What Princesses Teach Us Not to Do When it Comes to Finances


by Amy-Willard Cross

Princesses and fairy tale heroines don’t make good role models.  They don’t have careers, or even a trade--financially they’re zeroes.  Financial planner Kathleen Grace was reading her daughter a princess story one night and realized, “Maybe this is why so many of us grow up believing a man is going to rescue us and save us and we’ll live happily ever after.”  There are no details about the after.  No sequels. No mention of the high divorce rate among real-life princes and princesses.

Not all Prince Charmings will turn out to be jerks who run off with an evil stepmother. Grace points out, your own prince could die, or have a stroke and not be able to carry off the financial part of the happily ever after.  Still where does that leave a modern day Snow White or Rapunzel? Grace puts it this way: “Prince Charming can’t rescue you--you have to rescue yourself first.”  

That realization inspired Grace to write a book of financial advice for women entitled Prince Not So Charming. After working as a financial planner for 23 years, Grace has been shocked to see women executives, physicians with Ivy league degrees, or daughters of educators who are still terribly uninformed about finances. “Our culture doesn’t give women the platform to be empowered financially or to be financially independent.”  She actually does a deep dive into the Cinderella story in her book, creating a modern day cautionary tale.  It inspired us at VITAMIN W to do the same. Note that we looked to traditional versions of the tales--and not the popular Disneyfied versions.

While most of us would not like to be like those fairy tale princesses, at least we can take away some useful financial lessons from their experience. Here's what not to do:

Cinderella – Her slave-driving stepsisters don’t let her go to the ball. Being forced to maintain the home and take care of her step-sisters and step-mother make Cinderella feel trapped, without options and looking for some way of being rescued. A fairy godmother gives her a dress and carriage so Cinderella can attend the ball. Meeting and dancing with Prince Charming presents her the opportunity to escape to a world which appears better, even blissful. She drops her glass slipper while running out and the prince searches for the woman with the glass slipper.

LESSON:  You don’t have to purchase all the finery you desire, you can use alternatives—like Rent the Runway.  Investors or mentors can give you advice and resources that prepare you for a better future. 

Rapunzel –When pregnant, Rapunzel’s mother craves a plant in the witch’s garden—when her husband is caught stealing, the witch demanded the child in payment.  When locked in the tower, Rapunzel used her long golden hair so the prince could visit her. In the intervening years: after Rapunzel is cast from the tower, she lives in the wilderness with her twins for many years before the prince finally arrives.

LESSON: Curb your desires for material objects out of your reach, the debts you will be forced to pay may affect the quality of your life for years and years are not worth the momentary joy (or vitamins) of the desired object.  And use whatever assets you have—no matter how untraditional--to reach your goals—or get out of your predicament.  With your children, you can build a life for yourself on your own--whether your prince returns or not. 

Snow White  While embroidering before Snow White’s birth, her mother wishes that her daughter be beautiful with white skin, instead of hoping she learns a trade—such as growing up to be a talented sewer. However, her beauty ruins her daughter’s future, who is hunted and eventually poisoned by her jealous stepmother. Snow White comes to live with the dwarfs,

LESSON: Snow White does not insist on being the eighth dwarf, and being treated equally; she takes on a gendered support roles and does not have equity in their operation.  If she worked alongside them instead of being stuck in a gendered unpaid role, she wouldn’t have been exposed to her stepmother ambushing her at home alone. And she might have been able to afford her own place. By taking the poisoned apple from her stepmother, Snow White shows the danger of acting in blind faith. When working with new people, it is always important to do due diligence and check out their apple-selling peddler bona fides.

Sleeping Beauty  –   Beauty’s mother neglects to invite a witch to a party, who is so enraged she casts a spell that places the girl in a sleeping trance which can be broken only by love's true kiss.  Then the rest of the town is put under another spell, joining her in the trance—a wandering Prince’s true loves kiss brings them all back to life.  

LESSON:  In business and life, try to avoid getting on the wrong side of powerful people who can misuse their power to hurt you. Be awake about your financial future--and don’t expect one man to bring you-- or your finances--back to life. Don't delay  living--or making plans, financial or otherwise-- for the future while you wait for that perfect person.Your true love may arrive at some point in the future, or it may not. True love doesn’t start life, but augments a life already in progress.

Red Riding Hood –  The little girl encounters a wolf in the forest who later impersonates her grandmother and eats her up.   The woodsman, hacks the wolf and Hood pops out of him. 

LESSON: Always do due diligence—even when you think you know people, it’s important to interview financial planners. And beware of wolves dressed in grannies’ clothing.

Beauty and The Beast – Although Belle’s greedy sisters ask for extravagant presents,  the youngest sister requests only that her father bring her a sole red rose.  He takes a rose from a beast’s garden, who demands the trespasser’s daughter in return.

LESSON: Don’t ask for too little in life—negotiate for your fair share.  Be assertive and don’t let bad self-esteem get in your way.  Otherwise, you can put yourself in potential danger and can become dependent on a man.  Getting a pre-nup is also a good idea, if you marry someone who turns out not to be what he seems (and a beast).

Little Mermaid – After saving a prince from a shipwreck, the mermaid wants to be with him so much she trades her fin and voice for human legs  just for the opportunity to spend time with the prince. Then she gives up everything in her previous life, friend and family and home, in order to marry him. She will get eternal life only is she has love’s true kiss. However, the Prince married the girl who he thinks saved him.  And the mermaid turns into foam. 

LESSON:  Love which requires total relinquishment of self and everything one knows and cares about is no love at all. If you enter a world where you do not belong you will be entirely beholden to your prince. You will not be able to pursue a life or your choosing and will have no means of financial survival should the prince not be the man she expects. This is not love, but servitude. It is a loss of self and of freedom. You could disappear into the ocean's foam--with no estate to leave behind.

The Red Shoes  -- A peasant girl who is adopted by a wealthy woman, makes her buy a pair of beautiful red shoes.  The vain girl loves the shoes so much, she wears them to church, and goes to a party instead of taking care of her sick mother.  The shoes start dancing on their own, nonstop, until she nearly drops from exhaustion and practical kill her. 

LESSON:   Some purchases quickly lose their initial value and actually end up costing you in other ways and can eventually take over your life.

Image: courtesy of Rebecca Cohen