How The ’90s Set Us Up to Fail Financially

I grew up in the 90s. The Spice Girls were my favorite band, the Backstreet Boys a close second. Johnathan Taylor Thomas had dimples that brought all the girls to the yard, and "Mmm-bop" was the theme song to many of my day dreams.

Pokemon cards and POGS were the norm in the schoolyards, and at any given time you could hear some of the younger students fighting over whether Tinky-Winky was really gay.

We named our Barbies Topanga and scrunchies resided on almost every (fashionable) little girl's pony-tail. High-kicks were a socially acceptable - nay, encouraged - dance move, usually in tear-away pants, and Furbies were all the rage. The only thing cooler than a Furby was a Tamogachi, a toy of which I had 7.

I have a theory that Gen Y is having trouble financially because the 90's set us up to fail with money. Let's take a look.

Polly Pockets

As a little girl in the 90's, it was a birth right to have all the Polly Pockets, ever.


I had all of the ones that looked like compact mirrors, but I also had this gargantuan Polly Pocket mansion (by gargantuan I mean it was still alarmingly small, because - duh - it's a Polly Pocket mansion). A car literally shot out of the garage when you pressed down on a plastic shrub, and you could open the roof for a nice, rooftop patio. I believe there was a pool involved and a greenhouse.

Plus, there were flags. So there's that.

Obviously, I expected this to be the norm. I'd definitely have a mansion with flags atop the turretted roof. Rooftop patio? No problem! Technology that allows a car to shoot out of a garage with a flick of a shrub? Obviously.

Sabrina The Teenage Witch

Shame on you if you didn't watch Sabrina struggle with her witchery in the 90's.

Sabrina, when getting ready in the morning, would point at herself and be instantly dressed in brand new clothes and perfectly styled hair.

She never wore the same outfit twice, and any self respecting girl stood in front of her mirror pointing at herself repeatedly until she crawled away, defeated, dreams shattered, wearing the same clothes as last week.

If Sabrina could do it, why couldn't we?

The girl could get anything she wanted by being a witch, as long as it wasn't love. That's the only thing that couldn't be wished.

Sabrina tainted my view of style and clothing and heightened my expectations of the ability to point at oneself and get everything one wants.

Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego

Carmen was priveleged. She could jet-set all over the world, leaving us to try to find her.

She escaped the law by showing up all over the world.

I thought it would be awesome - my future job (criminal or not) would definitely fly me all over the world and travel around.

I'm actually pretty sure that Carmen was my idol. Plus, I liked her coat.

In the video game, there wasn't a set amount of money you could spend before you had to crawl home, broke and frustrated. It just allowed you to look wherever you pleased.

The Magic School Bus

I don't know about you, but I remember most field trips being relatively expensive. You usually had to pull out all the stops with fundraising before your class could go on a trip to the human body to the museum of Canadian art.

With the Magic School Bus, money wasn't even a concern. It would shrink, grow, convert into a plane, a boat, you name it.

The scchool that they went to clearly had unlimited funds, and no kid was left behind due to failure to pay up. Perhaps they had generous donors?

In any case, the Magic School bus got my hopes up, that I'd get to go on great adventures without a care in the world.

(Also, I could never quite figure out what animal Liz was. Obviously she's some sort of lizard, but what lizard has horns growing out of it's head?)

How did your coming of age decade set you up to fail?

(obviously, most of this is tongue in cheek)




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58 thoughts on “How The ’90s Set Us Up to Fail Financially

  1. John @ Married (with Debt)

    I'm a 90s kid too. I remember flannel shirts and dressing like a bum. Beat up used cars and part time jobs. I think what I didn't have in the 90s turned me into a spender in the 2000s when I graduated college and got my first salary.

  2. I grew up in the 90's also, so I echo your sentiments. I think the worse offender for me was pokemon.. I spent countless (wasted) hours on that game. I didn't learn a damn thing useful!

    Carmen Sandiego was the best and Topanga was hot!

