7 of My Favorite TED Talks About Money

Years ago, I was a voracious watcher of TED talks.

I like how they're short, incisive, and usually represented the starting thread of an idea or concept that you could slowly unravel for many hours, if not days, if you really wanted to.

For example, here's one from Tim Urban, creator of Wait But Why (his post titled The Tail End is required reading for all human beings), on what goes on inside the mind of a master procrastinator. Tim Urban is great at deconstructing ideas and explaining them in an entertaining way that captures your attention and holds it until the very end. (he also beaks down how he did his talk)

This thread just goes into a simple idea – why do we procrastinate? Why do we not do the work that makes sense (and is hard) but instead we go play in the Dark Playground? And how can we avoid this? I'll let you watch the 14-minute talk and enjoy it for yourself.

Today, I want to point out a few TED talks that are loosely in the realm of personal finance. These are talks that made me change the way I looked at money, how we make it, how we save it, and how we spend it.

What Makes a Good Life?

Robert Waldinger is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a 75+ year old study that tracked the lives of 724 men. Each year, they ask them about their work, home lives, and health – trying to figure out what makes a meaningful life. Only 60 of the 724 men are still alive and most are in their 90s, but the study has moved onto the 2,000+ sons and daughters of those same men.

I love this study and one of the five studies I wrote about in These 5 Research Studies Will Forever Change The Way You Spend Money – but hearing him talk about it is worth the 13 minute investment.

Waldinger shared lessons from that study in a TEDxBeaconStreet talk titled What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness and it's been viewed over 27 million times on the TED website.

You can watch it now:

How to Buy Happiness

Michael Norton gives this 11-minute TEDxCambridge talk on How to buy happiness. He posits that the reason why more money (as in the case of lottery winners – “Mo' money, mo' problems.”) tends to make people unhappy is that they're spending on the wrong things.

He starts his talk with all the ways we spend money incorrectly in anti-social ways. You've read stories like this about how lottery winners end up worse off. Then, which is more useful, Norton shares research on “pro-social” ways of spending money that can make you happier.

It's applicable even if you don't win the lottery. 🙂

Nearly 4 million views.

Does Wealth Make People Meaner?

Paul Piff shares what he learned doing a study at UC Berkeley in which players played a rigged game of Monopoly in a TedXMarin talk titled “Does money make you mean?” At the start of the game, there's a coin flip to decide who was “rich” and who was “poor.” Rich players started with twice the money, earned twice as much passing Go, and rolled two dice instead of just one die.

I remember reading about this study and it was fascinating because of what they saw play out in hidden cameras. As the game progressed, the advantaged “Richer” players started treating the disadvantaged “Poorer” players worse and worse. At first, it's just overt displays of dominance, but it eventually moves to being dismissive and other negative behaviors.

The best part about this is at around the 4-minute mark, Piff shares what the players said was the reason they won – the richer players didn't point out that they had all the advantages but instead pointed out what they'd done in the game.

That study is just one of a couple that Piff discusses, others show similar results, so watch the whole thing for the full experience. I enjoy this talk because it helps show how your mind might frame the advantages you've been given from birth… something worth pondering, especially today.

Nearly 3.5 million views.

(thanks to Aaron from Three Thrifty Guys for sharing this with me!)

Pay Transparency

David Burkus gave a TEDxUniversityofNevada talk on Why you should know how much your coworkers get paid, otherwise known as pay transparency. He argues that pay transparency would benefit everyone – employees, organizations, and societies as a whole.

I enjoyed this talk because it challenges social norms around the subject of pay. It's uncomfortable to talk about how much you make with other people, especially co-workers, but it has a negative impact on everyone! (just in different ways)

No one benefits from this, even if you think you do, and I've had active and retired military tell me that it's better that their pay is completely transparent.

Nearly 2 million views.

The Battle Between Your Present and Future Self

This is a very thought-provoking 15-minute talk by Daniel Goldstein at TEDSalon NY2011 titled The Battle Between Your Present and Future Self. Goldstein is an honorary research fellow at London Business School and works with Microsoft Research.

The first half discusses commitment devices. If you've ever signed up to share your weight with friends or check in with an accountability buddy, you've used a commitment device. He doesn't like them because they become a crutch.

The second discusses a better way forward and does so while discussing saving for the future, a classic two selves problem. The interesting part happens with a few minutes remaining when he shares software that ages you (remember this video is almost 8 years old, you can download an app for this now). People who saw their older selves made different choices than those who saw their current selves.

Nearly 2.4 million videos.

The Puzzle of Motivation

I've been a fan of Dan Pink since his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and more recently his book titled When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

There's a TED Talk that he gave back in 2009 (two years before Drive was published) about motivation and it's been viewed nearly 23 million times. If you are a student of this type of stuff, you've probably heard of the studies he shares (the candle problem is the first one). If not, you're in for a fun ride about how the mind works.

The Art of Misdirection

This one doesn't really have anything to do with money… even though it features Apollo Robbins, one of the greatest pickpockets in the world.

It's just super fun to watch.

These aren't the only great TED talks about money and there are plenty of great TED talks that have nothing to do with money (Elizabeth Gilbert gives a great talk about success and failure), so if you have a favorite, share it in the comments!

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Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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  1. Alison D. Gilbert says

    About the TED Talk videos:
    Some points that were made I strongly agree with on:
    • Does Wealth Make People Meaner? YES

    • What Makes a Good Life? The conclusion, NO WAY.
    I have an aunt and had a grandmother that could be considered downright mean. My grandmother lived to 96 and my aunt was just 95. They put the wicked witch from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ to shame! How does one explain that?

    All in all, I LOVE these videos. They are all inspiring, fascinating and educational. Good choices. Thanks!

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