brings up sinking funds, which you’ll likely need to explain to students. Here’s a video on what a sinking fund is. And she gives homework – to make a list of wants and needs right now in your student’s life.

I’ve got a whole free printable created to help teenagers through a similar process of brainstorming, and then choosing a quick-win financial goal:

Hint: start at around 1:47 in, because she summarizes the other videos in this challenge in that first part.

4. Maxed Out: Keeping Up with the Joneses (KPBS, 26:46), YouTube

This starts out with a brief intro on the huge amount of credit card debt Americans are in, and then cuts to a multi-generational family living under the same roof.

The mother made the full credit card payment each month, and thought she was doing well. But the spending just continued. And that was fine…until her hours as a cafeteria worker, were cut.

Manny Navarro, a credit counselor, discusses people using credit cards to supplement income, because of the rise of living costs without a proportionate rise of income.

Has a nice history of the first credit card, and how credit card use has evolved. Plus, a history of how spending has changed from mostly spending on necessities, to mostly spending on discretionary (non-necessity) things, and an intro to “The Joneses”.

Heads UP: About 21 minutes in, it briefly mentions a security guard that was trampled to death by people trying to get a good deal at a Walmart.

5. These are Habits of Successful Millionaires (8:15, Rachel Cruze Show)

I love videos that can show kids that becoming a millionaire in their lifetime is totally doable – specifically if they make some smart choices, and make those choices as early in life as possible.

This video shows students that most millionaires:

  • Don’t inherit their money
  • Make and stick to a budget
  • Spend less than they earn
  • Stay away from get-rich-quick schemes
  • Etc.
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6. I Am Addicted to Spending Money (57:49, Absolute Documentaries)

Jasmine Harmin works with British compulsive shoppers throughout this documentary.

For example, 30-year-old Dipna has more clothes than she can possibly wear, only earns £500 a week, lives with her family, and says she cannot see anything else in life than shopping. Amazingly, she’s “only” £7,500 in debt (I say “only” because, well, you’ll understand if you watch the documentary).

I love how Jasmine makes these people (and your students, if you choose this documentary) really rethink their shopping habits.

And while just a small percentage of the population has a real shopping addiction, there are some great nuggets here:

  • You shouldn’t buy more than you can possibly use
  • You can have a shopping problem, whether you buy too many high-costing items OR if you buy a bunch of low-costing and bargain items
  • A shopping addiction will often show up physically (clutter, clutter, clutter)
  • There are huge life consequences to shopping too much (misplaced emotions, less relationships, huge financial repercussions, etc.)
  • Recognizing and treating addictive behavior

Heads UP: At around 4:35 in, there’s a cuss word (though not very audible, with the accent). And around 51 minutes in, the woman talks briefly about the miscarriage she suffered.

7. Surviving an Unlivable Wage (27:14, YouTube, CBS News)

Do your students know what “food insecurity” is, or how a two-income household can still be struggling? How about the importance of tipping service staff?

This documentary looks at two-income households struggling to put food on the table in Kokomo, Indiana, which used to be a manufacturing hub. They’ve experienced a shifting labor market (from manufacturing 100,000 to 7,000 factory workers since late 19th century to service industry workers).

They really dive into the service industry world, and trying to survive when that’s your job. It turns out that tipped restaurant workers are 70% female, and they discuss the importance of tipping your servers. Your students will learn about the tipped minimum wage ($2.13) and even the difference in tips between clientele in a depressed local economy vs. one where people have more money.

This also discusses how waitresses/waiters have to pay tips out to bartenders and busboys (3%-5%) – they have to pay this out whether they got tipped or not.

Also mentions how federal law states restaurants are supposed to make up for tips to equal minimum wage, but lots of restaurants are in violation of this (could be helpful for teens to learn about, since many of them will find a first job in the service industry).

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8. Living on One Dollar (56:11 mins., YouTube)

Chris and Zack, two “normal” American guys, have decided to try to live on $1.00/day each, for two months in Guatemala. And they documented the whole thing with professional filmmakers.