  3. This post made me feel a little old. These fads were bigger with the younger kids when I was growing up. Thinking back I don't think the fads and tv shows of my childhood didn't set me up for failure much. Maybe Inspector Gadget a bit with all his cool gadgets and how we always seemed to be on vacation somewhere.

  4. Melissa

    Love this post!!! =) I still watch Sabrina once in awhile and feel bitter about not being able to point and make things happen haha

  5. We're 90s kids at heart!!!! I remember ALL of these things like it was just yesterday. SNICK was my favorite. I remember a lot of magical power shows besides Sabrina the Teenage Witch.. there was The Secret World of Alex Mack too, and I wanted to disappear whenever I could. Don't forget Power Rangers and Captain Planet! Barney - where you could get whatever supplies you wanted out of the magic bag. I'm so LOLing at the gay Tinky Winky was a HUGE deal okay?

    Gahhh memories.

    Btw, NSYNC > Backstreet Boys 😛

  6. OH... I think there were SOOOOO many new board games and toys, my friend and I would play "I WANT THAT!" whenever there were commercials on. Whoever said I want that first, "got" that toy. I think this meant that we would try to ask for these toys for Christmas. I had to have a lot of beanie babies and Sailor Moon cards too.

    1. Post author

      Bop it! Twist it! Pull it! Pass it! (Obviously the technology was amazing back then and nobody could keep their hands out of their pockets ;))

        1. Post author

          I was JUST going to say Hungry Hungry Hippos. And obviously the Game of Life. "Batteries sold separately" was the very bane of my existence.

  7. OMG!!! I feel old - now my kids are into Pokemon!!

    The 90's when we thought we could have it all - the present where we are still paying for it all LOL

  8. I remember being really disappointed when my Barbie hot dog stand didn't include all the dolls included in the commercial. It was an expensive vocabulary lesson, but I learned the meaning of the word "separately" as in "each item sold separately".

  9. Ha! Topenga...I totally remember loving that name and I was "in love" with JTT. I never had a huge Polly Pocket mansion, but my sisters and I had EVERY single Barbie accessory, car, swimming pool and mansion they made. It was definitely a superficial example as a kid.

  10. I idolized MC Hammer. He was awesome, he had lots of chicks, he had a sweet house and tons of dough. As a grownup I learned what happened to him.... bankruptcy! So while my idol was throwing cash all over the place, he did pay the price... which is a good lesson for me as an adult. My wife and I are good about saving and being frugal; when we see my paychecks go into our savings account, it's like, "can't touch this." 🙂

  11. Magic school bus was one of my fav shows back then. We even had the computer games at our elementary school. Would have been awesome to have a real teacher like Ms Frizzle 🙂

  12. Holy S*** this is hilarious! I grew up in the 80’s, so I was pretty sure that I was going to live in a giant Money-Bin with a Dollar Sign on the front like old Scrooge McDuck (Disney’s Ducktails cartoon). That’s still not really working out for me ….

  13. I enjoyed the article, but the one bit I need to comment on is that Carmen Sandiego was not the one solving crimes, she (or one of her awfully named henchmen) was the one who was committing crimes.

  14. Kudos to you for mentioning Topanga, my all-time favorite female TV character! Saved By The Bell set me up to fail - Zach's scheming plans and his need to always have the newest gadget (a la his 5-pound brick cell phone) didn't teach me a lot of positive about managing my money!

  15. Katie

    This post was like a trip back to childhood. Loved everything on the list...especially JTT 🙂

  16. Edward Antrobus

    Liz is a jackson chameleon. 🙂 I'm also a 90's kid and loved Magic School Bus.

    The big takeaway I got from the 90's was the opinion that the pop in the 90's was the best there's been to date.

  17. I was born in the 80's, so I was coming of age when a lot of this stuff was cool. I'm not sure how old I was when Polly Pockets was all the rage, but I did have a bunch of Barbies who had a dream house mansion, a pink Corvette, and an awesome closet full of designer clothes and shoes. Maybe that's why I feel like I do about money! Thanks a lot, Barbie!

