5 Financial Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life

With apologies to Clark Griswold and his 250 strands of light, there's isn't a better movie this time of year than the classic It's A Wonderful LIfe. The film starring, Jimmy Stewart, is a holiday tradition in many families and continues to provide valuable lessons on what's most important in life to new generations.

You normally wouldn't associate a heartwarming tale of an angel getting his wings with big business, but the truth is that the movie's key messages can be valuable when applied to almost any endeavor. 

As we head to the finish line of 2013, here are five Wonderful lessons businesses and stockholders can apply to their strategy next year.

1. Being the 'richest man in town' starts with building great relationships.

George Bailey was celebrated in the film not for his material wealth but for the number of great friends he possessed. It is these relationships that allowed him to achieve great things.

It's a lesson former Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) executive Scott Forstall, and others like him, may want to consider. Forstall has spent most of 2013 in seclusion after being forced out late last year at Apple. He was said to be pushed out because he had a bad relationship with many other top executives at the company.

Business Insider reported recently that Forstall may finally be looking to start his own company at some point after his year in hiding. He and others looking to make a move next year would do well to follow Bailey's example and set up a strong infrastructure of people that will help catch you if you fall, not push you out the door. "No man is a failure if he has friends."

2. Sometimes the experts are wrong.

The movie that is now universally lauded as one of the best American films ever made was shut out on all five of its Oscar nominations back in the day. LIstening to the pundits isn't always the best strategy to follow. A true Fool does his own research and then makes up his own mind. The next time some financial analyst, talking head, or message board know-it-all has a knee-jerk reaction, let the voice of your guardian angel, and the copious amount of research you've done, guide your decision instead.

3. Your arrogance will eventually be your downfall.

Mr. Potter, the villain of It's A Wonderful LIfe, had no issue looking down his nose at those he didn't deem worthy of his time. The same could be said for former Lululemon  (NASDAQ: LULU  ) chairman Chip Wilson, who infamously claimed some women were not worthy of wearing his brand. Mr. Potter ended up watching George Bailey overcome the situation he had dealt him, and now Wilson will be watching from the sidelines as a new CEO attempts to fix the mess he's made. If you find success, be careful not to alienate those less fortunate than you. Chances are, you're going to regret it. 

4. 'Oh, look at this wonderful, old drafty house.'

Early in the film, after things start going wrong, Bailey is shown complaining about the family home and other things that normally would never bother him. But after getting a dose of reality from his guardian angel, he learns to appreciate what he already has.

It's easy as investors to get caught up in the latest news cycle, see stocks that are climbing at healthy rates, and then feel left behind when looking at our more modest gains or even a flat rate. Some of us might even try to chase after a stock in hopes of riding the wave. But it can never hurt to take a page from the redeemed Bailey and be grateful for the established and battle-tested portfolio you already possess.

5. Don't let Uncle Billy ruin you.

George employs his unproductive Uncle Billy because of his feelings for him and it nearly destroys Bailey and everyone around him. The anti-nepotism message of the movie isn't usually one of the more-discussed talking points, but even here a savvy stock market investor can learn a lesson. Plenty of portfolios out there have an Uncle Billy.

It's that stock you have a soft spot for because of the great times you've had together in the past, but those feelings of nostalgia may be blinding you to the current situation.  If you see signs of danger, don't keep holding on just hoping your Uncle Billy will suddenly be his old self again. Your bank account might not survive to see the day.

Here's hoping you can become the richest man (or woman) in town in 2014.

George Bailey's investing advice

It's no secret that investors tend to be impatient with the market, but the best investment strategy is to buy shares in solid businesses and keep them for the long term. In the special free report, "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich," The Motley Fool shares investment ideas and strategies that could help you build wealth for years to come. Click here to grab your free copy today.


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