What does it mean that a reality TV show is in the works, aiming to help couples sort through their money woes? Yes, a major cable station is working up a “family finance” pilot that amounts to a Biggest Loser for folks who have never seen a credit offer they didn’t like.
Have producers of this popular genre simply run out of material? I mean after Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, what’s left? Or is it that Americans’ inability to manage money has become so big and obvious, and economically debilitating, that there is now an appetite for a tough-love TV program that puts struggling families on a debt diet?
Think Real Housewives, only everyone is broke. Or maybe Hell’s Kitchen, only the host has a heart. No one will get voted off this island, or hear the words “you’re fired.” But there might be some Jersey Shore sniping when couples confront their ridiculous spending and credit practices.
The show in development may never get to air. I only know about it because I played a small role in casting. From what I could see anecdotally, young families in the U.S. have issues that appear far worse than any data points or averages suggest.
One young Texas couple took a big hit when the husband lost his job and found work at half the pay. The wife went to work. She hates her job and not being a full-time mother. The arrangement is causing all kinds of stress in the relationship. Yet they haven’t taken the time to do some simple math: They are spending more on childcare than she makes each month. Quitting her job would solve a few big problems right away.
A Chicago couple in their early 40s has household income of $200,000 and zero savings. They have a big mortgage that’s killing them, some unusual ongoing healthcare expenses that will be with them for years, and they are sending two kids to costly private elementary and high schools. Again, stress is driving them apart. But doing a little math, it seems clear they could fix it all just by choosing the decent public schools in their affluent neighborhood and putting the savings toward retirement, mortgage payments and healthcare. Even they wonder about the private school sacrifice. But they haven’t made the tough decision because of appearances.
These are the kinds of choices that undermine the financial security of millions of families all the time. I’m rooting for this show to get to air, and if it does I hope it won’t devolve into tears, arguments and an ornery host with a whip. A lot of troubled family finances really are easily fixed through simple math and not-so-simple discipline. If a reality TV show can illustrate that, it will have been worth more than all the silly Kardashian episodes ever aired.