Their income is unpredictable, and they’ve taken out a micro-loan to grow radishes and hopefully increase their daily spend amount (their goal is to get to $2/day/person…thankfully, they gift the radishes to the families around them).

On Day 5, students watch them take $15 to a market to buy mainly white rice, beans, soap, and bananas. They also discuss things they can’t afford, such as the $6 pile of firewood and toilet paper.

They talk about the number of calories they’re eating each day based on the food choices they made. There’s a huge lack of energy that plagues them, just like the locals deal with, since no one is getting enough nutrients.

Still, the community helps them in touching ways, like inviting them to their classroom, teaching them how to make better fires, make more nutritious food (like adding lard to their rice and beans for more fat), and find better bargains in town. 

They show a great summary of how just small loans (think $120 and $200) have made a huge difference in the lives of some of these families. For example, Rosa used a $200 loan to start a weaving business, and with the profits, has been able to go back to school to learn nursing. How amazing!

They also briefly explain a Savings Club, which is very helpful with the banking situation.

Heads UP: around 13 minutes in, there is a cuss word. And at around 46 minutes in, Mambo No. 5 song comes on.

Another benefit of your students watching this? Is them seeing an idea come to life. These guys had this idea to simulate poverty by actually living it, and they not only thought through how to do it, but they did it. Really neat and motivating to see.

9. Money Interventions: The Mom Who Shopped Her Family Broke (42:17, OWN on YouTube)

Some big things that struck me with this documentary: this woman’s priorities of needs vs. wants are completely out of whack. For example, she spends tons on nails and hair, but her children do not have health insurance because they “can’t afford it”.

Also, that people can fall into the trap of filling emotional voids and issues with shopping.

Another great topic to talk about from this documentary is managing money with a spouse, and the warning to never leave all of the money management to one person in a relationship. Lots of financial dishonesty documented here.

Psst: they did a follow-up video 8 years later! Here it is (5:32). Hint..she went through a lot – divorce, alcohol, drugs, etc. However, she’s now happily remarried, and her spending is completely under control.

10. How Inflation and Supply Chain Issues Are Reshaping Fast Food Value Menus (6:17, WSJ)

Grab your student’s attention to educate them a bit on inflation by relating it to something in their own lives (what student hasn’t ordered or eaten from a value menu?).

Restaurants need to cut down on portion sizes, and/or raise prices to keep making a profit on these value-menu items.

Hint: they do use bigger economic terms in this video, like commodities, supply chain, consumer, franchisee, earnings report, revenue, etc. You might want to have definitions ready for them.

11. Explained: Stock Market (17:33, Netflix on YouTube)

I love how the stock market is explained through a young girl’s lemonade stand. She’s trying to expand, but can’t get a bank loan. So, she goes public.

A really great overview that’ll help students understand what the stock market is.

12. Paycheck to Paycheck (1:13:57, YouTube)

Katrina Gilbert is one of a growing class of Americans: the working poor. She’s a single mother of three – due to her ex-husband’s addiction – and the sole breadwinner, making just $9.49/hour as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant in Tennessee.

She lives paycheck to paycheck, and you’ll follow her around as she chooses which bills to pay on different days. 

Their father is now clean, and trying to “get a factory job”.

When she finds out she’ll get a tax refund, here’s what she’s thinking about using it for:

  • Go to the chiropractor
  • Pay off her car
  • Get some insurance
  • Get her medication (thyroid)
  • Get something for her kids (she mentions she was not able to celebrate their birthdays last year)

Heads UP: One of the more colorful comments from a senior citizen happens around 23 minutes in.

13. I Can/Can’t Afford to Live Alone (5:12, WSJ)

Many students are going to face the question of whether or not to get a roommate when they move into their first apartment.

This is a great, armchair discussion between two people – one who has a roommate, and one who doesn’t – and can be used as a kick-off to small-group debate on the topic.

Perhaps students could create a first-apartment budget first as having their own apartment, and then by having a roommate (sometimes you just need to see the numbers, right?).

