10 Financial Mistakes From the F-R-I-E-N-D-S Television Series to Avoid

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Prior to meeting my girlfriend in 2010, I had probably only seen a handful of Friends episodes in my entire life. This is especially shocking to some people, given the fact that the show was airing for 10 years during my “prime” TV-watching ages of ~8-18 years old.

However, the girlfriend quickly introduced and subsequently hooked me on to Friends (after all, it was/is her favorite sitcom) after we started dating. She owns the entire 10 season discography on DVD, and we have probably gone through the entire series 8 times since 2010. A lot of the time, we actually aren’t even watching it; we just have it on in the background while we are working on the computer and doing other things around the house. So, it’s probably not as much time wasted as it might sound at first! It also works out well that we both now like Friends so much because we don’t have cable TV at our house. It’s pretty funny because we will go on trips where we stay at hotels that have cable TV, but we will still end up finding nothing else on and simply watching Friends when it is showing on the various available networks!

Despite my deep love for the Friends television series, often times when I am watching Friends, I am simply amazed at the many serious financial mistakes that the characters make on the show. Now, I definitely realize that this is a fictional show that is meant to be funny, and this is likely one of the big reasons why the writers incorporated these financial flops in to the show. After all, if they made a show where someone was saving 50% of his or her paycheck and living very frugally, the ratings would absolutely tank because it would be boring, right?!

On the other hand, I also often wonder (and maybe worry a little bit) if given the fact that the financial mistakes were displayed in arguably the most popular TV series of all time, do these bad financial behaviors somehow get normalized in to our society and made to seem as the ‘right,’ ‘cool,’ and/or socially-acceptable thing to do?

Because of these factors, I thought it would make for an interesting discussion to review 10 of the bad financial lessons/mistakes of the characters in the Friends TV series in this post. I look forward to hearing you all’s thoughts!    

Financial Mistake # 1 – Failing to Consider Your Latte Factor

The Latte Factor is a topic that I learned in the very first book I ever read about personal finance and frugal living, David Bach’s Automatic Millionaire. As you’ve probably already heard, the idea behind the Latte Factor is that if people buy a latte from Starbucks everyday for $4, this compounds to a lot of money over time. However, the same idea can be applied for all sorts of luxury purchases made everyday (snacks, regular coffee, vending machine items, etc).

In the Friends series, all six characters (Chandler, Joey, Monica, Rachel, Ross, and Phoebe) have a Latte Factor to the 1000th power! 

They go to the Central Perk Coffee House multiple times every day and seem to spend about $5 or more each time. If you do the quick math, they probably spend $3000-$4000 in coffee every year! Yikes! Talk about a financial hole to recover from already.

The sad thing is that even though this sounds like a terrible financial predicament, I imagine that a lot of people in bigger cities go to restaurants and coffee houses in this same manner. It’s definitely something to think about if you fall in to this behavior pattern category. Try doing what I do and get your coffee fix at home before you leave for work!

Financial Mistake # 2 – Never Cooking a Meal at Home

For me personally, cooking meals at home/avoiding spending large amounts of money at bars along with being debt free are probably the two most effective ways that I have been able to save over 50-80% of my income for the past 4-5 years.

As any regular Friends fan will know, the Friends characters (Chandler and Joey especially) eat out a whole lot! There is one really funny scene that I like to watch several times where Joey and Chandler are sitting around their apartment, and Joey asks Chandler, “What do you want to do for dinner tonight?” Chandler then says in a joking way that indicates that cooking will never happen in a million years, “I thought we might stay in and cook here.” They both then laugh! It’s pretty funny stuff!

Again, even though I/they get a laugh out of this, it’s actually a pretty serious situation and financial roadblock faced by many young people today, especially students in undergraduate or graduate school. They feel they are too busy or too young to need to cook at home, so they end up getting take-out or food at a restaurant for most meals. Along with costing a great deal of money that these young folks really don’t have, eating out generally is less healthy for oneself than cooking at home.

Financial Mistake # 3 – Spending Your Life Savings on Your Wedding

If you’re a Friends watcher, you probably remember the season when Chandler and Monica finally get married (Of all the relationships in Friends, I think their relationship is my favorite because they are very cute together and fairly low drama, unlike some of Ross’ relationships). When they are just starting the wedding planning process, Monica regrettably finds out that her Dad spent all of the money he had saved for Monica’s wedding on a beach house and a Porsche. Nice!

After crying about it a little bit because she is heartbroken that she can’t have the wedding of her dreams, Chandler makes the mistake of mentioning that he has some money saved up. Upon telling Monica how much he has saved up his entire working career thus far, she immediately wants to spend it all on their wedding, and does just that! This is great financial planning in action folks, isn’t it?!

However, again, my worry is that this behavior is not far off from the reality/norm in our society these days, especially with how expensive weddings are. One person I went to high school with was given the choice by her parents of having $40,000 for a house or $40,000 for a wedding. Apparently, the couple spent all of the money plus some extra on the wedding, including a $5,000 wedding cake! Nice!

