4 Money Lessons I Learned From ‘The Lion King’

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I’m a product of the ‘90s. This means I’m also a product of the 1994 Walt Disney classic “The Lion King.” I grew up on the film’s songs and characters, did my best to take hakuna matata to heart, and even named my pet lizards Simba and Nala.

I recently learned that Walt Disney Pictures is rolling out a new version of my childhood favorite. After getting a little nostalgic (and watching the trailer on repeat), the news made me reflect on what I learned from the original animated classic. 

As a personal finance writer who covers everything from bank accounts with no unnecessary fees to Roth IRAs, it isn’t surprising that money lessons popped into my mind first. Here are 4 financial lessons you can learn from “The Lion King.”

1. Strive for Balance

One of the most poignant scenes in the entire movie (IMHO) is Mufasa and Simba’s father-son moment overlooking the plain. This is when Mufasa famously tells his son that “Everything the light touches is our kingdom” — and also that “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance.”

While Mufasa was referring to ants and antelopes, and life and death, the truth is: Balance matters when it comes to money, too. 

Take the issue of spending versus saving. It’s easy to swing from one extreme to the other: from becoming a FIRE (financial independence, retire early) fanatic and saving 90% of your income to racking up thousands of dollars of credit card debt to keep your FOMO at bay. I’m willing to bet Mufasa wouldn’t think either of those lifestyles exist in a “delicate balance.” 

Put it into action: When it comes to money, look for a balance between saving for the future and enjoying your life. You can try the 50/30/20 rule, which recommends allocating 50% of your after-tax income toward necessities (like rent and gas), 30% toward wants (like concert tickets and vacations), and 20% toward savings (like your emergency fund and retirement accounts). 

You should also “pay yourself first” by automatically transferring savings from your checking account into an investment account every week or month. This way, you can rest assured your future self is covered, while still being able to grab happy hour after work. That’s the kind of balance that would make Mufasa proud.

2. Don’t Run from Your Problems

After (spoiler alert!) his father dies, Simba tries to escape his guilt, confusion, and grief — both figuratively and literally. He runs far into the savannah and grows up away from his family and his pride. 

Eventually, however, Simba listens to Rafiki, who tells him, “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” Those wise words compel Simba to finally face his problems head on. 

Rafiki (which, fun fact, means “friend” in Swahili) would say the same thing to you: Running from your money troubles won’t solve anything. You can’t fix your problems if you never acknowledge them in the first place. 

Put it into action: If you’ve made financial mistakes, don’t stick your head in the Sahara and pretend they’ll get better. 

If you have credit card debt, commit to paying $25 over the minimum, then slowly increasing the amount by five dollars each month. If you’re struggling to cover your student loans, sign up for an extended repayment plan. If you ruined your credit in your 20s, apply for a secured credit card.

No matter the size of the hole you’ve dug, you can get yourself out. It’ll just take patience, commitment, and a willingness to learn from your missteps.  

3. Focus on the Future

While you shouldn’t ignore your money problems, you shouldn’t let them define you either. Once you’ve created a plan to tackle your financial woes, focus on the future. 

As Timon might say: “Look, kid, bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it.” So stop feeling ashamed about the past — about how you didn’t start saving early enough, about that pair of designer heels you never wear — and consider how you can change your behaviors moving forward.

You know, hakuna matata!

Put it into action: Think about how you can weave a strong financial safety net for yourself in the future. Focus less on skipping your daily latte, and more on the big expenses, like renting an apartment within your budget or buying a used car instead of a new one. 

Then, slowly build an emergency fund that will cover at least three months of expenses. Ask for a raise at work. Open a 401(k). Switch bank accounts to avoid unnecessary fees. And gather a solid support network of friends (think of them like less-furry versions of Timon, Pumba, and Rafiki) to help you stay the course.

4. Confidence Matters

At one point when Simba is doubting his abilities, he hears the echo of his father’s voice. “Look inside yourself,” Mufasa tells him. “You are more than what you have become.” It was true: Simba’s lack of self-confidence had been hindering him from his destiny. 

Although I’m not going to sit here and say you have a personal finance “destiny” like the king of lions, I will say that confidence plays a huge role in money management, too. And if you don’t feel financially confident, realize it’s not your fault. Since most American schools don’t teach personal finance, many people feel confused and anxious when it comes to money. 

Put it into action: To take control of your finances, you need to build the confidence so that “you are more than what you have become.” The key here is education. Find your financial footing by listening to podcasts like Stacking Benjamins and Bad With Money, reading blogs like this one and books like “Get Money,” and watching YouTube channels like Financially Wise Women and The Financial Diet

The Circle of Money

Although you might wish you could live like an animal in the savannah, and trade in budgeting for, you know, surviving in the wild, the reality is: We live in a world that revolves around financial transactions. 

You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it. And with the help of “The Lion King,” you can hopefully gain the knowledge and confidence you’ll need to rule over your very own financial kingdom. (Just watch out for the hyenas!)

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