Money & Career

Mad Men life lessons: What we've learned about money and finances

Don Draper and his fellow ad men live a mythical kind of life – lush Manhattan apartments, deluxe trips to LA, and cocktails all day long. It’s miles away from the kind of work life most of us have today and that makes a great way to escape to another time every Sunday night. But there are also some important life lessons we can learn from the folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, especially when it comes to money. No we can’t turn back time and live it up like Don etc., but we can take away these five lessons about how we handle our own finances:

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Don Draper and his fellow ad men live a mythical kind of life – lush Manhattan apartments, deluxe trips to LA, and cocktails all day long. It’s miles away from the kind of work life most of us have today and that makes a great way to escape to another time every Sunday night. But there are also some important life lessons we can learn from the folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, especially when it comes to money. No we can’t turn back time and live it up like Don etc., but we can take away these five lessons about how we handle our own finances: 

Plan a money smart divorce – “It’s going to be expensive.” That’s the sobering message Roger got from his young second wife as they decided to part ways on Sunday night. Divorce is pretty common in the Mad Men world (can Don and Meaghan possibly last?) and herein lies a financial lesson for all of us – be prepared. Divorce is no fun, but if you do think your marriage is headed in that direction, prepare yourself for the financial realities. Consult the best lawyer you can afford, understand your rights, make sure you have copies of all ownership papers, bank statements and other key documents related to your assets and joint assets, and make a plan to deal with any jointly held debt together before you part ways.

Inflation is a lifestyle killer – Don Draper lives large: a gorgeous Manhattan apartment, a Cadillac, and dinners at fancy New York restaurants. And he does it all on a creative director’s salary of $45,000 in 1962 dollars. Mad Men offers a powerful lesson about inflation and how it reduces our spending power. These days, Don would be earning roughly $133,000 a year according to Credit Sesame, who offers up this infographic on how much a Mad Men lifestyle would cost in 2012. In today’s Manhattan, Don simply couldn’t live that way on his salary. Filling up his Cadillac would cost the earth ($6.91 in Don’s day versus $84.96 today) – in fact, the Cadillac would be out of his reach today at over $55,000 versus just over $5,300 in 1962. A New York hotel stay would also set Don back $415 a night versus just $10 in 1962. Times they have changed. Make sure your savings are put in inflation-proofed investments like income earning stocks and higher earning bonds that will help your money keep pace with inflation. 

Use credit wisely – Ever notice how no one ever pulls out a credit card on Mad Men? It’s a plastic free zone with people shelling out cash money to pick up bar tabs or buy a pack of Lucky Strikes. Back in the 1960s, credit cards were few and far between, which is probably why you don’t see Peggy Olsen rocking Dior or Chanel on her copywriter’s salary. Not so today, where the average Canadian has $3,227.33 in credit card debt (in fact, 10 percent of us owe over $10,000 on plastic). Yes our Mad Men characters know how to live – but they do it without going into credit card debt, which is a lesson for all of us.

Don’t over share at work – Were you cringing when Ken Cosgrove’s wife spilled the beans about his science fiction writing at Pete Campbell’s dinner party? His fiction sideline is a big secret he hides from his coworkers. And for good reason. When he gets back to the office on Monday, boss Roger tells him to ditch the writing and focus 110 percent on being an ad man – otherwise he’ll be fired. The lesson – be careful about what you share with work colleagues. Some things could come back to haunt you.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – Back in the early days of Mad Men, Lucky Strike was the cash cow that kept Sterling Cooper churning along. Then they bailed. The agency scrambled, firing good staff and downsizing as it took a huge financial hit. The lesson – diversify your own finances. In your career, make sure you’re constantly networking and keeping an eye on other opportunities. In your finances, make sure you spread your money across different types of investments so a big loss in one area of your portfolio doesn’t devastate your financial health.

Dress the part – The metamorphosis of Peggy Olsen is one of the best parts of the Mad Men series. When she started, she dressed like a high school student, with hair pulled back in a ponytail and unsophisticated skirts and blouses. Her move up the ladder at Sterling Cooper has mirrored her changing appearance, with a more womanly hair style, clean makeup, and better more sophisticated clothes. Like Peggy, dressing for the role we hope to have one day at the office can help us earn respect along the way.

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