Financial Mistake # 4 – Borrowing and Loaning Money to Friends

One thing that is very inspirational in the Friends series is to see that the six friends are very loyal and dedicated to each other. However, one financial mistake that they often make with this dedication is loaning money to each other. One example I can think of off the top of my head was hearing that Joey owed Chandler like $20,000 for unpaid rent loans and acting classes over a period of 7 years! Quite crazy!

From my experience and what I’ve read over the past few years of personal finance blogging, loaning money to friends is almost always a bad idea. Why is this? First, it creates a strain on the friendship in that you “owe” something to one of your good friends. Second, loans between friends have a very unlikely chance of being repaid. Just think about it – if you loan money to someone who has credit card debt, do you think they will make sure that they pay the credit card company in full or you (with no legal contract) first?

If you do feel the need to loan money to friends, I would encourage several things. First, see if you can just give them the money as a gift. Since the money likely won’t be repaid anyway, it might be worth just taking the repayment obligation out of the whole situation. Second, if you still feel that a loan situation is needed, make sure to put the terms in writing, with the help of a legal professional (read, lawyer) if it is a large sum of money.

Financial Mistake # 5 – Purchasing Last Minute Plane Tickets

Generally, if people want to get a good deal on an airline flight, they generally purchase a ticket between 30-60 days before their desired departure date.

However, in the Friends series, it’s truly amazing how often they go to the airport and purchase a dramatic, spur-of-the-moment plane ticket to some far off destination (Chandler going to Yemen) or to confess their love for someone leaving (Ross with Rachel and Emily). Generally, they drop about $2000-$3000 on this flight at the drop of a hat!

While I’m pretty certain that most logical people don’t operate this way (it just makes for good comedy!), it is a good reminder that you can get yourself in to a big financial hole if you don’t plan your trips ahead of time!

Financial Mistake # 6 – Buying Lottery Tickets

Whenever I go to the local Kroger here in Virginia to pick up any amount of groceries, there are always at least several people in line at the machine buying lottery tickets. 

Why is this? I simply don’t understand the whole lottery ticket buying reasoning. Do they really think they are going to win? Do they do it for fun and know they are going to lose the money? Do they do it just to support the education charity that the lottery funds? I don’t know. However, I do know that the chances of winning the lottery are less likely than me getting struck by lightning. TWICE.

Despite this, several times throughout the Friends series, they talk about buying a fairly sizable amount of lottery tickets and sharing the winnings among each other. Ross tries to be the voice of reason in saying that it’s highly unlikely to win, but no one listens! 

Financial Mistake # 7 – Violating Terms of Your Apartment Lease

Being as how the Friends series is primarily set in the two apartments of Chandler/Joey and Rachel/Monica, there are quite a few funny moments when the six friends do some pretty questionable things to their dwellings. 

In one episode, Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe make a fire in a trash can in their living room and have to call the fire department to put it out. The entire season, Monica and Rachel are violating the Rent Stabilization Act of New York since their lease is still in Monica’s grandmother’s name. In another season, Monica punches holes in the wall of Chandler’s apartment to find wiring for a mysterious switch.

All of this is to say that in the real world, it is to your benefit financially to be a good tenant by 1) having renter’s insurance, 2) following the terms of your apartment lease, and 3) being honest with your landlord. 

Financial Mistake # 8 – Investing in Stocks When You Don’t Have Any Clue About Them

In general, I believe that no one (not even investing professionals) really has that much business investing in individual stocks. Why is this? Because they cannot guarantee me that they can beat the market for the next 20 years, despite their heroic past performance.

However, in one episode, Monica, while looking for a way to make money between jobs, takes this to the extreme! She decides to day-trade stocks that have symbols similar to her initials and the initials of people she knows! I’m pretty sure it didn’t work out too well for her.

Financial Mistake # 9 – Being a Less-Than-Stellar Employee

To my amazement, despite the fact that most of the Friends characters are not very good employees, they seem to do pretty well in advancing in their careers. Let’s just take a quick look at some of the things that they tend to do wrong (which would be pretty disastrous for normal people from a career/financial perspective).

  • Falling asleep during a meeting with your division VP – In one episode in Season 9 or so, Chandler is in a big meeting at his company with his boss’s boss, falls asleep, and accidentally volunteers to head up an office in Tulsa. Aside from setting a bad image for yourself, you obviously don’t want to put yourself in this type of position where you get moved without knowing what you’re getting in to! 
  • Taking 4 hour lunch breaks – Many times in the Friends series, the characters will be at the Central Perk Coffee House until 4:30 PM and say, “Well, I guess my lunch break is over!”
  • Blatantly lying on your resume – Several times throughout the series, Joey lies on his resume. First, he states that he had 10 years of dance experience with a ballet, when in fact, he has no experience dancing professionally. Second, he stated that he could speak fluent French, when in fact, he cannot. Ross also lies on his resume that he did a year long paleontology dig in Cairo, when in fact, he just went to Cairo on a vacation for a few weeks or something with his Dad. 

