What Little House on the Prairie Taught Me About Debt

I may be dating myself here, but I used to love the show Little House on the Prairie as a kid. Little did I know that I would learn a lot about finances and debt by watching. Here are a few of the things I picked up.

1. Do what you have to do, and be proud of it. I remember the episode entitled, The Richest Man in Walnut Grove, where the Ingalls family ran up a debt at Oleson’s Mercantile. Charles was expecting a nice paycheck from the sawmill, but the money didn’t come in. To pay off his debt, he worked digging ditches. The kids at school made fun of Laura, because they said Charles smelled bad from working so hard. Charles told Laura that it was true. He did smell bad. But he was working to provide for his family, and that was something for which he should be proud. You should always be proud of the effort you put into paying off your debts. Even if you’re mowing lawns on Saturdays to raise extra money, the effort is worthwhile and something to be proud of.

2. Don’t bank on money that you don’t have yet. If Charles wouldn’t have spent his paycheck before it was in his hands, he never would have been in debt to the Olesons in the first place. Never spend what you don’t yet have. My husband and I fell into this trap earlier this year. We knew we had some inheritance money coming, so we charged a new computer on a 0% card. We just knew we could pay it off before the interest hit. Unfortunately, my husband lost his job in that time period, and we needed to use the inheritance money for basic expenses. We’re still paying on the credit card.

3. Every little bit adds up. When the Ingalls family was working to pay off their debt, they focused their efforts and put every last resource into paying their bill. Charles dug ditches. Mary quit school for a while to earn money by sewing. Laura did Mary’s chores, so Mary would have more time to work. Caroline did the farm work, so Charles could work multiple jobs. Everyone pitched in. They pooled their resources and worked together as a family until the debt was paid. When your family pulls together, you will be able to pay your debt more quickly. Family morale also remains high when your family is working together toward a common goal.

4. Your whole family benefits when the debt is paid. The Ingalls family paid their debt at the Mercantile together as a family. You could see the pride on their faces. They had worked together. It wasn’t easy, but they got the job done. They had accomplished their goal. When your family works together toward a goal and succeeds, it builds family unity. It also instills strong values in your children. Hypothetically, I’ll bet Mary, Laura, and Carrie never forgot the feeling of paying for the purchases they made that day in cash. The same thing is true of families today. If you make taking care of your finances a priority, and your children see it and are part of the process, they will learn. They will be far less likely to make the same financial mistakes that you have.

At the end of the episode, after seeing the proud looks on the Ingalls’ faces as they paid their bill, Nels Oleson took Charles aside and said, “I think you’re the richest man in Walnut Grove”. Charles replied, “I know I am.” Family and values are much more important than anything money can buy. Wealth does not come from the things you can afford to buy. It comes from who you are and what you stand for.


By , on Aug 31, 2007
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Camey:

    That is one of my favorite episodes. I love the old classic shows. They taught real life lessons. Little House, Andy Griffith, Anne of Green Gables, all good quality programming!

  2. Yet another great topic, . Uphold the quailty.

  3. LeeAnn:

    My kids have a DVD with that episode. I also remember reading Laura’s later book after she was married and the trouble they ran into when Almanzo bought the farm equipment on time. The lessons from her father made Laura very uncomfortable about the debt.

  4. cherylohio:

    thats the #1 lesson I learned from little house is you can be rich and be broke as can be. just be thankful for what you have in life….you don’t need more than that. love the show still and i am 37!!!!

  5. Karen:

    I too rent the Little House episodes and watch them with my daughters. We even got the next door neighbor coming over to ask to watch them after introducing her (she is used to every Disney flick that comes out at her house. I love the influence the show has had on my family.

  6. I guess I’m showing my age too as Little House On The Prairie was also my favorite show…I still say it was one of the best shows ever on television. I never really thought of it, but the show did provide valuable lessons about working hard and re-defining what “rich” really means. Thanks for this great post!

  7. Steve:

    I had to take a job recently delivering pizzas in the evening at age 42. Working with high school kids is extremely difficult. I don’t recall them being so nasty when I was in high school. One day one of them asked me why I’m not working a “normal” job. “When I was your age (man, I never thought I’d say that), there was no internet, they weren’t shipping jobs off to India, we didn’t have 500 plus channels of TV with crap on, there weren’t so many news channels that had nothing to report so they made things up to get ratings, and there weren’t as many lawyers as there are today. This is only temporary.” Its nice to have the old TV shows to remind you of how it used to be, so you can always remember how you used to do it when things get tough.

  8. Really enjoyed your article.

    It’s true that we can learn a lot from other
    people’s mistakes.


  9. cak:

    Or you could listen to your parents. Or you could pay attention at school. Or you could listen to the 1000s of people out there trying to tell you not to use credit cards to buy things, especially things you don’t need.

    But, at least you got the message in the end. I hope.

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