Today’s financial climate can be somewhat turbulent. Particularly for Millennials, who have often received the worse end of the fiscal stick — with Schwab’s 2019 Wealth Survey reporting that only 38% of those polled felt they were financially stable. For many, monetary goals can feel insurmountable.

But it’s not always so grim, and you don’t necessarily have to start your own criminal empire to avoid living paycheck to paycheck. History has shown us that there are those who have been able to overcome serious obstacles on their way to wealth or at least gain the confidence that comes with having a small safety net. Financial goals can come in a wide variety of forms, too — from boosting our personal savings, to doing what we can to fix a broken social system that makes poverty a reality for many.

Knowledge can be key to helping make our fiscal dreams a reality. As such, documentaries can be excellent places to start, giving us practical ideas to put into action, and motivational characters from whom to take inspiration.


Becoming an entrepreneur is more accessible now than at almost any other time. That’s not to say that it’s going to be easy. Starting a new enterprise can be laden with unexpected challenges. Even choosing a name can be fraught with the potential to limit your ability to expand into other markets, or fall foul of other companies already using the title. It’s here that learning from the stories of other entrepreneurs can be helpful. 

The mistakes of others can be instructive. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), is a cautionary tale of how greed can erode a business from within. But, perhaps more useful to the new business owner is Generation Startup (2016), which follows six recent college graduates from diverse backgrounds on their journey to found and build their own enterprises. Shot over the course of 17 months, the documentary gives an honest look at the risks that entrepreneurs sometimes have to take, and how to learn from failure on the road to success.   

One of the key sources of project financing today is crowdfunding. In 2018, it was reported that 41.4% of all successful crowdfunding was for business and entrepreneurship. Capital C (2015) can give entrepreneurs some insights into how to successfully run a crowdfunding campaign to raise capital for a business venture. Shot over 3 years, it tracks the progress of 3 different types of businesses; a hand-drawn poker card creator, a knitted koozie manufacturer, and a video game production company. The documentary itself is a product of its subject, as it was partially funded as the result of a Kickstarter campaign.   

Personal Finances

Keeping our savings and investments in check is not a particularly exciting subject for most of us. It is nonetheless important to the continued health of our finances that we give them some attention. There aren’t a great many documentaries on the subject of how we can keep more of our hard-earned cash. There are however some that give us insight into how the financial systems work and can help us make more informed decisions. 

Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders (2006) remains an important resource on the subject of credit card debt in the U.S. It examines the abusive practices undertaken by lenders, including an example of a debt recovery company that used vulnerable consumers’ personal information to humiliate them into paying debts. It helps to highlight what tactics lenders use to prey on the most vulnerable, and notes the types of credit plans to avoid.

While many of us are focused on our current finances, The Retirement Gamble (2013) can act as something of a wake-up call to make certain that our financial goals for our future are met too. Created as part of the PBS Frontline series, the film explores the underhanded dealings occurring in the U.S. retirement plan industry and reveals that most Americans are not even close to having enough funds saved to sustain them during retirement. It also goes into some practical advice, including partnering with financial advisors to create a low cost, diverse savings portfolio. 

Financial and Social Systems 

Our financial goals don’t need to stop simply at those aspects that affect us directly. Many of us are acutely aware of the systemic problems that can prevent us from building a stable financial base, or owning a home. There is work to be done to reform the social framework. Most of us already engage in small but impactful acts, such as donating used items to charities; many of which now accept larger and electrical items and can arrange for collection.

But documentaries can help give us a guide to where we can push further. UBI, Our Right to Live (2019) is a film, available on YouTube, that explores how universal basic income (UBI) can be instrumental in minimizing or eradicating poverty. While UBI is nothing new, it has been a popular part of political discourse in the past couple of years since Andrew Yang posited it as a key part of his presidential candidacy. Promoting films like UBI can be an important tool in educating voters on how this method — which provides all citizens with a small, no-strings, guaranteed income each month — could help our society function more fairly. 

Another key area that can be detrimental to financial stability is the U.S. healthcare system. One recent report shows that around 137 million Americans faced financial hardship as a result of health costs in the preceding year. The documentary Sicko (2007) gives a stark look into how the health insurance industry in the U.S. operates. It’s also a good introduction to how universal healthcare has been successful around the globe. 


Financial goals can take a variety of forms, and each can benefit from taking the time to expand our knowledge. Documentaries can provide an excellent jumping-off point, helping highlight important issues of finance, and spurring our curiosity in a way that leads us to explore further.

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