Money Lessons I Learned from Friends: Monica Geller

Monica Geller making candy

If you missed my first three Friends posts, here’s the intro again to get you up to speed: I was thinking about my previous post about Minimalism in which I mention “everyone should have a Monica Closet,” and I thought about all the other things Friends characters taught me about money. As it happens, the Friends dealt with money in their lives and with each other quite often! And not always very well…

I’m splitting this into a series of posts, one for each Friend, and then I’ll compile them all at the end. Rachel was up first, then Ross, Joey, and now we’re getting to the first half of the (real) Friends power couple: Monica Geller.

Monica Geller

That’s right, Chandler and Monica are the real Friends power couple. To all the (sorely mistaken) Ross and Rachel fans who are currently aghast:

Anyway. Back to Monica! Monica is like Joey in that her annoying personality traits (cleanliness, neurosis, competitiveness) also become so exaggerated by the final seasons that she almost seems like a caricature of her Season 1 self (Ping Pong battle with Mike, anyone? Yeesh). Monica is Ross’s younger sister who is both the black sheep of her family, and a former fat kid. Those are both highly-developed subplots of the show that are both hilarious and horrifying at times.

She’s an old aquantaince of Rachel’s from high school who takes her in when she bursts into Central Perk after fleeing her wedding (which Monica reminds Rachel is only possible because she was the only friend from high school in the City who wasn’t invited to the wedding). Monica serves as a romantic foil to Rachel’s absurd dating successes, reminding Rachel that sometimes when men say they’re going to call, they’re not actually going to call. She’s afraid she’ll never find a partner. She’s particular about…everything. And she’s almost always right. I relate to Monica a lot.

And she learns (and teaches) quite a few financial lessons to which I certainly can relate, and I’m hoping you can too! It was honestly a bit difficult to decide which ones to include, but between her list and Chandler’s, I think I’ll cover the best ones.

Getting fired happens for stupid reasons sometimes. Make sure you’re prepared.

This is one of the stranger storylines in the series: Monica accepts 5 steaks and an eggplant as a gift from a vendor and her boss at the restaurant summarily fires her because of some previously unstated policy against accepting “bribes.” It’s absurd, but it sets up several storylines in the show and I guess the writers couldn’t come up with a better idea that didn’t involve Monica legitimately contributing to her own professional demise.

After Monica is fired, she reveals to Ross that she had not in fact saved money as their father had suggested, and she’d need to ask her parents for a loan - “I’m sure you saved 10% of your income like we always told you to, so you’ll be fine!” her father said when she told him she was fired as a wind-up to asking for money (I’ll take “financial advice that didn’t age well, for $500, Alex…)

 REmember this sweet gig???

REmember this sweet gig???

Monica wasn’t financially prepared for unemployment. This led to a lot of stress for her while she searched for a new job, and a lot of stress for Chandler when she offered to be his personal trainer during her job search. No one wants to do butt clenches at their desk, Monica! Ultimately she was forced to take an undesirable job as a waitress at a 50s-themed diner because she needed the money.

This was a low point for Monica professionally (and personally if you count her strange run-in with the busboy who wrote a poem about her being an “empty vessel” ….anyone that deep of a Friends lover to remember that storyline?)

What are some ways to avoid being completely blindsided by unemployment? I actually wrote about this in my piece “I Dreamed I Got Fired…”, but here are a few tips:

  1. Save beyond your emergency fund. Try to build a few months’ worth of expenses.

  2. Identify areas of your budget you could easily minimize or eliminate if you were fired.

  3. Make sure you have access to a credit card or line of credit (yeah, I said it.)

  4. Develop a side hustle or identify a side hustle you could jump into quickly to make money fast if you needed it

  5. Update your resume regularly and if you’ve been at your company for more than a year or two, entertain recruiter calls and/or apply for jobs that interest you. Even if you have no interest in leaving your company, you could learn a lot about other companies in the industry and use it to negotiate your financial position in your current job! Plus, those contacts will come in handy if you do lose a job, because you’ll more than likely already have a few irons in the fire.

Related: Six Cheap or Free Things That Have Added Outsized Value to My Life

Do some of these things and you’ll be financially prepared to weather the storm and professionally prepared to jump into something new as quickly as possible.

Speaking of being prepared…

Don’t rely on your parents - they might use your wedding money to buy their beach house

A running bit on the show is that Monica’s parents kind of wish she were someone else’s child and they basically behave as though she doesn’t exist. They also make constant jabs about how she will probably never marry (cruelly playing on Monica’s same fear, in my opinion). This finally comes to a head when Monica and Chandler become engaged and Mr. and Mrs. Geller admit that they spent her wedding money on their beach house…several years before…

Monica’s anger quickly gives way to her panic at her parents’ inability to pay for the wedding she’d desired her entire life. She hadn’t saved for her own wedding and now there was no money for it (Chandler’s savings account is a story for his own upcoming post). To be fair, Monica’s parents led her to believe there was money for her wedding when that was not in fact the case. That wasn’t very cool. That said, relying on the future availability of your parents’ money for any major expense is risky.

Relying on the future availability of your parents’ money for any major expense is risky.

Your parents could have their own financial problems and need the money. Like Monica’s parents, they could decide to do something else with the money and not tell you. They could give it to you but lord it over your head throughout the wedding process to manipulate your decisionmaking or withhold part of it if they don’t like something about you, your partner, or your choices related to life or the wedding.

