Could sitcoms help you get out of debt?
But few viewers realize that the laughable and lovable characters we welcome into our homes once a week can actually teach us some valuable lessons about managing money and protecting our credit.
Whether they're fiscally frugal or free-spending, here's some practical advice from a few classic characters.
The characters: Jerry, George and Kramer
This gang wasn't cheap, but they were extremely thrifty. Jerry saved money on vacation lodging costs by staying with family in Florida or visiting friends in the Hamptons as a get-away. Kramer filled his closet from thrift stores and George never paid more than his fair share of a tab.
The lesson: "These examples show you don't have to cut out everything to make ends meet," says Ted Jenkin, CFP®, founder and CEO of oXYGen Financial in Atlanta, GA. "You just need to pay close attention to where every penny goes."
The fix: Don't wait for your monthly credit card or bank statement. Track all purchases and expenses online to see what you're spending in "real time". "That will help you see where you can cut a few corners, without cutting out lattes and the occasional dinner out," says Jenkin.
The King of Queens
The Characters: Doug and Carrie
Against Carrie's intentions, Doug takes $100 from the "emergency fund jar" to bet on a boxing match. When he and Deacon win $5,000, Doug realizes he can't let Carrie know he won big or she'll realize he took the money. Deacon and Doug set out to burn it all off in a day of luxury spending. Meanwhile, Carrie is offered a new job, but when she finally works up the nerve to give notice, the offer ends up not being as firm as she thought.
The Lesson: It pays to be honest. "In this episode, it would have prevented a major, unnecessary expense," says Bruce McClary, credit counselor at ClearPoint Credit, a non-profit agency specializing in financial literacy. "It could have also helped Doug and Carrie enjoy his windfall and better prepare for the future." Not to mention that financial deception can cause stress and weaken your relationship.
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 Character: Rachel Green
Growing up the daughter of a well-to-do doctor afforded this princess the charmed life. But suddenly, a dose of reality (and no paycheck) left her unable to afford even a semi-charmed life. The well-coiffed Green refused to face the reality of not being able to afford her lifestyle and instead, bought herself new expensive boots.
The lesson: It's OK to splurge now and then. But experts say you've got to feed your savings account before your closet. And burying your head in the sand won't fix your financial woes.
The fix: McClary says even though avoiding your financial reality provides temporary relief, it can spell disaster in the long run. Instead, he suggests meeting with a credit counselor to help you outline your monetary goals -- even if they include new boots. "You might uncover goals you didn't realize you had." You also might discover a few monetary mistakes you didn't realize you were making.
The bottom line
As you're settling into your comfy chair and cozying up to your "clicker", keep in mind that a little TV can go a long way. When you're identifying with a character's penchant for fashion or failed romance, take a minute to see if you identify with their financial habits, too. Then ask yourself if you're happy with the financial direction the character is headed, since his or her outcome just might wind up being yours, too.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.