Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, my six-year-old daughter, Josie, told me her New Year’s Resolution: to have a summer lemonade stand. “I’m going to make my family rich,” she said. As a financial planner, we talk about money relatively openly in my house. And recently, I’ve heard Josie start to explore the concept of wealth, or in her words “rich”. I’m not sure where she’s going with this, but I’m listening. And we’re talking. And exploring what it might mean to be rich and why that might matter.
With this money-focused start to the year, I unknowingly enrolled Josie in a two-hour lesson on finance, especially women and money. We attended Little Women with a friend and as I enjoyed a masterful retelling by emerging female director, Greta Gerwig, I reflected on the rich layers of money lessons woven into the film and Louisa May Alcott’s original work.
Money is the means and the ends of my mercenary existence. – Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is centered on the means women had to make their way in the world. A house dominated by the lives of daughters and month with away or in the background, planning to make their way in the world is a primary plot point. From Meg’s desire to marry, while sister Jo wants Meg to join her in creative crafts, Amy’s plots to marry for money and take care of the family, the narrow paths to manage an existence of limited means are detailed in a realistic manner.
Josie kept asking why Jo’s hair was gone. We talked about how you can get money when you need it, in this case to help with their injured war-wounded father, and I explained that this was why Jo had sold her hair.
Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes. – Louisa May Alcott
Entrepreneurialism and creative compromise.
Jo represents herself as she works to find compensation for her craft as a writer as we can imagine Louisa May Alcott must have also done. She explains her decision to write more pulpy content which was deemed more commercially marketable. The negotiation to sell her book with a happy ending – a married Jo – is explored in a thoughtful and modern nod to the author’s potential desires. A businessperson also knows the tension between passion and monetization.
“Work is and always has been my salvation and I thank the Lord for it.” – Louisa May Alcott
There is a gift at the end of the film – a negotiation between Jo and her publisher for payment, royalties, and copyright of her book, also named Little Women. Alcott herself retained copyrights to her works, a lucrative According to a 2018 Robert Half study, less women negotiate for a higher salary than men. The negotiation scene shows the risk, reward, and long-term impact of advocating for yourself.
All these lessons are wrapped into a narrative that explores the concept of enough, shines light on the life of have nots while society today glorifies the haves, and tells a delightful, heartfelt, emotional story. Take the time to see this show with your daughters and sons. And make sure to note the money lessons for discussion on the drive home. For Josie and me, her 2020 lemonade stand will be more meaningful due to the life and lessons of Jo and the March sisters.