In classic fairy tales like Cinderella, the heroine meets her prince and lives happily ever after, free from her evil stepmother and the drudgery of housework. But real life can be a lot more complicated. “What happens if the prince dies or becomes disabled or becomes a spendthrift?” asks Kathleen Grace, a certified financial planner and author of Prince Not So Charming. “I think that the fairy tales never really cover what happens if Prince Charming died and Cinderella had to support herself.”
Here, we consider several classic fairy tales and explore what they can teach us about money.
Before Cinderella falls in love with Prince Charming, her father dies, leaving her at the mercy of her stepmother. If only Cinderella’s father had done some estate planning and purchased a life insurance policy with Cinderella as beneficiary. “I don’t know who would have been put in charge of her care but apparently her father didn’t know how evil his second wife was, which can happen,” Grace says. “This might have been avoided with some proper planning.” Since Cinderella would have brought some of her own assets to the marriage with Prince Charming, a prenuptial agreement would have helped protect her in case the marriage went sour (which, of course, no fairy tale couples consider).
The evil queen feeding Snow White a poisoned apple highlights the danger of trusting the wrong person, a common fairy tale theme. “I think women in general tend to be more open to other people and not as aware that people can be deceiving,” Grace says. “She needs to empower herself when it comes to talking to people, taking advice from people, and not needing somebody to save her or rescue her.” The story also shows the high cost of the queen’s vanity.
Little Red Riding Hood
When Little Red Riding Hood sets out for her grandmother’s house, little does she realize that the wolf has eaten her granny and stolen the old woman’s identity. “I blame the parents because they sent out poor Little Red unaccompanied and they probably taught her more about fashion and how to prepare a nice lunch than about money,” says Mary Hunt, founder of Debt-Proof Living. “I see the wolf as debt. It can be so cunning, so alluring, it can make people think it’s normal.” Of course, the granny also should have been wary and taken steps to prevent identity theft. “Scams prey on senior citizens, especially getting them to turn over their Social Security cards,” Hunt says. Just as the wolf gained entry to the granny’s home by impersonating Little Red, some shysters in real life impersonate an unsuspecting person’s grandchild and hit them up for money.
Hansel & Gretel
Like Cinderella, the story of Hansel and Gretel involves a dead parent, this time the mother. The father remarries, but his new wife convinces him to leave his children in the woods to starve. “People sometimes neglect to buy life insurance for stay-at-home parents,” says Liz Weston, personal finance columnist and author of the book Your Credit Score. “These caregivers don’t have salaries that would need to be replaced if they died, but the surviving parent likely would have to hire child care–or they might be tempted to rush into a bad marriage, as Hansel and Gretel’s father clearly did.” Weston reasons that if the father had gotten a life insurance policy on his wife, “he might have not been in such a hurry to get married to a wicked woman who later urged him to abandon the children in the woods because the whole family was going hungry.” The children also should have been less trusting of the witch who later tries to eat them.
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