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. Nancy:

    This is my all-time favorite episode of LHOP. I still watch re-runs of it on Hallmark channel and I’m 54!! My husband bought me the DVD “Christy” for Christmas. Another great TV show cancelled way too soon, with great values to teach.

  2. Mike:

    I’m embarrassed to say that not only did I like that show as a child, I still like it!!


  3. Randall:

    Nice post. Being out of debt does have a lot of benefits beyond the financial.

  4. I loved this series, I’ve watched the re runs of this loads of times and then the title of your post caught my attention. What a great way to link personal finances to a TV programme!!!! I totally agree with your comments, especially: Don’t bank on money that you don’t have yet!

  5. Doris Van Hoven:

    Completely agree with all you said about Little House. My 12 year old grandaughter (whom I recently adopted) and I have been watching it, and I can honestly say it has transformed our lives. She has totally opted out of consumerism, has developed values of doing/making things at home, has done household chores she wasn’t asked to do, learned about loyalty, honesty, and responsibility, and been frequently overcome by urges of generosity and sharing. Her Christmas list this year? A red wagon and to see her aunt. Oh, and since we started getting it (Netflix, the one at a time plan, we don’t get cable or satellite), we have kicked our bad habit of too much junk tv. Most evenings we watch an episode together. I can’t promise you Little House will transform your family life as it has ours, but I encourage you to try it. Incidentally, we’re in Season 3. I could see changes after only 3 or 4 episodes.

  6. Lynnae:

    Tiffany, That would have been another good episode to write about. Hmmm. Maybe I should do a series about Little House on the Prairie and financial lessons. :)

  7. For all of you ladies who loved LHOP I make Little House bonnets for girls. Each little girl can play Laura in her own handmade bonnet. Please check out my website.

    Good advice too

  8. For all of you ladies who loved LHOP I make Little House bonnets for girls. Each little girl can play Laura in her own handmade bonnet. Please check out my website.

    Good advice too, I watched every one and all the re-runs. If I still watched TV this would be one show I would watch again, too!

  9. We still love Little House on Hallmark channel. When I hopped on over to your article from another blog, I thought it was going to be about the one where Mary and Laura buy their slates for school but need one more penny for the slate pencil thingy and Mr Olson offers to let them take it and their Pa can pay him later and Laura says no, Pa says cash on the barrel so they decide to bring Mary’s Christmas penny in the next day to purchase the pencil. :) They were already grateful for the $ they had been given for the slate and didnt want to ask for more.

  10. B:

    I remember watching that one when they all worked together. I love watching the reruns on cable (at a friends house) LOL

  11. Lynnae:

    I didn’t pay enough attention either, April. But we can learn now. :)

  12. April:

    Oh my gosh, I’m teary-eyed! That was my favorite show of ALL time when I was a kid – I never missed an episode! Who would have thought it was actually teaching us stuff? Too bad I didn’t pay attention to that – especially this episode!

  13. Lynnae:

    In theory, it really isn’t that hard. Putting it into practice is another story, especially if you haven’t learned to be content with what you have.

  14. awesome! Very sound and very true advice. If everyone would understand it is that easy instead of trying to make it harder then it actually is.

  15. Jeff:

    If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
    Five things observe with care.
    To whom you speak,
    Of whom you speak,
    And how, and when, and where.

    -written in Laura’s autograph book by Caroline Ingalls (although I’m not sure the quote is hers)

    Let’s make one up for money!

  16. Lynnae:

    I agree, Pam. The books are wonderful! The second year we were married, my husband bought me the complete set of Little House books. I still read them!

    I guess this makes me a Little House fanatic!

  17. Pam:

    If you enjoyed the show and found it inspirational, you should read the books. I am nearly 40, and I still read “The Long Winter” at least once a year. I’ve encouraged both of my kids (one son, one daughter) to read the entire set of books, as well as some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s non-fiction writings. The history and life lessons she taught me have been invaluable. The books are far more interesting and informative than the show ever was (although I watched it faithfully growing up!).

  18. Lynnae:

    I agree, eff. We should all try to live like the Ingalls! Of course, I need my running water, but I try to have the same attitude they did. :)

    And I like to watch the re-runs, sometimes, too. I’ve tried to get my daughter into it, but she doesn’t care for the show.

  19. eff:

    I love that episode! I have 5 seasons on DVD.

    “Cash on the barrel.” – That’s what Pa always said. : )

    If we all lived like the Ingalls – what a wonderful world it would be.

  20. What a great post. I remember that episode, but had forgotten about it. My wife still watches the re-runs. Little House was an incredible show and was always full of valuable life lessons.

  21. Lynnae:

    I was addicted to Little House on the Prairie as a kid. After it went off the air, I watched it in syndication. I’m sure I’ve seen every episode at least 3 times. lol

  22. Nice post. I am 33 and I vaguely remember the show. You must have a great memory to remember the specifics. :-)

  23. Astreil:

    Wonderful article. It’s amazing what we can actually learn from TV if we really pay attention.

  24. Lynnae:

    And we need to pay attention to the right things…the message and not the advertisements!

  25. boomeyers:

    Very wise advice! I can’t wait for the day when I have no debt!! :-)

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