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Debt Management

What TV moms teach us about credit cards and credit

They laughed their way into our hearts, but these funny women also showed us what to do (and not do) when it came to credit

Summary

Some were ahead of their time, others not so much. But what these five TV moms showed us about credit cards and credit is something we can still appreciate.

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To know them is to love them.

Television moms who dispense advice (good and bad) and solve problems (sometimes creating more), all within the confines of a single episode. And their take on credit and credit cards? Priceless.

From Beverly Goldberg giving her daughter a financial wake-up call to June Cleaver counseling husband Ward that son Wally is responsible enough to use a credit card, these moms know their stuff. And when they get it wrong? Classic.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, here’s what five very memorable TV moms have to say about credit cards and credit, along with real-life advice from financial pros:

See related: 5 books, 4 movies to learn more about personal finance

1. Lucy Ricardo, I Love Lucy

The lovable redhead, created and played by Lucille Ball, was perpetually getting herself into money trouble. And her relationship with credit was no different.

In one memorable episode, her husband, Ricky, hires a business manager, who puts them on a budget. The one loophole: a line of credit for Lucy at the local food market.

Lucy quickly realizes that she can create a quick “income” stream by purchasing groceries for others on her credit line and having them pay her back in cash. Before long, she’s wearing new dresses and flashing a roll of bills.

But, as with most things “Lucy,” the plan comes crashing down faster than you can say “Ponzi scheme.”

Luckily, thanks to another misunderstanding, Ricky makes $1,000 on the stock market. He gives her half – just enough and just in time to pay her market bill.

With broad comedy, Lucy demonstrates exactly what you can’t do with credit: spend money you don’t have.

“You should only use your credit card when you know you can pay it back,” says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

In other words, that card is meant as a payment device, not a loan. Because “the reality is, you’re going to have to pay back that money,” says Rheingold. And in the real world of the twenty-first century, that means fees and interest, too, he adds.

Unlike Lucy’s scripted antics, real-life credit users can’t count on a surprise windfall to save them at the last minute.

2. Beverly Goldberg, The Goldbergs

No wonder this one strikes a familiar chord: it’s loosely based on writer/creator Adam F. Goldberg’s own childhood.

In one episode, daughter Erica takes out a credit card, runs up a bill and panics when she can’t repay it. When she turns to her overprotective mother, Beverly Goldberg dishes out a message the girl’s not expecting: Get a job and pay it off yourself.

Instead, Erica takes out a second card – this one in her mom’s name – and uses it to get a cash advance to “pay off” the first card.

Unfortunately, she compounds her mistakes by giving that cash to her uncle for a sure-thing investment. When the investment tanks, she’s left with two card bills and a very expensive lesson.

Finally, Erica resolves to do what her mom advised in the first place: Get a job and fix her financial situation.

“That’s always a good message for your kids,” says Keith Feinberg, JD and CFP, financial advisor at Altfest Personal Wealth Management. “If you get into a financial issue, you should do your best to get out of it yourself without digging the hole deeper.”

Also: Never give cash to a ne’er-do-well uncle.

See related: Side gig can be best debt-payoff option

3. Mary Cooper, Young Sheldon

When it comes to finances, this is one TV mom who’s at the top of her game. Co-parenting three children – including precocious genius Sheldon Cooper – she manages the household budget and she’s also a part-time bookkeeper.

That’s why it’s no surprise that when Sheldon falls in love with a home computer, Mary taps her “rainy day” fund to buy it for him. And having a rainy-day fund is a smart strategy for cardholders, says Samira Salem, senior policy analyst for the Credit Union National Association.

“Credit cards are tremendously useful,” says Salem. “But it’s also good to have some savings built up so you can pay off that credit card bill when it arrives.”

Plus, paying the bill in full when it arrives means no finance charges, she adds.

Salem’s favorite hack for building a rainy-day fund: direct deposit for your paycheck coupled with automatic transfers to savings. “It’s a great, practical way to set up and generate savings over time,” she says.

While Mary Cooper didn’t have the benefit of automatic transfers in the 1980s, she managed to keep the family on a budget and put aside a nice chunk of savings. Sounds like Sheldon’s not the only genius in the family.

Video: How to build an emergency savings account – CreditCards.com

4. Jane Jetson, The Jetsons

For Baby Boomers, this cartoon was iconic: a glimpse into a future that promised flying cars and robot help. The opening sequence introduces the family and shows George handing his wife a set amount of shopping money. To which she responds by leaving him the cash and taking his wallet.

That’s actually a pretty savvy move, says Kenneth Robinson, JD and CFP, senior advisor with Practical Financial Planning. Not just because she’s asserting her own authority over the family budget. But also, because she’s spending cash.

Robinson dubs this “cash-controlled spending.”

“If we spend using cash and checks, when we’re out of money, we have to stop,” he says.

So, flying cars aside, it turns out the animated series was pretty accurate about financial strategies. Way to go, Jane!

See related: 6 reasons to stop using cash and start using credit cards

5. June Cleaver, Leave It to Beaver

Credit cards may have been a fairly new concept in the 1950s and 1960s. But good advice from Mom is timeless.

In one episode, teenage troublemaker Eddie Haskell gets a credit card and gloats about it to Wally. Wally, in turn, wants his father to get him a credit card. While Ward has reservations, June advises her husband that it’s a good idea. Wally has proved himself responsible. And it could come in handy if his car ever broke down.

While Eddie’s misuse of his own card shortly leads to financial disaster, June Cleaver’s advice was ahead of its time.

When it comes to teens and credit, “I think it’s important [for them] to learn the concepts behind it and I think it’s important to build up credit,” says Feinberg.

Parents are now turning to prepaid cards and small-limit credit cards to teach tweens and teens to manage credit and give them options in an emergency, he says. And that’s smart.

Turns out June Cleaver really was a twenty-first century dame after all.

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