10 money lessons from music lyrics

When you're looking for personal finance advice, you probably check out books and websites like GRS, but what about turning on the radio?

Recently, I wrote about the cost of love and mentioned several songs with lyrics about love and money. This got me thinking about how many songs have lyrics about money in general and what lessons we can learn from them.

Yeah, I know, I know. It's a light-weight topic. So sue me. Not every post can be about funding your Roth IRA or finding a high-yield savings account!

Without further ado (and in no particular order) here are ten songs that espouse sound financial advice:

“Free Money” by Patti Smith

Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery,
Scoop the pearls up from the sea
Cash them in and buy you all the things you need.

Winning the lottery is a bad financial plan — you can expect an 80% loss on your “investment.” Put it in a savings or retirement account that you can use later to “buy all the things you need.”

“The Pretender” by Jackson Browne

I'm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender

This might not be the songwriter's intent, but to me, these lyrics are about goals. If you never establish life goals, you're likely to fall into line with what the people around you are doing — even if they are working 80 hours a week at jobs they hate just to buy fancy cars and big houses they can't afford. As J.D. says, the road to wealth is paved with goals.

“Money, Money, Money” by ABBA

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad?
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad

In all but the most dire cases, it is possible to break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck, and it's critical that you do. Even if you aren't accumulating debt, one emergency can put you deep in the red.

“If I Had a Million Dollars” by The Barenaked Ladies

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the store
If I had a million dollars
We'd take a limousine cause it costs more

The Barenaked Ladies know a thing or two about lifestyle inflation. If you start to make more money, it's common to start looking for ways to upgrade your life — bigger house, new TV, taking a limousine to the corner store. Avoid lifestyle inflation by asking yourself if a purchase is a need or something you'll really value, or something you want only because “it costs more.”

“Life's Been Good” by Joe Walsh

I have a mansion, forget the price
Ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice

There's a big cost in owning Stuff you don't use. Especially if it's a mansion.

“Money Becomes King” by Tom Petty

…everything got bigger
And the rules began to bend
And the TV taught the people
How to get their hair to shine
And how sweet life can be
If you keep a tight behind
And they raised the cost of living
And how could we have known
They'd double the price of tickets
To go see Johnny's show?

Advertising raises what we consider to be our personal cost of living, making it hard to distinguish needs from wants, but knowing some of the tricks of the marketing trade can help us make more informed decisions, at least some of the time.

“Mo Money, Mo Problems” by Notorious B.I.G.

I don't know what they want from me
It's like the more money we come across
The more problems we see

Big Papa knew that sometimes being rich isn't all it's cracked up to be — especially when friends and relatives hit you up for a loan.

“You Can't Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Most of us have a lot of wants. For example, I want a sailboat, a Le Creuset Dutch oven, a farmhouse in Italy, and baby grand piano. That's okay so long as I don't try to satisfy all of those wants on my current income! But if I work hard and save money, I could afford any one of those things, if they were my primary goal. It's possible to afford almost anything you want, but not everything.

“Low Budget” by The Kinks

Circumstance has forced my hand
To be a cut price person in a low budget land
Times are hard but we'll all survive
I just got to learn to economize

Cutting expenses isn't fun, but it's necessary when your income drops or you want to save more. Start with cutting big expenses for big wins, then move to smaller ones.

“Satisfied Mind” by Jeff Buckley

Money can't buy back all your youth when you're old
A friend when you're lonely, or peace for your soul
The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind

We trade life energy to make money, and that's okay because most people want to live a comfortable life and afford to do fun things. But find a balance. Don't wait for a tragedy to remind you of what's most important in life.

What are your favorite songs about money?

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KM
KM
9 years ago

No Pink Floyd? Geez……

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

Ha ha ha– awesome post. We get a lot of messages (both conscious and subconscious) from pop culture, so I think looking at them is great. While I don’t listen to a lot of the stuff you posted here, I am a huge fan of the amazing Patti Smith. So while this is really off-topic, I wanted to give a little perspective on “Free Money”. She wrote it for her mother. They grew up poor in rural New Jersey, and her mother used to say “one day when I win the lottery”, etc. etc. Of course the mom didn’t win… Read more »

HedgeHoncho
HedgeHoncho
9 years ago

no KEI$A…i mean, she already has a dollar sign in her name! doesn’t that count for anything?

I might start signing my name with a dollar sign come to think of it.

Cely
Cely
9 years ago

I like many of April’s posts, but this one just seems like filler. Using song lyrics as a wrapper to recycle previous posts.

Elliot
Elliot
9 years ago

Billionaire – Travie McCoy

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

@Cely:
This site (and all personal finance sites) recycles the same basic content in different forms over and over again. You’re right, this is like that, but I thought it was a fun way to do it.

Spokane Al
Spokane Al
9 years ago

How about these golden oldies:

O’Jays – For The Love Of Money
Pink Floyd — Money
Little Richard – Money Honey

MutantSuperModel
MutantSuperModel
9 years ago

Funny enough, I notice most songs give really bad financial advice but a song with a cynical look would be Good Charlottes Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous whose chorus goes: Lifestlyes of the rich and the famous
theyre always complainin
always complainin
if money is such a problem
well they got mansions
think we should rob them

I have to admit, I totally agree 😉 Fun topic!

