It’s smart money day!

Let’s get straight to the real news here:

  • There’s a Netflix documentary just released TODAY called Get Smart With Money
  • Somehow, old Mr. Money Mustache and several friends were brought in to play a part in making it. And I’m very happy with the results!
  • And you can watch the results here (which will be a big help for the success of the movie!):

Now let’s get to the real story behind this strange situation. Why did I accept this? Am I not supposed to be retired? Do you get paid a lot to be in a Netflix movie? And does that mean you become “famous” and your life changes? Read on to find these answers and more.

The origin

On a sunny afternoon in December 2020, I received an email from the co-owner of a filmmaking company with this title:

In-depth documentary – personal finance

Inside was a very well-written description of his movie idea, and a heartfelt invitation for me to be one of the people in it.

I immediately had my usual set of reactions: feeling flattered that someone really wanted me in their production. Then dread the thought of signing up for a bunch of “work” when I’m already far too busy doing fun and meaningful things as a retiree. Then a motivated excitement to respond immediately to say,

“Thank you very much, I’m honored, but no thanks, and good luck and maybe I could help via email as an occasional consultant if you need some ideas.”

Well, that failed. Because that filmmaker turned out to be Kristin Lazure, who then dragged her co-founder Stephanie Soechtig into the conversation, and together they run Atlas Moviesnot just another documentary company, but one of better those of the country.

Atlas has made super-edgy films about food, public health, guns, political cover-ups and more, all watchable and action-oriented. Looking at their previous titles, I realized that Atlas doesn’t just exist to create entertainment or profit from cheap controversy. They are willing to do the real work to dig up the real stories, with the goal of creating positive social change.

“Damn,” I thought. “How can I say no to this, if my goal with this MMM hobby is really to try and make a difference myself?”

I realized that of course doing screen and camera work is difficult and sometimes awkward and that it would waste some of the time I would normally spend writing blog posts. But in exchange, it would almost certainly reach many more people for every hour I invested in it, and just as importantly, it would reach New people, Netflix watchers who are probably a different group than blog readers.

And, if you put aside my serious-eyebrow-adult pretense of being all concerned and logical, I also thought it would be a lot of pleasure to be part of such a big, exciting and new experience. And damn it man, how nice to be able to go to a friend’s house and challenge them to put on YOUR OWN NETFLIX MOVIE!?!

So I said yes, and the giant ball started rolling real fast, and suddenly we’ve been spending all of 2021 going through a series of casual shoot days, and recording zoom calls, and d other silly and interesting experiments.

Some of them were indeed challenging (like being squeezed onto my patio with a dozen production crews in the blistering solar onslaught of a July afternoon, pretending to act naturally while answering questions of an interview, only stopping to wipe the occasional gallon of sweat from my brow.) But most of it was great fun. And it has led to wonderful new experiences and friendships for all of us.

One thing you’ll notice if you watch the movie is that I talk a big game about how hard it all is, but in the movie I just seem to just pop up once in a while, do a few bike rides and play with power tools, and oh yeah, I sometimes drop a few wise financial lines to help my students along the way. This is because our content was probably edited at a 100:1 ratio. They cover a plot of ground in this movie with a lot of people, and yet somehow it all feels natural and cohesive.

Probably my favorite part is that my old “purchase justification machine” concept, first described in this 2019 article about not buying Tesla, made it into the film as a a glorious and silly animated on-screen graphic – grinding away at Kim as she browses Amazon while leading her Peloton.

money and fame

Oh, and no, we weren’t paid much at all, especially if you work on an hourly basis. Documentaries like this have a high production budget when it comes to high-quality crew and equipment, but they somehow manage to get us on-camera participants to voluntarily give almost our time.

If you value fame or exposure, that alone could be considered a valuable form of payment. But in my case, any additional notoriety would be a downside – there’s very little real upside and quite a few privacy downsides, which in extreme situations can even lead to danger. However, I figured I was just one of many people in this movie, and that’s a small fish compared to Netflix’s overall ocean. When I weighed this against the benefits of sharing better financial and lifestyle habits, I made an optimistic guess and decided that the good aspects outweighed the bad. I’ll let you know how it goes now that the movie is out!

So what is the movie about?

The Atlas Films brought together four financial gurus, all from different backgrounds and styles (Paula pants, Tiffany Aliché, Ro$$ Macand myself.)

Then they asked us to send “casting calls” over the internet, summoning our ideal students with the offer of a year of free coaching – in exchange for everything being filmed and shared with the world.

Surprisingly, we received many responses – in the form of personal video stories of singles, couples and families, all lovely and heartfelt and leaving me wishing I had time to welcome and try to help everything of them.

In the end, I chose a young family of four from the same demographic that I’m targeting these blog posts at: high earners, high spenders wondering where all the money is going.

I taught my couple, John and Kim, how to streamline their initial spending budget of over $12,000 a month (!!), through things like more efficient grocery shopping and dining, monitoring a closer look at impulse purchases, thinking about housing, neighborhoods and school choice (private or public) and whether to consider longer-term secondary income streams to allow them to reduce their work.

As you’ll see in the film, the end results were both subtle and dramatic. And I’m happy to report that these subjects are now real friends and even live nearby so we can enjoy the results of their new, more fun lifestyle together.

So, I hope you enjoy both the movie and the backstory. I’m very glad I said “yes” after all, although I can guarantee that I won’t be coming back for a sequel or an ongoing series. The camera vans are long gone and my schedule is back to its perfectly open normal state.

With this small report to you now that I’m done, it’s back to my building projects here at home for the rest of this week, then I’m off camping deep in the mountains this weekend. Seventeen years later, this version of retirement is still the good life for me.

And I also wish you your own version of living the dream this week!


*September 6, 2022

In the comments: Did you watch the movie? If so, what did you think of it? How could it have been even better if you made the cuts?

My candid criticism, being a detail person, is that they tried to cover so much that they didn’t have much time for detail. But then again, you can’t teach all the details of such a vast subject with a simple documentary, and still keep it fun to watch. So hopefully the approachable and easy nature of the film will get people to start thinking about these things for themselves. Once the right seed is planted, better financial habits can take hold quite easily.

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