I am one of those Grey’s Anatomy people. You know the ones — we love a good Grey’s meme. We sort of think we’re doctors. We have entire Instagram accounts dedicated to “shipping” Japril (even though April is literally leaving the show, and Jackson is in a scandalous and lowkey inappropriate relationship with sort-of stepsister Maggie). We still have dreams about Derek Shepherd. We sometimes cry late at night thinking about how Meredith deserves so much better. We have a lot of feelings, and we’re not afraid to show them.
But here’s something you may not know about the Grey’s Anatomy fan community: we have learned a lot about money. The show isn’t necessarily focused on the financial aspects of the doctors’ lives, but it is touched upon often — and even when it isn’t, we still know it’s there. The money these characters are earning in their imaginary universe is big, and we know it. It is the elephant in the operating room. It is the reason they can afford things like last-minute plane tickets to Germany, and 80 hours a week of childcare on a single income, and a boat, and a new car, and a dream house, and, um… an entire hospital. (Yes, these are all things that money has been spent on in this show.)
Over the past 14 seasons, there have been a lot of money lessons to be learned. There was the time Alex went into private practice because he needed to aggressively pay off his loans, even though it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted to do. There was the time Arizona decided she needed roommates after her divorce, even as a thirty-something mother and homeowner, because she didn’t feel comfortable affording it on her own. There was the time April refused to send out her laundry and buy expensive lattes because she knew it was more economical to wash her clothes and make coffee at home (although her husband didn’t quite agree).
The characters in this show, although high-earning and in powerful career positions, made a lot of careful, calculated decisions when it came to their money. Here are a few of the most important money lessons I took from my favorite imaginary doctors.
1. Live as below your means as comfortable and possible, and don’t spend money just because you have it.
The characters in Grey’s are six-figure earners (minus the residents, who are earning about $40k a year to work 100-hour weeks — if you’re in a hospital and a resident is taking care of you, remember that they’re little saints), and yet, most of them live with roommates. Most of them live in humble apartments instead of the sprawling mansions we know they can probably afford. We rarely see them spending extravagantly, if at all.
Living below your means is something that we discuss on TFD a lot, and we also often touch on the fact that it isn’t always possible if your means can hardly get you what you need. But whenever and wherever it is possible, living below your means is a good way of making sure you are saving money each month and preventing yourself from ever being caught in a situation where you are one emergency away from stretching paycheck-to-paycheck and no longer being able to afford your most basic necessities. I can’t quite imagine being an accomplished surgeon and still living with tons of roommates, but I can’t say it is a bad idea — these characters know how to save their money, and don’t value ~living large~ over making practical decisions.
One of the most admirable things about the characters in this show is that they are such high earners, but they truly don’t live like it. They focus on their careers and their families, and seem to love the things that are meaningful in their lives more than they love the paychecks they are earning. And this is definitely easier said than done, and probably very specific to high earners — if you are earning the bare minimum you need to comfortably survive, you need to spend most of your money, and that’s okay. I don’t earn a huge amount of money and definitely am not trying to live on much less than I’m earning, because it would be really difficult to do. But it’s interesting to sit and think about what you might do if you were earning more money than you knew what to do with. Would you save it all? Max out your retirement account every year? Start college funds for your kids? Donate to charity? Spend it on whatever your heart desired? There are so many things to do with money (especially when you have it in excess) that don’t involve spending and spending and spending. Watching the characters on Grey’s earn a lot of money and not let it drastically change their lifestyles is an excellent example of that.
2. It is okay to love work, but you need to love other stuff, too.
I’ve seen every episode at least twice (please understand that this is a judgment-free zone), and one question stands out in my mind every single time: how and when do these people do literally anything else with their lives? They are always at the hospital — always. Despite having families and homes and hobbies. Despite having children, and sometimes being single parents of those children. They’re there early in the morning, weekends, overnight…constantly. And I understand that the life of a physician truly can’t be compared side by side with the life of someone in most other professions; it’s something that they sign up for, knowing that it is demanding and will take up the majority of their time at least for a portion of their lives, if not forever. And they tend to sign up for it wanting that, rather than just knowing it. But it does get me thinking about my (and, if we’re being transparent-as-hell, my boyfriend’s) relationship with work. I’m in a field that offers a lot of flexibility in general, and even though I plan to do bigger and bigger things as time goes on, I still know I will likely have a lot more time and space in my life to work with than him. I think about how important it is to find balance, even if it’s a little off — in some jobs, it’ll never be 50/50. Sometimes, it’ll be 70/30, or 80/20, and often, it will favor work.
