Financial Lessons from Don Draper

Don-DraperAMC’s drama Mad Men, a show about group of ad men (and women) going through the turbulent cultural upheaval of the 60s, has as its protagonist the enigmatic Don Draper, a brilliant advertising mind with a cloudy past. Don is portrayed as an ideal; the woman love him and the guys want to be like him. No strand of hair is out of place, his suit is always perfectly pressed and he’s never flustered, but Don is ultimately a tragic figure. His views on money and life lead him through a very sad existence, but they are perfect examples of what not to do if you want to lead a fulfilling life.

So shut the door and have a seat while we take a look at what Mr. Draper can teach us about finance.

1. Know where your happiness is.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.” – Don Draper

As Christians we know in our heads that true happiness and freedom from fear comes from living the lives God intended for us. But moving that knowledge from our heads to our hearts is a herculean task. Our hearts long for that new car smell or that shiny new toy that is sure to satisfy us. We look to stuff to give us security and calm our fears, but our stuff ends up becoming the source of anxiety.

Remind yourself that your happiness, security and satisfaction come from one place alone.

2. Don’t believe the hype.

“The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” – Don Draper

Almost everyone I meet tells me, “advertising doesn’t work on me.” If this were true, no company would still be in business. U.S. companies wouldn’t invest $80 billion a year on it if it didn’t.

The fact is, we are all influenced by advertising whether realize it or not. More and more research supports that idea that ads work on us subliminally. We take it in, process it, and buy without ever having a conscious thought about it.

Part of managing our money well is learning to limit our exposure and be really conscientious when we buy things, trying to unlearn things we don’t even realize we know. Be skeptical. Ask yourself if the product is really better. Is it something you really need? Use independent research like consumer reports or product reviews to make informed decisions about everything you purchase.

3. Spend less than you make.

“I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” – Don Draper

It seems like a no brainer, but spending more than you bring in is a recipe for stress. Don Draper and Sterling Cooper, the ad agency in Mad Men, almost go belly up from expanding too fast and losing an essential client. They also often spending too much to keep up appearances for a new client.

Always know how much is coming in and how much is going out and make sure the former is greater than the latter.

4. Be Content.

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what he had.” – Don Draper

Don is never happy with what he has. Even in the midst of great success, he aches for more. God has a remedy for this. He tells us to be content with what we have. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

We know we can be content because God is in control and all the junk that fills our lives now is transitory. “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” – 1 Timothy 6:8

Are you a Mad Men fan? What lessons have you learned from Don?


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