10 Finance Documentaries to Put on Your Watch List

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When I was in my early 20s, my idea of a great Saturday night was hanging out in my apartment watching “The Suze Orman Show” and Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” on TV while my boyfriend played video games in the other room.

Super nerdy, I know. It’s no wonder I ended up writing about personal finance for a living.

Although I’m a big advocate of reading articles and books or taking courses to increase your financial knowledge, there’s value in watching shows and movies about money, too — especially if you’re a visual learner, or television happens to be your medium of choice.

Some of the money-related content on TV and in the movies is definitely for entertainment purposes only, but the finance documentaries on this list are designed to inform and educate. They might even change the way you think about money.

So grab a bowl of popcorn — and a notepad to take notes. Happy watching!

10 Must-Watch Documentaries About Money and Finance

Add these financial documentaries to your streaming list.

1. ‘Playing with FIRE’

Retiring in your 30s or 40s may seem unrealistic to most, but it’s the goal for many who follow the FIRE movement. FIRE is an acronym for “financially independent retire early,” and it’s built on the premise that by investing aggressively in your early years, you can shave decades off your retirement date.

Playing with FIRE” showcases one couple’s journey to understand what it’s like to reject societal norms and pursue financial independence. It features notable advocates of the FIRE movement, such as Vicki Robin, the author of “Your Money or Your Life,” and Pete Adeney, creator of the website Mr. Money Mustache.

You can rent this 75-minute documentary on Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Vimeo or the Microsoft Store.

A screen shot of Money, Explained: a documentary on Netflix.
Photo courtesy of Netflix

2. ‘Money, Explained’

Money, Explained” is a docuseries by Vox and Netflix that breaks down five topics: financial scams, credit card debt, student loans, gambling and retirement. The episodes highlight how people’s financial lives are affected by each topic.

Narrated by celebrities including Tiffany Haddish, Bobby Cannavale and Jane Lynch, each episode includes a mix of interviews sprinkled with colorful infographics, making them both informative and entertaining. They are pretty succinct at about 22 minutes each, so you could watch the entire series in one sitting.

Looking for a good book about money? Here’s a list of the best personal finance books.

3. ‘Thinking Money: The Psychology Behind Our Best and Worst Financial Decisions’

Despite our best efforts, we all end up making mistakes with our finances. We indulge in retail therapy after a bad day, or we fall victim to impulse buying after coming to the store to get one thing.

We’re human after all, and we don’t always think rationally.

Thinking Money,” a PBS documentary, gives us a look into behavioral economics — what drives us to make the financial decisions we do. Dave Coyne, the host of this hourlong documentary, talks to experts around the country to explore the psychology behind why we spend and save.

4. ‘LuLaRich’

If you’ve ever had to block someone on social media after receiving one too many invites to “parties” disguised as opportunities to rope you into a multilevel marketing company, this docuseries is for you.

LuLaRich” documents the rise and fall of LuLaRoe, a popular MLM famous for its subpar leggings. Although the leaders of the business claimed LuLaRoe was an opportunity for women to be their own boss and work from home on their own terms, many found that it drained them of their savings and sank them into debt.

“LuLaRich” can be found on Prime Video. The story is broken into a four-part series, with each episode lasting roughly 45 minutes.

Watch this as a cautionary tale to avoid business opportunities that seem too good to be true.

5. ‘Inside Job’

Caution: This documentary may cause you to yell at the screen.

Inside Job” centers on the 2008 financial crisis, exploring what led to the economic collapse and how it all could have been prevented. It highlights how the decisions of the wealthy and powerful financial industry titans on Wall Street led to the immense downfall of so many.

This nearly two-hour documentary is narrated by Matt Damon and won an Academy Award. It’s available to rent on Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, the Microsoft Store and AMC on Demand.

6. ‘The American Nightmare’

Excuse the self-promotion, but this documentary produced by The Penny Hoarder had to make it onto this list.

The American Nightmare” gives a glimpse into the lives of families 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis. People who once believed in the American dream of homeownership found it to be a nightmare with long-lasting effects. This film shows what it’s like to rebuild after experiencing a major financial downfall.

This 42-minute documentary was nominated for a regional Emmy Award and is available on YouTube.

7. ‘Spent: Looking for Change’

Spent: Looking for Change” explores what it’s like to be unbanked, underemployed and relying on check cashing services and payday loans just to get by.

This 40-minute film narrated by Tyler Perry follows the lives of everyday people who find themselves struggling with the added costs of being excluded from traditional banking services. It also shows how one event — like a family member being diagnosed with a serious medical condition — can upend someone’s entire financial life.

This documentary, which is sponsored by American Express, can be viewed on YouTube.

8. ‘The Most Important Class You’ve Never Had’

Wish you would have learned about personal finance back when you were in school? You’re not alone.

Luckily, there are some educators and school districts out there that are making personal finance part of the curriculum. “The Most Important Class You’ve Never Had,” a 37-minute documentary from Next Gen Personal Finance, features eight high school teachers who are educating the next generation about money.

These teachers are raising awareness about making smart consumer choices, understanding key financial concepts and investing in the stock market. This documentary shows that teaching teens doesn’t just improve students’ relationship with money, but it can have a positive impact on their parents’ financial situations, too.

It’s available on YouTube.

9. ‘Freakonomics: The Movie’

Released in 2010, “Freakonomics: The Movie” is an American documentary based on the 2005 book of the same name by economist Steven D. Levitt. The film brings to life a collection of articles written by Levitt that explore economic theory by applying it to diverse subjects.

If you want to understand the economy and the financial world better, watch “Freakonomics.” The film is broken into four segments over 85 minutes so that anyone can get a glimpse behind the economic curtain.

If you enjoy the documentary, it may incentivize you to read the original book. An entire host of media follows the “Freakonomics” franchise, including a book sequel, a weekly blog and a radio segment on NPR.

The documentary is available on Prime Video, Hulu, Hoopla, Peacock, Vudu, Kanopy and more.

10. ‘Maxed Out’

It’s difficult to feel as though the entire credit card industry isn’t after individuals with abusive practices. James Duncan Scurlock, a financial adviser, takes a closer look at this concept in his 90-minute documentary “Maxed Out.”

Originally premiering at the South by Southwest film festival, “Maxed Out” aims to raise social awareness of how credit and lending issues hurt consumers. Scurlock sets out to show how banks and creditors deliberately market to people who are likely to have problems paying them back.

The film had such an impactful message that the nonprofit organization Americans for Fairness in Lending (AFFIL) organized multiple screenings around the country.

“Maxed Out” is available on YouTube.

Michael Archambault is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder specializing in technology. Nicole Dow is a former senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.