5 Financial Lessons From ‘Parsifal’


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What can you learn about personal finance from a five-hour opera? As it turns out, plenty.

This post comes from Donna Freedman at partner site DonnaFreedman.com

Recently my sweetheart and I went to the Metropolitan Opera’s live movie theater broadcast of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal.” It was a semi-frugal experience: The discounted movie tickets that I bought through MyPoints reduced the $22-per-head cost, and I used my giant $3-per-refill cup.

The plot is, well, Wagnerian. It includes the Holy Grail, an order of knights who guard it, the theft of the spear that pierced Christ’s side, a holy fool, greed, ambition, a hint of Eastern mysticism, a wound that won’t close, dark arts, a self-castration (which isn’t the wound that won’t close, by the way), a woman who can neither cry nor die (although she desperately craves both experiences), a garden of deadly female “flowers” who ensnare knights foolish enough to listen, and lots of singing. Lots of singing. Did I mention that it runs for almost five hours plus intermissions?

A while back I wrote “8 Personal Finance Lessons From ‘Gotterdammerung.’” So why not offer a little PF advice from this Wagner romp too?

Budgets and baritones

1. Don’t give up an integral part of yourself for a job. Klingsor “unmanned himself” to remain chaste enough to be chosen as one of the Grail-guarding knights. Not good enough – head knight Tinturel rejects him. (Is it any wonder Klingsor turns to the dark arts?)

Point being: There are times when you take a gig you don’t like as a steppingstone to a job you do like, or a job that runs afoul of your personal values to reach a specific financial goal. For example, one man I know practices corporate law that pays hugely because he wants to set up his young family for life. But if you keep doing work that shreds your soul, you could wind up overspending – to keep up appearances, to assuage the guilt you feel at not being there for your loved ones, or to distract yourself from memories of the person you once wanted to be.

2. Temptation is tempting. Don’t be tempted. Tinturel’s son, the normally super-focused Amfortas, succumbs to the temptress Kundry’s wiles and leaves the holy spear unguarded. This doesn’t end well. (See “wound that won’t close,” above.)

Maybe you’re tired of being responsible all the time too. Maybe you’d like a hot car, a great new wardrobe, a trip somewhere exciting – or some of those wiles. Budget for a little fun, but don’t forget to cover all the financial bases first.

An unguarded spear

3. Don’t rely on your kids. You sacrifice everything for your children, expecting they’ll take care of you later in life. Next thing you know you’re Tinturel, feeble and frail, pleading with Amfortas to give you the daily glimpse of the Grail you need to survive – but thanks to that ever-bleeding wound, Amfortas can no longer bear the pain of opening the shrine.

Similarly: Don’t expect your children to be able to care for you. Even if they want to, they have their own finances to deal with (and which may also be hemorrhaging). Plan your retirement as though it needs to last the rest of your life, because it does.

4. Live a little! This revelation came not from the opera but from the refreshment stand: I sprung for the largest kettle corn, which comes with a free refill. By the end of Act II we’d finished the refill. Was that frugal? Nope, and neither was the fact that I got a second $3 soda before Act III began. But it sure was enjoyable.

My “save where I can so I can spend where I want” resolve means that I can spring for stuff now and then without worrying too much. Besides, I needed the extra caffeine to stay awake toward the super-slow, solemn conclusion. As my guy noted, the pace of this opera “makes a glacier seem meteoric.”

5. Romance carefully. Kundry enticed many an errant knight to his downfall with her promise of a simple “hour of love.” Ladies: Hook up with the wrong guy and you could spend years trying to dig yourself out of debt. Men: Unless you want to pay child support for a couple of decades, wear a condom. That unguarded spear will get you every time.

More stories on DonnaFreedman.com:

Stacy Johnson

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