If the large sum of money isn’t wedding-related, your parents may still want to exercise some kind of decisionmaking power in your life, and since it is their money, technicaly that’s their prerogative. This could be for a house down payment, childrens’ daycare, college or professional school tuition and/or expenses, or anything else you can imagine.

Instead of relying on your parents’ money, especially if the thing you’re expecting them to finance isn’t immediately on the horizon or if they’ve been unreliable or controlling finanically in any way, prepare for your big financial plans as if you’ll be financing them yourself. Start saving for your own wedding. Get a plan together for eliminating your debt. Save for a down payment. Research grad school costs and scholarships (SCHOLARSHIPPPPPSSS).

If your parents end up financing those things, it will be a sweet cherry on top of the Financially Prepared Sundae you’ve already prepared! Your cushion will also give you leverage in the event your parents want to control some aspect of the financed endeavor.

I had a friend whose parents were going to watch her baby while she worked, but when they started trying to control other aspects of her life because “she was getting free childcare from them,” she promptly enrolled her baby in daycare. It’s not identical, as the parents were making an in-kind financial contribution, but my friend’s financial preparation had the same result as what I’m suggesting: she was able to jump ship without compromising or risking her financial future.

Of course not everyones’ parents are wiling or able to even offer to pay for weddings or school in the first place, but for those of you who think that’s on the horizon, heed my words.

If Monica had saved more diligently in general, she wouldn’t have faced the “terrible” situation she did. But as the first example of her being fired showed, not saving enough money was a theme in Monica’s life. For someone who gave Rachel such a hard time about relying on Daddy, Monica sure does rely on others when she gets herself in a pinch or wants something nicer than she could afford to cashflow.

I’m giving Monica a really hard time. She does actually get something VERY right with money, which brings me to:

Money can’t buy you love (and won’t itself make you happy).

After her devastating breakup with Richard (Tom Selleck, the hottest dateable dad on the planet), she meets a lovely man named Pete who happens to have the 90s version of Elon Musk’s bank account. He’s wealthy, funny, genuinely into Monica, and a great guy to boot. She just can’t get into him. She thinks he’s so much fun, but there’s just “zip goin’ on!” Is something wrong with her? (All the friends answer, YES). After each date, Pete tries to go in for a kiss and each time, Monica finds a way to avoid it.

Eventually she comes clean to Pete that she’s not attracted to him. He tells her to give him another chance and that he thinks she will eventually feel differently. Long story short: she does eventually feel differently. But the fact remains: Monica didn’t let the idea of someone being wealthy get in the way of her honest feelings for the guy.

 the ultimate fighting championship broke them (and pete’s body…)

the ultimate fighting championship broke them (and pete’s body…)

(this is where Squarespace deleted like 6 paragraphs of my original post, lost to the dustbin of the interwebs forever. I’ll try again)

Confession: I recently treated a potential date slightly differently because in the course of our interactions, I found out he was from a very prominent, wealthy family. That’s totally out of the norm for me, but when the guy started acting weird before our date, I gave him the benefit of the doubt becuase I thought the weirdness might have been related to having a prominent family (he was basically trying to communicate through social media other than text, which was odd to me, but could have been a protection mechanism).

Anyway, he ended up ghosting before meeting and my original sense that something was off was correct. If he’d been a Regular Joe, I’d have given him the heave-ho and rescinded my agreement to meet him based on his behavior prior to the date. But the prospect of at least having a good story of a date with someone from Such-and-Such-Family (particularly if he continued to act strangely) was too big of a draw for me and my army of girlfriends who advise me on my love life ;)

That said, I definitely don’t date people for their money, and neither should you.

Wealthy people are usually just as tortured as regular people, and sometimes even more, if in different ways. It’s like that Tolstoy quote about happy and unhappy families, but also totally different? Was that a stretch? Tell me no!

Dating someone who comes from money (especially if you do not) will have all kinds of challenges of its own and is not a path to easy street. Seriously, too much money can make people MISERABLE and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (I have STOR.IES. about this for another time). If anything, growing up in different economic circumstances than your partner, regardless of what they are, has an effect on the way you see the world and will definitely influence your relationship.

The point is, and this was way better in my original draft, money is a bad reason to date someone, it doesn’t make all the problems in life go away (though having enough money certainly solves a lot of problems and makes relationships more stable), and it definitely can add new problems. Don’t rely on your own or someone else’s financial security for your happiness or joy in life. If you do, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.

Heck, even Pete Becker wasn’t satisfied with everything he had, including TWO Storm Troopers from Sharper Image (and he’s “our age!” - Chandler Bing, age 28): he gave up Monica to pursue his completely impossible dream of becoming the Ultimate Fighting Champion, and well, if that doesn’t prove my entire point, I’m just not sure anything will.

Shockingly, there were very few clips or screenshots of Monica’s stories. I can’t imagine that she’s the least favorite Friend, as that is unqustionably Ross, but maybe her bits don’t make funny .gifs…

What did you guys learn from Monica? Which stories did I miss? Have you ever had a dating situation complicated by one of you having money and the other not having money? Share in the comments!

Up next is MY FAVORITE FRIEND OF ALL TIME, Chandler Bing!