Financial Mistake # 10 – Dating Your Students, Employees, and Roommates

Our last stop on the Friends TV series bad financial lessons/mistakes list brings us to the item of dating your employees, students, and roommates.

This happens NUMEROUS times throughout the Friends TV series because, of course, it makes for great comedy and an interesting story! However, in the real world, if you are not careful, this type of behavior can not only slow you down in your career/cause you financial stress, but can also get you completely discredited and even fired from your job. 

Let’s take a quick look at some of the examples from Friends. First, Ross starts dating one of his 19 year old students, Elizabeth, from the class he teaches at NYU. Next, he starts dating a professor/co-worker, Charlie, who is another teacher in his department at NYU. Rachel also embarks in some of this behavior, dating her assistant who works for her (Tag), her temporary replacement (Gavin) who had taken over her job during Rachel’s maternity leave, and her roommate (Joey). In all of these cases, there are a couple close calls in getting in to trouble with their employers, but luckily, nothing ever happens. However, in the real world, one can hardly expect to be so lucky, so it’s best to avoid this type of behavior.

How about you all? Have you ever made any of these same mistakes amplified in the Friends TV series? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivantortuga/2619877988/sizes/l/in/photostream/

    About the Author Jacob A Irwin

    Hi folks! My name is Jacob. I am the owner and operator of My Personal Finance Journey. I started this blog in January of 2010 and have enjoyed the journey ever since. Since finishing up graduate school in Virginia in 2014, I have been working in biopharmaceutical development in Colorado. You can read more about me and this site here​. Please contact me if you have any questions!

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    jonrhodesuk says January 22, 2013

    Joey at least is a bit wiser with his cash, as he steals food from his friends! That's the cheapest way to eat! Good article!
    My recent post Comment on How To Get A Guest Post Published by Jon Rhodes

      MyPerFinJourney says February 4, 2013

      haha – yeah! I wonder how much money in food Joey swiped from Monica and Chandler over the 10 years…
      My recent post You Don't Know What You Don't Know – A First-Hand Account of the State of Personal Finance Education

    John S @ Frugal Rules says January 22, 2013

    Great post on something like Friends! Thankfully I've not been guilty of many of these, I was probably most guilty of #4 earlier in life but have since learned my lesson. Great point on #3. My wife and I were able to stay within budget on ours, however my stepsister spent nearly $60k on her wedding. Anything they could throw money at they did. Then they griped about not being able to take a honeymoon for the first two years of their marriage…might've had something to do with maxing out the cards to fund their wedding! 😉
    My recent post How to Take the Emotion Out of Investing

      MyPerFinJourney says February 4, 2013

      Wow! $60k sounds extravagant, but it's probably not too far off from what a lot of people spend these days!
      My recent post You Don't Know What You Don't Know – A First-Hand Account of the State of Personal Finance Education

    Rob @FinancialSprout says January 22, 2013

    My Grandfather used to play the lottery every chance he could. The only difference is that he actually won! Later he kept playing, thinking that he would win again; instead he died broke. He seemed to do quite a few of these 10 mistakes. I will be making sure I do not follow in his financial footsteps, and I'll make sure i don't do any of these mistakes.
    My recent post How to Buy Pet Meds Online

      MyPerFinJourney says February 4, 2013

      interesting Rob! How much did your grandfather win in the lottery?
      My recent post You Don't Know What You Don't Know – A First-Hand Account of the State of Personal Finance Education

    studentdebtsurvivor says January 23, 2013

    Loved friends! Fortunately I didn't make a lot of the mistakes they made (well maybe the eating out too much and not cooking at home), but definitely not lending to friends to spending crazy amounts on a wedding.
    My recent post Honoring Dr. King’s Birthday With a Day Off?

      MyPerFinJourney says February 4, 2013

      Nice job! Thanks for sharing StudentDebtSurvivor!
      My recent post You Don't Know What You Don't Know – A First-Hand Account of the State of Personal Finance Education

    thefrugalfarmer says January 23, 2013

    Great info! I have to say that the two things that stuck out to me are: $40,000 and $60,000 on weddings??? Good gracious almighty: what are these people thinking?? And second, isn't interesting how the media and Hollywood use a cute little show to lure us into thinking financial irresponsibility is ok? A little conspiracy theory-ish, I know, but I'm just sayin' 🙂
    My recent post Motivation: Learning From Others

      MyPerFinJourney says February 4, 2013

      Yeah, it could possibly be conspiracy theory-ish, but I think it's more just a case of doing these things in order to make the series more entertaining.
      My recent post You Don't Know What You Don't Know – A First-Hand Account of the State of Personal Finance Education

    Lakita says January 24, 2013

    We should start watching FRIENDS more frequently. It's because of the financial tips that we can learn. The financial mistakes that you explained in detail should serve as an eye-opener. We have to learn from our mistakes.

    Julie @ Freedom 48 says January 24, 2013

    Good job analyzing the TV show. Unfortunately Friends (along with other shows) are often trying to portray the “ideal life” that all of us would want to live. Sadly… as you pointed out… it's a life full of poor financial decisions.
    My recent post Product Review: Nellie’s Laundry Soda

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