14. Upgrade Your iPhone Every Three Years (3:30, WSJ)

Lots of teens have smartphones (or they want one), and it’s gotten more normal than ever to upgrade your phone more often than you probably should.

That’s why I love this quick clip about what you’re really getting when you’re upgrading, and why you probably shouldn’t.

15. Millionaire Life: Not as Easy as it Sounds (42:20, YouTube, DW Documentary)

Chances are, your students have daydreamed (maybe even in YOUR class) about winning the lottery.

I mean, most of us adults have, too!

That’s why I chose this free documentary. It follows around several lottery winners to see how their lives change from it. There’s also a nice summary of how the lottery works from the perspective of someone outside of the U.S. looking in.

There’s David in Gretna Nebraska who won $62 million and quit his job as a mechanic (he was working 2 jobs for $2500/month). He and his wife handle things really well – they still budget as lottery winners ($25,000/month.

Then there’s Tim who $14 million at 21 years old. He only has $5 million left (I know…“only” is quite subjective here), and he’s now helping other lottery winners talk about how to handle winning a large sum of money and the dangers that can come with it.

Such as what happened to Daniel, who won $5 million at 23. He lived like a rockstar, and within 4 years the money was gone (plus he ended up in jail).

Or what happens to approximately 1/3 of winners, who end up losing everything (called the “curse of the lottery”).

Heads UP: about 20:55 in (during Jack’s story) he references sex and there are women in bikinis.

16. Going from Broke (about 22 minutes/episode, Crackle)

Episode 1 follows 23-year-old Obi Nwankwo, Boston College graduate (with a finance degree, no less) and record setter for track and field. He’s attempting to grow his talent agency business…but he’s broke.

Yet, he earns $4800/month in business income so far.

What gives?

Dan Rosensweig and other financial experts work as consultants in each episode to help young adults go from broke, to back on the road to financial stability.

For this guy, he made a few choices that have put him into this situation:

  • Moving to Los Angeles, which has a high cost-of-living
  • Has lots of student loan debt
  • Wanted all new furniture
  • Paying for part of his brother’s tuition costs
  • Paying too much for clothes/shopping and going out

Dan and the financial expert help him to use his money to pay down his personal debt quicker, and then to invest part of his business income back into his growing business.

I love the video diary of his documenting his expenses.

These are great! Also, here’s some bonus free financial literacy worksheets they created.

Heads UP: These episodes are all free on Crackle; however, you’ll have to watch several minutes of ads (and the ads pause if you open a new window). Doh! You can, however, mute the ads with no problem.

17. Your Life, Your Money (56 mins., PBS)

Looking for a basic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink financial video to show students? This could be it.

I like how everything is directed towards young adults, which is the next phase your teens are going to find themselves in.

Donald Faison, from Clueless, narrates this series. Mostly because he bought a car after his first big movie role that he could no longer make the payments on just three months in. His story unfolds along with the topics covered in the documentary.

Multi-millionaire Russell Simmons’ story is highlighted. He started off just like every other teenager, learning just a little bit about money at home, selling records out of his trunk, and building up a business from scratch. Several hip-hop artists discuss how they grew up poor, and how they had to learn how to manage their money right.

Your students will learn from young adults how they furnished their first apartment, how they created a $10,000 savings goal, using credit cards in college to get by, and what percentage of your take-home pay should be used for debt payment/savings/etc.

It also goes over needs vs. wants, managing student loans, tracking spending against what they earn, and how to choose a bank/banking stuff to look out for (like fees). Also goes over credit scores, interest rates, and more.

Heads UP: Russell Simmons mentions that how to manage money is not taught in schools (in case that rubs you the wrong way). Also, about 12 minutes in, a Victoria’s Secret bag is quickly shown in reference to a boyfriend buying his girlfriend a gift. Also, this is from 2009 – so costs of things and online banking options are out of date.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, a 2017 Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Money Prodigy. Her money work has been featured on Experian, GoBankingRates, PT Money, CA.gov, Rockstar Finance, the Houston Chronicle, and Colonial Life. Amanda is the founder and CEO of Frugal Confessions, LLC. Read more here.