Financial Lessons Learned From Marilyn Monroe

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I had no idea Marilyn Monroe was so fiscally responsible! It does make sense that there were some money flaws, too. Nobody's perfect.

Or should I more properly state, “…from The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe,” which is a biography by J. Randy Taraborelli.  The bok was a great, anything-but-dry reconstruction of a life that both confirmed some of my assumptions and opened my eyes to realities that fly in the face of decades of gossip.

Monroe lived a sad life, but in all honesty, after reading this book, if I had met her in real life I would undoubtedly feel bad for her and want to help her, but I’d also probably be annoyed and find the woman a bit melodramatic. She had a hard childhood, but she made it sound oh-so-much worse for publicity’s sake.

Her ultimate demise was the pharmaceutical drug culture endorsed and encouraged by her industry at the time, which is a sad, shameful thing. Then again, it would appear that when she was at her best she was such a joy to be around–such a duplicitous character.

But isn’t that the case for all of humanity? We all hold within us light and dark.

Anyways, as I was reading I ran across a ton of financial lessons: some good and some bad. Any quotes I use are from Taraborelli’s work.

Don’t Let Any Man Hold You Back

From a young age, the men in Monroe’s life tried to keep her down. Or, more appropriately, tried to turn her into their ideal of what a woman should be: a home-making, doting wife that had no concerns outside of her marriage and family.

That wasn’t unusual for the time, but Marilyn wanted more. From a very young age she had a very specific goal of becoming a star. She chose her career over her marriages with Jim Dougherty and Joe DiMaggio, and while she may have never achieved ultimate happiness, she certainly achieved her goal.

If You’re Worth More, Demand More

Marilyn struggled with her relationship with her contractual overlord–Fox–for much of her career. After being cast for a film where she would play yet another dumb blonde (which frustrated her as she wanted to break out and take on more serious roles,) she found out she was being grossly underpaid compared to her peers.

To quote Taraborrelli’s account of the pursuant interaction:

“‘I’ve been in this business a long time, and I know what’s good for you,’ one executive told her.  ‘I’ve been in this business a very short time, but I know what’s better for me than you do,'” was Monroe’s reply.

YAS, Marilyn!

You know what? Her attitude worked. She didn’t have to do the movie she was disgruntled with, and when she resigned she got a $100,000 bonus.

Later on in her career she would establish her own production company to further her point and use as leverage to get paid more money. She was never paid commensurate to what she was worth, but she sure knew how to prove her point.

Show Up for Work

Monroe was constantly late to work. It frustrated the bejeezus out of her coworkers. Towards the end of her life it started getting so bad that a lot of times she wouldn’t even show up, citing one illness or another.

Granted, she was addicted to the meds her doctors were prescribing her and may have inherited a mental illness that hadn’t manifested itself in full-force until later in her short life, but her tardiness and constant absence eventually got her fired.

Lesson learned: show up to work.  So you can keep your job.

Your Home Doesn’t Have to be Lavish

Marilyn Monroe spent a good part of her childhood in a foster home that she cited as an adult was quite horrible, but in all reality was very loving. It was, however, modest.

Yet when she became a star, she didn’t go out and buy a mansion. In fact, her home as a grown woman was actually smaller than the one she spent her younger years in. Only a few rooms large, she loved it because it was her own and enjoyed entertaining there with no hint of shame. Had she managed the rest of her finances properly, she would be a personal finance role model.

Know Where Your Money’s Going

Towards the end of her life, her accountant advised Monroe to stop spending so lavishly. He had no idea where she was spending her money, and apparently neither did she. She only had $13,000 to her name.

Considering what she was making, that sure wasn’t a lot. It impacted those she left after she died. While she intended to leave $5,000/month to her mentally-ill mother for her hospitalization and care, her mother had to be removed from the high-class facility she was being treated at during her daughter’s life because the money simply wasn’t there.

Leave Your Estate to Someone

When Marilyn Monroe died, she was broke. The money she left to her family had already been spent.

But then, years later, something happened. All the work she did during her lifetime starting earning her money, and it all went to her estate. She had left part of it to her psychiatrist, and a larger portion to his acting coach.

It seems like an odd choice, but apparently it was a good one. When the money did start rolling in, her wishes regarding her family were fulfilled. And the owner of the estate (her coach’s widow) works hard to uphold her image and has the deepest respect for her. It would have been such a shame to just let that money go into anyone-who-could-grab-it’s hands.



What have you been reading lately?  Check out more recommendations on the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge.

28 thoughts on “Financial Lessons Learned From Marilyn Monroe

  1. Modest Money

    Great post. I admit that I didn’t know much about Marilyn Monroe’s life. It does sound like there were plenty of financial lessons to take from it though. Back then I’m sure all kinds of people tried to take advantage of her simply because she was a woman.

  2. Michelle

    My favorite Marilyn Monroe quote: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” That can relate to finances, too! My husband and I are sticking with each other and being supportive to one another throughout this debt-reduction process, instead of blaming each other. Love her!

  3. Meredith

    Never thought of learning financial lessons from Marilyn’s life, but these are great take-aways 🙂 And now obviously, I want to read the book!

    1. femmefrugality

      I wish I could have more respect for Lohan. I respect Monroe, but maybe that’s because time has removed me from her drama. That’s so cool that you saw her house!

  4. CF

    Interesting! I never read much into Marilyn Monroe’s life and had no idea she came from a foster home, or that she managed her finances so well.

  5. lil desiqua

    Wow, love how you combined book review and financial lessons! I had no idea about Ms. Monroe’s life- very interesting! I’m surprised that she’s not like these big stars today, buying lavish houses/cars/etc, definitely a great point. I never thought of leaving my estate to anyone either, but sounds like she had the right idea!

  6. Amanda

    All of this was fantastic advice from a woman that I didn’t expect to get the advice from 🙂 Thanks for sharing these from her book!

  7. Miss Caitlin S.

    oh cute! this post is like the definition of ‘femme frugality’- I assumed that most of the choices she made financially were horrible when I saw the post title (as she was such a mess)- but happy to hear she at least got her home right.

    very cute. thanks for the tips and history lesson! I appreciate both~

  8. Shilpan

    A nice take on someone less known for her financial affairs. This story also proves that, in the end, it’s not how much you make that matters as much as how deftly you manage your income.

  9. eemusings

    Recently I’ve been reading some business books for work, though I’m going to tackle The Glass Castle next!

    Monroe really is a fascinating figure – in a tragic way.

  10. Prudence Debtfree

    There is just an endless fascination about Marilyn Monroe! I wonder how differently her life would have unfolded if she had been born a few decades later. The Me Too movement would have been inconceivable in her time. She had a definite power, but ultimately, I believe she was used. Like you, I think I would be both compassionate and annoyed if I knew her. Not a simple character!


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