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Who pays for your rock and roll lifestyle?

Is it you or our parents in that income tax bracket?

Cake 🙂

Kace
Kace
9 years ago

That’s an easy one…

“Ka-ching” by Shania Twain.

Joshua
Joshua
9 years ago

The song I thought of was Billionare. While it does talk about buying things that you didn’t have before (lifestyle inflation) it also includes many good elements like giving, helping out others, and even helping with the recession. The important thing to walk away with is to help other people in need even if you are not “rich”. There will always be people more unfortunate than us, and we can help in ways other than just giving money.

lawyerette
lawyerette
9 years ago

Just want to sound a note of appreciation for the Biggie lyrics. Rap is now pop music, so if there had been no rap lyrics, I would have wondered if anyone else under 30 read this blog!

Cely
Cely
9 years ago

@Tyler, I’ve been a reader here for three years now, so I’m willing to put up with a certain amount of recycled content, but this just rubbed me the wrong way.

I’ve noticed quality drops when J.D. is away, some of that (perhaps) can’t be helped but I think it’s good for him to realize that readers do notice.

csdx
csdx
9 years ago

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
9 years ago

She works hard for the money
So hard for it honey
She works hard for the money
So you better treat her right

Soledad
Soledad
9 years ago

Fun article and I appreciate Patti and the Stones very much!

Geoffrey
Geoffrey
9 years ago

A personal favorite of mine is “Money” by Embrace, which was one of Ian MacKaye’s bands between Minor Threat and Fugazi. A song about our unhealthy obsession with money and our consumer-centric lifestyle. For those that seek it out, beware of some cussing.

Richard
Richard
9 years ago

Perhaps a little Jimmy Buffet – Making Money for Music (Lesson: Work to live, don’t live to work)
or some Dire Straits – Money for Nothing (Lesson: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch)

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Hmmm. I think the “it’s a rich man’s world” line in the ABBA song is pretty accurate 😉

I thought this post was fun too.

Bethann
Bethann
9 years ago

Where’s the Cee Lo love? – Clean version, anyway.

“I’m sorry I can’t afford a Ferrari, but that don’t mean I can’t get you there.”

Sarah
Sarah
9 years ago

Don’t forget the classic Beatles song Can’t Buy Me Love

“Tell me that you want the kind of things
That money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love”

It’s always helpful to have a reminder that once you’ve satisfied your needs and goals, more money won’t necessarily make you happier

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
9 years ago

And don’t forget the current hit by Cee Lo Green, “Forget you” (in the clean version), which is all about his girlfriend who left him for another guy because he couldn’t buy a ferrari and etc. Great song, actually!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

Not sure if many of you are familiar w/ Erase Errata, but “Tax Dollar” is a great little song + video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUQaJqek02c

Samantha
Samantha
9 years ago

If I had more money, honey, would you love me, love me, love me? If I wasn’t just somebody like me?

Kathy F
Kathy F
9 years ago

Madonna:

“You know that we are living in a material world
and I am a material girl.”

“Only boys who save their pennies
make my rainy day.”

al
al
9 years ago

nice post, but “Satisfied Mind” is not originally by Jeff Buckley, he’s just one of many artists who have covered it, so he doesn’t get credit for the lyrics!

a favorite on the wrong way to manage finances as a couple, from The Band:

I took up all of my winnings
And I gave my little Bessie half
And she tore it up and threw it in my face
Just for a laugh

jenk
jenk
9 years ago

Springsteen! Meeting Across The River: Well Cherry says she’s gonna walk ‘Cause she found out I took her radio and hocked it But Eddie, man, she don’t understand That two grand’s practically sitting here in my pocket And tonight’s gonna be everything that I said And when I walk through that door I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed She’ll see this time I wasn’t just talking… Badlands: Poor man wanna be rich, Rich man wanna be king And a king ain’t satisfied Till he rules everything The Promise: Johnny works in a factory and Billy works downtown… Read more »

Tim
Tim
9 years ago

Jenk! God bless you for including the Boss. I have no idea why this broad left out Bruce Springsteen. He’s only been the most persistent voice of the middle-class since the 1970s… I would have included Atlantic City for good measure. “Well, I got a job and tried to put my money away But I got debts that no honest man can pay So I drew what I had from the central trust And I bought us two tickets on that coast city bus.” Thank you so much for including the seventh track from Born to Run. My dad is… Read more »

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago
Reply to  Tim

Interesting use of the word “broad” there, Tim.

Ru
Ru
9 years ago

Richard Cory by Simon and Garfunkel is a good one. It’s about a rich guy who seems to live the charmed life, and the factory worker who works for him and hates his own life. At the end, Richard Cory commits suicide.