  18. Ohhhh, the 80s.... the era of big hair, and bigger everything! Barbie's motor home, dream home, pool and corvette. Then I "grew up" and started watching Dallas and Dynasty - weren't ALL people rich? What a way to live!

    The 80s were definitely bad for my spending development. 🙂

  19. Jessica, The Debt Princess

    I'm a child of the 80s so I can't hang with you youngin's so much! BUT I remember some of my students being into this when I was teaching in the mid- late 90s.

    I wrote a post about what NKOTB should have taught me. if you want to check it out) I'm a tad obsessed, still.

  20. What an interesting post! It totally gives me a different perspective on how my Hubby grew up. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the USSR when we were taught to work your butt off and that everyone is equal. It's so different in my country right now! I did dream of having a body like Barbie when I grow up...sigh

  21. The 90s told me I could do anything.

    Now, if only all of these former 90s children would stop watching HGTV and realize that condo prices in Toronto and Vancouver *can* plummet.

  22. Oh yes I remember all of those things. I used to scrounge up any money I could get my hands on in order to have the scrunchies--because EVERYONE had them and that meant I needed them too! I remember that for my birthday a friend took me to see 98 degrees.

    Oh and board games. I wanted so many board games because they were awesome. Or the electronic games--like the flashing color combinations.

  23. Oh My! What a trip back into memory lane... pegged jeans, la gear sneakers and neon clothing (the 90's are definitely coming back). Great post Daisy, thanks for bringing back some good memories... now if I could just figure out where Carmen is... 😆

  24. I actually went and googled furby just to get a good memory lol.

    I remember all of those things and I actually would still sit and watch some of them if they were on. I actually feel like watching captain planet now lol I actually was a pokemon fanatic.

    I can't say the 90's set me up to fail but nostalgia can sure cost me a lot if I take it past memories.

  25. I STILL have my pogs. what a waste of money. First I spent all my money on baseball cards in the late 80s and early 90s, then I bought those stupid pogs. I still have my Garbage Pail Kids cards too! Remember those?

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  30. Justin @ The Family Finances

    I can't believe no one mentioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

  31. Young Professional Finances

    I had all of these things too! Love the life lessons you pulled out of them. I miss my polly pocket mansion now. 🙁

  32. Hahaha what a great trip down memory lane!

    I never really thought about it this way before, but it is interesting to think about how these things affect the way we think now.

    I definitely wanted to grow up and wear different clothes every day, and even though it was when I was a little older, I wanted a "Smart House" that would provide food and pick out my outfits and stuff.

    I think for me, this was tempered a little bit, because I didn't have a Polly Pocket mansion, and I didn't have a Barbie dream house or whatever. I had a Barbie house built by my grandpa, and my Barbies wore a lot of home-made clothes.

    But oh, those Beanie Babies...there are a lot of them in my parents basement, still...

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  34. I remember every single one of those!! When we got to go to the computer lab in elementary school, everyone played Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego. A few years ago I saw the CD rom in goodwill! LOL

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  37. I am also a 90s child and your post just made me nostalgic and wistful. This article has been an eye-opener in that I never really looked at the 90s that way. But the 90s was good too. By the by, I am watching the Magic School Bus with my 4-year old now. I loved this show so much then but now I look at it and see some disturbing stuff about it. Like how Ms. Frizzle can be so irresponsible and the fact that they all, including the titular bus and Liz the lizard, can turn into animals, insects and plants. Educational but sometimes creepy. But it's still fun to watch.

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  39. LOL. Brilliant. I'd also note Sabrina has a freaking gigantic apartment when she moved out to go to school with Punky Brewster.

    Also, can we talk about the Winslow's massive house on a cops salary? How many people fit in there? Like 10?

    Ditto the Full House family. Can you imagine how expensive that house would be in San Francisco??

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