4 Unexpected Money & Life Lessons We Can Learn from Matilda

4 Unexpected Money & Life Lessons We Can Learn from Matilda, The Musical

original image  via

original image via

Kids are way cooler than you.

Sorry, but I know it, you probably know it, and Roald Dahl certainly knew it.

Kids have endless capacities for love, boundless imaginations and generally incredible ideas for how the world should be run. But they’re littler than us, and somehow that makes their ideas less valid. But not according to Roald Dahl.

He understood the mind and motivation of children, and he penned some of the most memorable stories of all time with them at the helm. Like:

  • Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

  • James & the Giant Peach

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox

  • The Witches

I love his writing because he doesn’t reduce a child down to a simpleton, and he doesn’t shy away from dark, realistic undercurrents in his stories. No one has ever quite grasped the underdog like Roald Dahl.

In fact, my all-time favorite underdog came from his brain: Matilda Wormwood, of course. She’s a voracious reader who is the hero of her own story.

I love Matilda so much, I incorporated her into our wedding’s seating arrangement, as I did with all my favorite books (NERD ALERT!).

matilda quote for wedding seating chart

(I’ve already told you that my dad has accused me of eating books, not reading them, so it’s no wonder why I thought she was the coolest. Plus, there’s the whole magic power thing, too.)

If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, it basically goes a little something like this: Matilda is different. She’s brilliant. While her cheesy parents watch TV, Matilda consumes “Wuthering Heights.” While they swindle good people out of their money, Matilda reads “Moby Dick.” Eventually, Matilda overcomes her lot in life and sees victory over the evil Miss Trunchbull, the school principal, by harnessing a special ability to control inanimate objects around her.

In the end, Roald Dahl gives her the capability to overcome her biggest enemies with a power that was inside of her the whole time.


Whew, need to pivot, I’m going to get emotional if we keep talking about Roald Dahl.

Anyway, this book was turned into a musical several years ago by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, and the music BLEW me away. It took the inspiring story at the core of the book and put it to a melody that’s hard to forget.

I’ve never even seen it performed live (I did have a friend in it awhile back. Should’ve played that card when I could’ve. MISSED OPPORTUNITY.) Still, the first time I heard the music, I felt gutted.

My love of musical theatre is not really a secret. As a writer, I appreciate how the plot must progress through the songs. As an obnoxious roommate, I appreciate how gratifying it is to burst into song for no reason at all.



See also: 8 Things Show Business Taught Me About Money



But this musical’s poignant lyrics and childlike enthusiasm with which they’re delivered just smacked me right when I needed them most.

Roald Dahl (and, later, Tim Minchin) offers such important lessons to all of us in the shape of such a little girl.

[UPDATE: This Boston Globe article offers a deeper look into the mind of Tim Minchin (which I very helpfully stumbled upon AFTER this post was 99% complete). Theatre nerds will appreciate it. Looking at you, Mom.]


Surprisingly, these lessons translate quite profoundly to life and money, and how we should approach both. First things first, listen to this song, and then you’ll be able to hear the money lessons below just a little more clearly:

"Naughty" from Matilda the Musical, London Cast | Video courtesy of secretagenttigress via YouTube

1.) Cling to childlike courage.

Save money ideas - how to save money according to Matilda

Even if you’re little you can do a lot/ You mustn’t let a little thing like “little” stop you.

We don’t learn how to dream big. We unlearn it. And as adults, we must fight every day to get a sliver of it back.

Think back to when you were four years old and somebody asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up.

What was your answer?

Until I was about three, my answer was SO clear to me: I was going to be a firefighter. I had a cool “fi-fighta cup” so I took that as a sign for my career path. Obviously.

Then, my answer switched to “ballerina.” (That one did pan out more fully than the firefighter, actually. Read all about my life as a dancer and THAT wild ride here.)

I had a vision. The getting-there part I’d just figure out and make it happen.

Likely, when you were a little kid, you had a vision of how your life would play out. You’d be an astronaut, or a chef, and you’d be able to pull into McDonald’s ANYTIME you wanted. Being an adult was going to be so FREEING.

Slowly, life introduces us to a series of barriers.

You’re not from the right family. You’ll never be able to afford the equipment. You’re the wrong color. You’re not pretty enough. You’re too little.

Matilda teaches us that your age, height, status, inexperience — any of it — isn’t enough to hold you back.

Stop letting the fear of what might happen keep you from starting.

I’m not saying you should blindly throw $10K into a random stock because it’s a game, and you’re being naughty and who cares. That’s not it at all.

Children often have a much more logical thought process than adults, because they haven’t introduced all the what-ifs and well-here’s-why-nots that we love to bring into the conversation as we grow up. Perhaps “linear” is a better word than logical. I must be something, therefore I will be a ballerina. If A, then B.

We unlearn how to see endless possibilities as we grow up, and inject fear into our aspirations. Those fears become the walls around which we shape our lives. The walls that box us in.

Strive toward childlike simplicity. I want to be an astronaut. I want to learn to fly. I want to be financially independent. I want a job that I don’t hate. I want a community of people who love me.

I don’t like this story. I’m going to stop reading it. Better yet, I’m going to stop writing it.

Keep you dream massive and your purpose simple. Like a child.

Don’t let fear play the leading role in your life and your money decisions.



2.) Go against the grain.

Matilda, the Musical taught me so much -- but I didn't expect to learn this about my money! Read these 4 important money ideas on the blog now | MissFunctional Money #matilda #savemoney #moneyideas

I wonder why they didn’t just change their story? / We're told we have to do what we're told but surely / Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

This applies to so many different parts of life, but since this is a money blog, let’s start there.

