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Financial Lessons from Clark W. Griswold

“We’ll have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas this side of the nuthouse”

Since it’s Christmas Eve, I hope you are enjoying your time rather than last minute shopping. One of our favorite things to do during the holiday season is to watch  Christmas movies. At the top of the list is Christmas Vacation, one of my all time favorites. If you grew up in an Amish family and haven’t seen it, this movie is a comedy starring Chevy Chase,and it is about his misadventures in trying to achieve the perfect family Christmas. I’ve probably seen it 50 times, but still laugh at all the classic scenes. Although the movie is all in good fun, for us finance geeks out there, we can learn some financial lessons from Clark W. Griswold.

Don’t Overspend on Christmas Decorations

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when Clark lights up his house for Christmas. It has inspired many terms of endearment toward those who tend to over decorate. In reality, you don’t need that many lights, and Clark runs up a huge electric bill. Switching to LED lights might also be a good option, but those weren’t available in the 80’s.

Clark does make up for his electric bill by cutting his own Christmas trees. The first one he obtained legally in the forest, but it got destroyed by Uncle Lewis’s cigar. Ever the solution master, Clark got a free replacement when he chopped down a tree from the neighbor’s yard. While it didn’t cost anything, I wouldn’t recommend taking a chainsaw to the neighbor’s evergreens.

Take Your Relatives in Stride

Clark’s desire for the prefect family Christmas causes all kinds of problems when he puts up his parents, in-laws, and Cousin Eddie in his own home. Granted Eddie had an RV out in the driveway, but his emptying of the chemical toilet into Clark’s sewer caused all sorts of friction. Maybe to ease stress, Clark could have used some reward points to put some of them in a hotel.

Frugal vs Cheap

Clark’s elderly Aunt Bethany didn’t have much money so she wrapped up her cat and lime Jello mold as gifts. Giving used pets as Christmas gifts isn’t really a great way to save money. Bethany should have just told the family she wouldn’t be doing gifts that year.

Have a Holiday Spending Plan

Clark found out that Eddie had no money in his budget for gifts and offered to buy presents for his family. Eddie could have avoided having to take a handout if he’d saved some money each month to use for gifts. The fact that Eddie had a metal plate in his head, hadn’t been employed in years, and ate lots of roadkill could also have contributed to his lack of planning, but I’m just pointing out an obvious solution.

Don’t Spend Money You Don’t Have

The crux of the movie centers around Clark’s frustration that his company decided to suspend Christmas bonuses. Clark had already committed his bonus to building a swimming pool and goes a bit postal when he finds out that he isn’t getting the money. You should never spend money that isn’t a guarantee. Also, Clark might also want to analyze the costs that come with having a pool and determine if it makes financial sense for his family. This also leads Eddie to kidnap Clark’s boss, which turns out great in the movie, but would score you some serious jail time in real life.

Obviously this list is all in fun. If Christmas Vacation was really like this, it would be the most boring movie ever made, and we wouldn’t be watching it 20+ years later. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and have enjoyed these financial lessons from Clark W. Griswold.

Have you ever had a Clark Griswold moment? What is your favorite scene from Christmas Vacation?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. My wife and I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every Christmas. She absolutely loves it and I think she may have seen it almost as much as you have.

  2. Haha I watched this movie a few weeks ago with friends. I absolutely love it and watch it every year. I think the funniest thing is that he seems to be doing pretty dang well…huge office, huge house, etc. but he spent money he doesn’t have on the new pool! Definitely a lesson to be learned there.

    Loved how you were creative with your Christmas Eve post, I had quite a bit of trouble trying to somehow not talk about the same tired Christmas topics many of us have been covering the past month and a half.

  3. I love the use of Christmas Vacation to give tips! My boyfriend’s Dad was telling us last night that he wanted to string up lots of lights and rig something up so they would twinkle to music from the Transiberian Orchestra. THen he said how much he loved Christmas Vacation and it all started to make sense.

  4. Haha, I haven’t seen that one in years. It fell out of my traditional holiday line-up and was replaced by Love Actually =) But thanks for some of the reminders of the classic scenes in it.

    Hopefully no one pulls a Clark Griswold this Christmas – because I think it never works out quite the way it does in the movies.

    • That is a great movie as well. We would never have both sets of parents come over at the same time. We would turn into Clark if that happened.

  5. I love Christmas Vacation, and this is an amazing post. That’s the one thing that always gets me frustrated when watching the movie, is when Clark spends his bonus before he even gets it!

  6. I’ve never had a Clark Griswold moment and haven’t ever been compared to him, so let’s move on. …quick! Merry Christmas, Kim! 😉

  7. If you get a bonus EVERY YEAR, then I can see how you would expect to get one this year. My wife’s company stopped handing out bonuses this year, too. Fortunately for use, they were always too small to be worth planning how to spend.

    • That really sucks. I think most people who get large bonuses probably make lots of money already. It would be cool if the wait staff at Denny’s got and extra grand or two as a Christmas bonus.

  8. I have started to download it, never seen it! As a kid I loved Home Alone and the Disney Christmas carol. Now like Mrs Pops I enjoy love actually! And it’s a wonderful life. Merry Christmas!

    • I would be curious to hear your take. I’ve never thought Europeans were as over the top about decorations and rituals, but maybe I’m wrong.

      • Oh no, we would never go as far as shutting down the whole neighborhood because of lightening, or having more tree than our house can have. Christmas decorations are usually very simple, we used to make most of them with my mum, and then install the same nativity scene every year. Same for the food, no one will go home hungry and there is a lot of fine things to eat, but generally we eat small quantities, over three or four hours at the table, and sharing is more important than eating. We sent an empty plate, in case a person who can’t afford to eat or has no one for Christmas shows up unexpected. I have had a Griswold moment though, when expecting a Christmas bonus that took time to arrive. The money was all allocated for leaving my job right after Christmas, and all plans were made based on the bonus, which fortunately did happen, although it was a risky move.

  9. We watched it last week again,and we often chuckle at people who go OTT on their house and say oh look it’s the Griswolds lol.. all in good fun! Mrs. CBB used to get a huge bonus every year. As the company grew, you guessed it the bonus got smaller. That’s why they say never rely on overtime, bonuses or pay raises because they may never come. Happy Christmas! Mr.CBB

  10. I have never seen this movie, but I have heard the reference before. Maybe I’ll get around to seeing it sometime this holiday. Merry Christmas!

  11. instant classic in our home as well! Cousin Eddy emptying the RV crapper in his bathrobe is my fav scene. Come to think of it, I may have a Halloween costume idea for next year.

  12. That’s so awesome. I saw this movie probably 3 or 4 times and never thought about the financial ties that this movie highlights so well.

  13. Love this Kim! Missed it last year when you posted it. Well, I guess I won’t be giving my Mom our Guinea Pig that the kids pay no attention to. I need my fill of Clark, going to check to see if its on Netflix tonight…

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