10 lessons from song lyrics about money

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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