But watching an exhausted intern on Grey’s stumble around that hospital with a coffee, slurring their words and talking about how they’ve been up for three days straight, reminds me of something very important: don’t let that be you. (Also, @ whoever is in charge of how many hours per week doctors can work: maybe let them sleep so they don’t make mistakes that kill people?)
3. Strive for productivity in some way throughout your whole life, even when it isn’t necessary.
There is an interesting theme in Grey’s of characters getting these insane windfalls of money that, in the real world, might very well be just enough to convince someone to retire early to a beach home and never lift a finger again. But not these doctors, no siree — they continue to pull hundred-hour weeks at a physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding job, saving lives and making groundbreaking scientific discoveries. And it is inspiring.
There are multiple times in the show where different characters suddenly become millionaires. A whole crew of them get millions after the plane crash lawsuit; Jackson gets a half-billion-dollar inheritance. And yeah, the plane crash crew buys the hospital, and Jackson buys a boat from his cell phone like he’s ordering laundry detergent from Amazon, but other than that, the characters don’t really let it change their lifestyles. They still get up at the asscrack of dawn and go to work at their demanding jobs. They still stay productive and hardworking and act like people, not ~people with money~.
I’m not saying you should never retire, or never scale back your “hustle” lifestyle once you can afford to do so, but I think it is important to always be doing something productive throughout your entire life, even if it isn’t necessarily with the goal of earning money. I’ve thought before about what I would do if I suddenly became a millionaire. Would I quit working? Would I become one of those women who goes shopping and drinks vodka during the day while her husband is at work? Would I aimlessly wander my mansion pretending that “redecorating” was a full-time job? Most likely no, because when I am not working towards something, I get bored. I think that working in some capacity, even when financially unnecessary, is important for self-esteem and personal satisfaction. So, even if I marry a super-rich dude or become suddenly flush with cash overnight, I’ll probably still find myself sitting here at my desk, clicking away at my computer and writing, the same way that the doctors on Grey’s kept getting up each morning to go cut open sick people even after they became literal millionaires.
4. Build a strong support system.
The #Girlboss mentality often has us believing that we should be able to do everything and ~have it all~ at any cost. But when I read success stories about people who pushed those around them away so they could #work their way to the top, waking up at four in the morning and losing sleep and cutting off meaningful relationships all in the name of The Grind, I don’t find it aspirational — I find it a little depressing. In Grey’s, I’ve watched strong, intelligent people accomplish brilliant things — but they’ve never downplayed the fact that their support systems helped them get there. They always give credit where credit is due, and the credit is always due, because the team of doctors in this show works so hard to accomplish what they need to and to help each other do the same. Watching strong, determined people lean on each other instead of crediting all of their success to the #hustle #life is more inspiring to me than anything else. A support system is a necessity. Meaningful relationships are as important in your life as professional success, so even if you’re the biggest boss there is, remember that you’re a person, and people need people.
5. But learn to rely on yourself above all.
And not in an “I can do anything without help from you” way (because you probably can, but why would you want to?). What I mean by this is, you need to build yourself into the person you want to be. You need to like at least most parts of yourself, because you might not always have a partner or a best friend there to mirror you and build you up. You need to be mentally and financially capable, and responsible for yourself and your life — because even if you’ve built those close relationships, they might not always be there. People leave; they get new jobs, they fall in love with other people; they get cancer and Alzheimer’s and have heart attacks and sometimes get hit by trucks. You need to know how to be self-sufficient, make meaningful connections, rely on those around you when they’re there, but know that if you find yourself alone at the end of the day, you’ll be able to change your light bulbs and pay your bills and live your life.
Mary is TFD’s Social Media Manager, and she tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Image via Self