Bazinga! 6 Genius Money Lessons from 'Big Bang Theory'

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The Big Bang Theory, Season Three
Monty Brinton/CBS/Getty Images
Sheldon, Howard, Leonard, Raj, Amy, Bernadette and Penny -- the quirky geniuses of "The Big Bang Theory," Nielsen's No. 1 comedy -- are always funny, but especially in teaching us what not to do about money.

Money Can Buy You Love -- But Only for a Bit

Howard learns this lesson when he falls for Penny's gold digger friend and uses all his bar mitzvah bonds to buy her presents. When the bonds run out, so does she ("The Dumpling Paradox," season one episode seven). In "The Wiggly Finger Catalyst" (season five, episode four), Rajesh Koothrappali is torn when his traditional Indian (and "Scrooge McDuck"-rich) parents insist he choose between his non-Indian girlfriend and his generous allowance. Raj, the eternal romantic, chooses love and tells her she has to return all his expensive gifts. She chooses to leave poor Raj.

In "The Rothman Disintegration" (season five, episode 17), Amy wants Penny to be her bestie so she spends thousands on a huge and creepy portrait of them. Penny hates it. Eventually, Amy finds out the truth but also learns she never needed to buy Penny's friendship.

Neither a Borrower Nor a Sheldon Be

Sheldon may be weird about banks and rarely cashes his paychecks, but he has thousands put by in a Green Lantern action figure. When Penny needs money to pay rent, he loans it to her. Although initially grateful, Penny starts resenting the loan and the lender as so often happens.

How did Penny get herself into this dilemma in the first place? She pays a huge fine for her ex-boyfriend. He promises he'll pay her back -- eventually. Meanwhile knight errant Leonard and his posse confront the hulk and, though humiliated, emerge triumphant, with Penny getting all her money back ("The Financial Permeability," season two, episode 14).

Don't Quit Your Day Job

All of them have safe university jobs at decent pay, save aspiring actress Penny with her one hemorrhoid commercial gig and day job at the Cheesecake Factory, but that doesn't keep them from trying a sideline or two for multiple streams of income.

However, the hard truth of entrepreneurship is pointed up when Penny invents Penny Blossoms, a hair accessory. The business is a lot harder than she expected. "You are effectively paying yourself $5.19 a day. ... There are children in a sneaker factory in Indonesia who outearn you, " Sheldon tells her after he breaks down her production costs. Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard bail her out when they run an assembly line and get out her first big order ("The Work Song Nanocluster," season two, episode 18).

(Sales) Resistance Is Futile

The guys are suckers for their beloved comic and sci-fi collectibles or a Lego Midnight Madness sale. As Stuart, the store owner, says when they come in, "It's like shooting nerds in a barrel." Sheldon, despite his 187 IQ, is a sucker for anything Stuart deems "unique" or "limited edition," overpaying by hundreds for a squirt gun and various other "treasures" over the course of the series. Leonard, 173 IQ, convinces the guys to spend $800 on a time machine prop ("The Nerdvana Annihilation," season one, episode 14).

The girls don't understand wasting money like this. As Amy admonishes, "Sheldon, I'm disappointed. As a brilliant man, you're entitled to a vice. I could understand frequenting an opium den or hunting your fellow man for sport, but this is lame-o" ("The Flaming Spittoon Acquisition," season five, episode 10).


Talk Over Big Purchases With Your Partner

Sheldon can't decide between an Xbox One and a PlayStation 4 and so quite admirably researches it. But too much research has paralyzed his decision making. So he talks it out with Amy. Still, he overthinks it until the store closes, and he leaves without either gaming platform ("The Indecision Amalgamation," season seven, episode 19).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Raj and Howard impulsively spend $5,000 to buy a used 3-D printer so they can make action figures of themselves (worth a couple bucks). Howard gives one he made of himself and Bernadette to her. But when she finds out how much the machine cost, she hits the roof because he never consulted with her. Possibly my favorite clip (from "The Cooper/Kripke Inversion," season six, episode 14), it also includes Raj telling Howard he deserves to buy the machine, "You worked hard to find a woman who makes a lot of money."

Buy in Bulk

The ladies have their own blind spots, especially Penny, with her collection of pricey shoes on a waitress' salary. On "The Spaghetti Catalyst" (season three, episode 20), Penny also teaches us to be careful with credit when she goes through her mail, "Damn, they cancelled my Visa. (opens another letter) Oooh...yay, a new MasterCard!"

Leonard tries to help Penny, but it's the practical Sheldon (in "The Luminous Fish Effect," season one, episode four) who advises Penny, "There a lot of advantages in buying in bulk." He's talking about 30 years' worth of feminine products. She slams the door in his face.

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15 Comments

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SPQR

scientists do not act like that nor do they collect toys

April 21 2014 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
petpetdon

The show could have been called "The Nerdy Professors".

I have loved the show since the beginning. A great cast of characters.
I won't take financial advice from them but I will continue to watch the show because it is funny.

April 19 2014 at 11:15 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
weilunion

So we are told that we should become financially literate from soap operas? My goodness and this is pegged as news? no wonder Americans are so illiterate financially. Turn off the TV and begin to sthink critically about your life and the life of your fallen country. Do not let the corporations infantilize your brain.

April 19 2014 at 9:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

Funny show, but I wouldn't suggest using the tips to plan your retirement.
The first particle tested in the CERN Large Hadron Collider is a particle I discovered.
Real physicists are not comic book ninnies.

April 18 2014 at 9:07 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Frank

Funny, Howard claims to be a graduate of MIT, but he never wears the "Brass Rat" . That is the affectionate name for the Golden Beaver, the class ring.
Also for those in the know, as a Mechanical Engineer, Howard is a graduate of Course 2. Mine is Course 10.
All the Way

April 18 2014 at 6:59 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Frank's comment
Kenny

not about you

April 19 2014 at 4:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jdykbpl45

Pay cash.

April 18 2014 at 5:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Rosemarie King

we never miss the show, it's hilarious. we almost fall out of our seats, from laughing so hard. keep it going!!!!!!

April 18 2014 at 12:34 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rosemarie King's comment
weilunion

Great! You can fall out of your seat when you find you will never retire, have no schools for your kids you can afford, make minimum wage working two jobs and have no health care when you are sick.

Keep on dumbing down!

April 19 2014 at 9:59 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to weilunion's comment
petpetdon

YOU need to get a sense of humor wellunion.

April 19 2014 at 11:17 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down
Kenny

you will never make it.............YOU have no clue...........

April 19 2014 at 4:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
domegrp

The best show put on TV in a long time. Even if you're not a brainiac you can identify with them easily.

April 18 2014 at 9:34 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to domegrp's comment
Cool Hand

Agree. Every darn line has some thread of humor in it.

April 18 2014 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cool Hand's comment
linderannalisa@yahoo.com

As Sheldon says, "It's funny because it's true."

April 18 2014 at 12:25 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down
weilunion

This is infantilization of the mind. Cartoons for adults brought to you by your friends on Wall St

April 19 2014 at 10:00 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply