6 money lessons from ‘Florence Foster Jenkins.’

thFor years I’ve been promoting the idea that personal finance tips can be found in all kinds of places:

Opera (“8 personal finance lessons from ‘Gotterdammerung’”)

Monster romps (“6 financial lessons from ‘Godzilla’”)

Westerns (“10 financial lessons from ‘True Grit’”)

Superhero flicks (“10 money lessons from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’”)

And even sled-dog races (“10 personal finance lessons from the Iditarod”).

See? You just have to know where to look.

My latest example is the Meryl Streep/Hugh Grant film “Florence Foster Jenkins.” The chameleonic Streep is by turns jaw-droppingly self-absorbed and touchingly vulnerable, and Hugh Grant is her complex, conflicted companion.

The real-life Jenkins, a New York socialite, was a patron of the arts. Also sometimes their torturer: She had the idea that she could sing. But she couldn’t. She really, really couldn’t.



Not to give away too much of the plot, Jenkins suffered from a physical malady that may have affected her ability truly to hear her own voice. Or maybe she was just gloriously deluded. Either way, she played to sold-out houses.


What does all this have to do with money? So glad you asked. “Florence Foster Jenkins” teaches the viewer to:


1. Ask the experts.

Jenkins took singing lessons (although they didn’t do her much good), had her concert posters professionally designed, and didn’t stint on things like costumes and accompanists. While the results were awful, they were beautifully staged.

Planning to do something life-changing, such as heading back to school or starting a cupcake truck? Talk before you leap! Seek out those in the know and talk about best practices. You might learn about a great scholarship or a small business grant; at the very least you’ll find tips and tactics on pacing yourself and building a clientele. Having a dream is great, but you likely need more than gumption to make it through.


2. Be ready to spend.

The socialite hired a professional accompanist (the marvelous Simon Helberg from “The Big Bang Theory,” who did his own piano playing), a noted vocal coach (much good though it did her), and designers to make her home and her shows beautiful.

While I’d never suggest you break the bank on a business, a home purchase or anything, really, I will say that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. For example, hiring a part-time assistant, even a virtual one, will free you up from mundane chores, allowing you to focus on developing your business.


3. Know that sometimes it really is you.

Jenkins was shielded from the truth because her shows were sold-out affairs. At first, her friends bought tickets to the smaller shindigs. Larger concerts were SRO because people wanted a good laugh; apparently audiences found ways of disguising their disdain by stamping, roaring and cheering, then laughing under the tumult.

So if someone says your blog is too wordy or your Etsy page unexciting or your whatever too whatever (or not whatever enough), look seriously at yourself. Haters gonna hate but sometimes they aren’t really haters. They’re people who know what they’re talking about because they do this for a living.

If that fiduciary you hired suggests that you’re not saving enough for retirement? Take his or her advice and step up your game. Should the tax professional warn that some of your business-related expenses are questionable, pay attention.


4. Develop a great Team You.

As noted, Jenkins asked her friends to buy tickets to her shows and her husband was, as they said back then, “devoted” to her. (That physical condition really was serious.) The household help was loyal and caring, too. Jenkins surrounded herself with people who gave a damn.

About to start a business, go back to school, trade your job for full-time parenthood or undertake some other life-changing project? A supportive spouse, friends who listen well, folks who have already done what you’re about to do – all will be there when you doubt yourself, ready to dole out hugs or swift kicks in the butt.


5. Believe in yourself.

Not to the point where you ignore those who are trying to tell you something (see above), mind you. But healthy self-esteem could help you, say, escape bad money habits that other people want you to keep because it benefits them. A stronger sense of self can also make you see that you are worth it and it is possible to change your life.


6. Give. Give. Give!

Sure, the concerts she gave were laughable affairs. But underneath the apparent egoism was the need to help boost morale during a dark time in the world. Jenkins promoted and supported the arts during peacetime, too. Sure, she could afford it – but she could also have opted to buy more gewgaws and country homes, too.

When I was at a very low point financially I still allotted $20 a month for charitable giving. It was a great morale booster, reminding me that despite how little I perceived that I had, I still had enough to write that monthly check and keep beans in the pot. Giving made Jenkins happy, it made me happy and it might make you happy, too.

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  1. I love #6 – give, give, give. It’s hard to believe that people having difficult financial times still find a way to help others. It’s a great reminder to everyone that there are probably many people less fortunate than you. Even if you can’t give money – you can give time.

    • Donna Freedman

      Or unused items. Or air miles, if you have any. Or points from programs like Swagbucks. Or cash in cards from Swagbucks or MyPoints. Or teach life skills, or tutor people, or anything else you have to share.

      Giving feels great.

  2. When I had the least, I still gave $20 in the offering plate each Sunday. When the church betrayed me, I took that $20 and helped people as I saw them struggling.

  3. Tina in NJ

    My dad (who’s been gone 15 years now) had her album years ago. My sister, Mom, and I went to see the movie and kept wishing a Dad was here to see it. It was a sweet movie. Streep is such a good actress!

    • Donna Freedman

      Streep is astounding. I’ll see anything she’s in.

      DF used to have a Florence Foster Jenkins recording, too. Anyone who’s interested can hear snippets of her singing on YouTube.

  4. #6 is definitely a concept to live by. Although you are encountering financial difficulties your ability to help should should not be forgotten. It does not matter how big you can give what matter is that you were able to give.

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