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
9 years ago

Three days of snow out in Birmingham Thought you would wonder where I am! Called up your number all night long no consolation on the telephone… Went out and caught a midnight flight Thought a little lovin would make everything alright, Landlord said you’d moved away (!) And left me all your bills to pay… but too bad honey, you might have made your move too soon! You left me with a Keno card Life in Vegas really ain’t that hard! Ran it up to about 50 grand Cashed it in, and held it in my hand. That kind of… Read more »

Pan Jan
Pan Jan
9 years ago

I’m surprised that nobody came up with “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits :]

Thrifty advocate
Thrifty advocate
9 years ago

There’s a song based on the poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson? Interesting. I think the lessons in this poem are among the same ones presented in so many other ways on GRS – money isn’t happiness and appearances can be deceiving. Richard Cory Whenever Richard Cory went down town, We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentleman from sole to crown, Clean-favoured and imperially slim. And he was always quietly arrayed, And he was always human when he talked; But still he fluttered pulses when he said, “Good Morning!” and he glittered when he walked. And… Read more »

Paul
Paul
9 years ago

Gimme Honda, Gimme Sony
So cheap and real phony

From The Clash – Magnificent Seven. The whole song really, but here’s another good nugget:

Working for a rise, better my station
Take my baby to sophistication
She’s seen the ads, she thinks it’s nice
Better work hard – I seen the price
Never mind that it’s time for the bus
We got to work – an’ you’re one of us
Clocks go slow in a place of work
Minutes drag and the hours jerk

juyipey
juyipey
9 years ago

ditto with elliot (#5). billionaire by travie mccoy ft bruno mars. 🙂

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

I’m surprised Don Henley hasn’t come up. “Gimme what you got” from his “End of Innocence” album turns a harsh light on the american way of consumerism. It doesn’t talk about dollars and cents specifically, but Henley definitely has a disparaging view on the national obsession with acquiring more and more.

David C
David C
9 years ago

Foghat = If Money Talks, It Sure Ain’t Talking To Me.

David C
David C
9 years ago

Money Talks – JJ Cale

MelodyO
MelodyO
9 years ago

Thoroughly enjoyable post! I’m in the Cee Lo Green camp – don’t go into debt trying to impress a potential girlfriend/boyfriend who doesn’t love you for you.

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago

Interesting exercise, and completely appropriate – every post cannot be about the sheer tedium of compounding interest, the nuances of Roth IRAs, and the efficacy of the TMND formula. Art often imitates life and is an inherent and integral part of socialization, so many people act out scripted behavior patterns with money, things they learn from their family, friends, or society in general. This did not necessarily have to be a “light-weight” topic. The post states that “here are ten songs that espouse sound financial advice”. The very first song mentioned lyrics discusses the lottery. That’s hardly proverbial personal finance… Read more »

saad a. hasan
saad a. hasan
9 years ago

“satisfied mind” – johnny cash version!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNsSIX-G7I4

Grace
Grace
9 years ago

Ani does this subject pretty well.

“they build buildings to house people
making money
or they build buildings to make money
off of housing people
it’s true
like a lot of things are true”

“science chases money
and money chases its tail
and the best minds of my generation
can’t make bail”

“and big government should not stand between a man and his money
i mean “what’s good for business is good for the country”
our children still take that lie like communion
the same old line
the confederacy used on the union”

repenttokyo
repenttokyo
9 years ago

Just wanted to point out that it’s B-I-G P-O-P-P-A – he spells it out in the same song you are quoting from 😉

De-ette
De-ette
9 years ago

Great Post~ Thanks April
Just proves again that we can save money by listening to the radio. Or at least get another perspective relating to money, work, and consumerism.

Bill P
Bill P
9 years ago

Jim Croce,on what’s really of value: “Once I had myself a million now I’ve only got a dime. Difference don’t seem quite as bad today. With a nickle or a million I was searching all the time for something that I never lost nor left behind.” Or Blood, Sweat and Tears (I don’t think they were the original artist but the earliest one I heard sing “God Bless the Child”) on spending habits, “When you’ve got money you’ve got lots of friends hanging ’round your door. But when the money’s gone and all your spending ends they won’t come ’round… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
9 years ago

Did I miss Janis Joplin/ ” lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all have Porsches, I must make amends”- etc

jenk
jenk
9 years ago

Tim, you know I’m a “broad” too, right?

The Atlantic City quote I considered was:

I’ve been looking for a job but they’re hard to find
Down here there’s just winners and losers
and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line

Really, Bruce has so many songs about money it’s hard to pick.

repenttokyo
repenttokyo
9 years ago

Bruce’s songs weren’t so much about money as they were about class, missed opportunity and hopelessness.

Tori
Tori
9 years ago

I read all the comments and no one’s mentioned Spinal Tap’s classic “Gimme Some Money”

Don’t get me wrong (Gimme some money, gimme some money)
Try getting me right (Gimme some money, gimme some money)
Your face is OK
But your purse is too tight (Gimme some money, gimme some money)
I’m looking for pound notes, loose change, bad checks, anything
Gimme some money, gimme some money

Doesn’t teach much of a lesson but certainly illustrates the modern feelings of entitlement.

Tim
Tim
9 years ago

@jenk, my bad! I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions, but unfortunately in my experience far too few women appreciate Mr. Springsteen.

@repenttokyo, that’s true. Usually when I read posts here or elsewhere about money, it’s really just a proxy for the important things that Springsteen addresses in his songs.

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