Money and credit lessons learned from TV
What our favorite TV characters teach us about finances
By Gina Roberts-Grey | Published: November 12, 2009
The loveable television characters we welcome into our homes once a week can actually teach valuable lessons about managing money and protecting credit. Take another look at the financial pratfalls of these classic characters, this time without the laugh track. Their antics cause only imaginary harm to a budget, but beneath the comedy lay real money lessons:
Matt LeBlanc and Courteney Cox, who portrayed Joey and Monica in the hit TV series "Friends."
The show: 'Friends'
The Character: Joey
A recurring role on a soap opera means Joey finally has wads of money. Instead of budgeting his disposable income and saving some for a rainy day, Joey hastily moves into a lavish apartment. Without considering the "what ifs," he furnishes it with expensive extravagances, such as porcelain greyhounds, and racks up massive credit card bills. When his soap opera character is suddenly killed off, his income stream also dies. The change forces Joey to move back in with Chandler and rebuild his financial life.
The lesson: There's nothing wrong with treating yourself to a little extravagance once in a while, as long as you feed your savings account first. Living for today might be fun, but it could leave you out in the rain if your income is reduced, you lose your job or face a medical, car or other emergency.
The fix: Always pay yourself first. If you come into money, whether from a job bonus or large raise or inheritance, "don't be in a rush to spend it," says Melanie Donaghy, vice president of Wells Fargo Online Banking. Use extra cash to stash money in a retirement fund, pay off credit cards, invest in laddered CDs or a savings account. Then you can treat yourself to a "want purchase."
"King of Queens" cast Jerry Stiller, Leah Remini and Kevin James, who played Arthur, Carrie and Doug.
Photo: Sony Pictures Television
The characters: Doug and Carrie
When Doug and Carrie notice they've made progress with their money management skills and are starting to get out of debt, they decide to "treat" themselves. The $400 price tag on Carrie's new jacket sends Doug into a tailspin. Carrie goes to return the jacket, but finds a "loophole in the system" that convinces her if she returns things she buys -- even if she wears them -- it's as though she never really spent money. Proud of her discovery, Carrie tells Doug she's being thrifty. Doug tells her she's being "shoplifty."
The lesson: It's understandable to want to splurge after meeting a financial goal, but Jim Randall, author of "The Skinny on Credit Cards," urges keeping your eye on the ultimate goal. "You don't want to fall into a routine of taking one step forward, two steps back."
The fix: Randall says if you are going to allow yourself a small splurge, make sure it won't put you deeper in debt. "Don't reward yourself for digging out of debt by tacking on a little more," he says.
Unctuous Edward W. "Eddie" Haskell was brought to the small screen by Ken Osmond. Watch the full clip.
The character: Eddie Haskell
The charming troublemaker brags to his buddies about his father giving him a credit card earmarked for emergencies. When Wally's car battery dies, Eddie happily steps up, flashing his card to all his friends. Although Eddie's heart was in the right place, he shows off his buying power and charges without regard for how to pay the bill. When Mr. Haskell finds out, Eddie finds himself in a familiar tight spot.
The Lesson: Randall says it's not necessarily a kid's fault if they can't control spending. "Giving a kid a credit card without proper supervision or education of the ramifications of impulse spending can leave you stuck with a hefty bill." That can also send a parent's credit score tumbling if the bill can't be paid or if the balance maxes out the card's credit limit.
The fix: Be proactive. Randall suggests sending your kid back to school before adding your child as an authorized user on your credit account. "Give your kids a lesson in tracking purchases and balances online, saving receipts and how nearing credit limits can impact credit scores," he says.
Jason Alexander portrayed perpetually parsimonious George Costanza in "Seinfeld."
The character: George Costanza
His thriftiness didn't just border on cheap -- George Costanza gleefully crossed that border and moved in to stay.
To cut corners, George ordered bargain wedding invitations that were discounted because they had subpar adhesive. His "deal" wound up killing his fiancee since the too-good-to-be-true glue was toxic, which she ingested while licking the envelopes.
The lesson: Sometimes saving a buck or two can cost you twice as much in the long run. "If a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is," says Bruce McClary, credit counselor at ClearPoint Credit, a nonprofit debt counseling agency.
The fix: Weigh all your buying options. Price match to make sure you're truly getting a good deal.
"Read all the fine print," says McClary. "Sometimes, a price appears lower, only to learn there are hidden fees built in that can blow your budget."
The show: 'Everybody Loves Raymond'
The characters: Ray and Debra
Ray finds out the diamond in his wife's wedding ring is fake and sets out to replace it without Debra knowing.
Patricia Heaton played Ray Barone's wife Debra on the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond."
Grabbing her ring off the table while she's in the shower, Ray leaves Deb in a panic, thinking she lost it and sets off to replace the counterfeit stone. The catch: He wasted his money. Debra confesses she found out years ago the diamond was fake and had the original stone replaced with her grandmother's very expensive real diamond. The couple ends up dumpster diving trying to find the family heirloom Ray mistakenly threw out.
The lesson: It pays to be honest. "In this episode, it would have prevented a major, unnecessary expense," says McClary. Financial deception among spouses can cost money, cause stress and weaken your relationship. For example, McClary says one negative hit resulting from a jointly held maxed out "secret" credit card or other financial deceptions can negatively impact future car loans, mortgage rates and insurance premiums.
The fix: Designate a neutral spot (perhaps a park or other public place) to routinely discuss financial matters and decisions. Agree to listen, not just talk. "Honesty truly is the best financial policy," McClary says.
The final scene
The networks are always lining up casts of new characters and scripting hilarious situations to befall them. As you welcome these sitcom sensations into your home, McClary suggests watching with an open mind. "Even though you tune into sitcoms for a few laughs, there are plenty of valuable lessons to learn, too."
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