We’re told the rules of how to achieve a certain life path, a certain education, a certain retirement plan. And it’s not all bad. We crave structure amidst a chaotic world, right? But these ideas should be suggestions, applied only if they are the right decision for YOU.

It’s OK to break the rules sometimes.

It’s OK to be different.

Sometimes, boundaries exist just so that we can measure how far beyond them we can reach.

Society tells you the rules for a respectable career path.

Your bank tells you it’s normal to carry an ungodly amount of debt.

Social media tells you what it takes to be liked.

And sometimes, the rules are stupid.

So.

Break the rules. The most remarkable people do.




3.) You have to start somewhere.

how to save money according to matilda

Every day starts with the tick of a clock
All escapes start with the click of a lock!
If you're stuck in your story and want to get out
You don't have to cry, you don't have to shout!

You can’t have a lot until you have a little bit, right?

You can’t go fast until you start slow.

When it comes to your life — your money — you don’t have to have it all figured out in order to move forward.

You just have to start.

You can only save $50 every other paycheck? Start this month. Don’t have time to work out every single day? Start with once a week. Want to write a book? One word at a time.

A little bit at a time, you can change your outcome.

This is not a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” message.

It’s about the daily shift in mindset that has to take place in yourself before you can expect a major change. It’s about fighting one small battle at a time. Collecting one little victory at a time. Rebelling in the tiniest of ways. Because: In the slip of a bolt there’s a tiny revolt.

Just start.

RELATED READ: Where Everyone Should Start With Personal Finance — Even If You’re “Bad” at Money


4.) It’s up to you.

Matilda, the Musical taught me so much -- but I didn't expect to learn this about my money! Read these 4 important money ideas on the blog now | MissFunctional Money #matilda #savemoney #moneyideas

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me
Nobody but me is gonna change my story
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s not your parents’ job. Not your banker’s job. Not any one blogger’s job. Your financial success is your job.

Certainly, different people have different legs up in the world, or different advantages. Finding a helpful mentor or lucking across a caring teacher is a blessing. But I’m talking big picture, zoomed out, across the board: The way your money journey ends is up to you.

Arm yourself with knowledge. Ask questions, research feverishly, read. Take charge of your time, your actions and your story.
It’s yours. And nobody can take that away.

Here are the full lyrics. I FULLY recommend closing your office door, cranking the volume to high and singing along at an ear-splitting level, as God and nature intended.

Jack and Jill, went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water, so they say
Their subsequent fall was inevitable
They never stood a chance, they were written that way
Innocent victims of their story

Like Romeo and Juliet
T'was written in the stars before they even met
That love and fate, and a touch of stupidity
Would rob them of their hope of living happily
The endings are often a little bit gory
I wonder why they didn't just change their story?
We're told we have to do what we're told but surely
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

Just because you find that life's not fair it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it

If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change

Even if you're little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn't let a little thing like, 'little' stop you

If you sit around and let them get on top,
You might as well be saying
You think that it's okay
And that's not right!

Cinderella in the cellar
Didn't have to do much, as far as I could tell
Her godmother was two thirds fairy
And suddenly her lot was a lot less scary
But what if you haven't got a fairy to fix it
Sometimes you have to make a little bit of mischief

Just because you find that life's not fair it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it

If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change

Even if you're little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn't let a little thing like, 'little' stop you

If you sit around and let them get on top,
You might as well be saying
You think that it's okay
And that's not right!
And if not that's not right
You to put it right

In the slip of a bolt, there's a tiny revolt
The seeds of a war in the creak of a floorboard
A storm can begin, with the flap of a wing
The tiniest mite packs the mightiest sting!
Every day starts with the tick of a clock
All escapes start with the click of a lock!
If you're stuck in your story and want to get out
You don't have to cry, you don't have to shout!

Even if you're little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn't let a little thing like, 'little' stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top, you won't change a thing
Just because you find that life's not fair it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it!
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
You might as well be saying
You think that it's okay
And that's not right!
And if it's not right!
You have to put it right!

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me
Nobody but me is gonna change my story
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

Songwriters: Tim David Minchin

Naughty lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Limited


Here’s a bonus lesson:

Books are magical.

They open an entire world, keep imaginations alive and can genuinely transform lives. I could write an entire post about how amazing books are — in fact, I will soon. The power of words cannot be overstated.

I love books. I can’t picture my world without them. That’s why it breaks my heart to think about little boys and girls right here in my community that don’t have access to the same magical worlds that I did when I was their age.

Access to books is a privilege — one denied to many children in our own backyards. The significance of early access to books has decades upon decades of academic research backing it up. Lower violence rates. (Vastly) higher rates of high school completion. Greater chance of steady employment later in life. The list goes on and on and on. Like I said, I’ll come back later with a full-on soap-box spiel on Why We Should All Care Deeply About Local Illiteracy.

For now…
If you’re in the Charleston, South Carolina, region, My First Books SC - An Initiative of Palmetto Project is a good place to start if you want to learn more about the impact of early access to books. Windwood Family Services, although not specifically centered around literacy, does an enormous amount of good in our local area, including literacy efforts.

If you live outside of Charleston, your local library is a good place to start with inquiries about literacy programs, volunteer needs and reputable organizations that merit your donations.

But back to Matilda.

What’s your ideal happy ending? What lessons must you unlearn now that you’re an adult?

I know where I’m starting. When it comes to goals, I’m starting with the impractical, instead of listing every practical barrier that could every possibly get in my way. I’m starting with more imagination and less fear. More gratitude and less complaining. More bursting into song, less grumbling.

That’s what my 2019 is going to look like. What about you?

Did you love Matilda growing up? What was your favorite book as a kid? I LOVE talking about first favorites and all-time best books — drop me a comment below and let me know!

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original illustration: © Quentin Blake 2016

original illustration: © Quentin Blake 2016