Tuesday's season premiere of the reality show "Downsized" (We TV, 9 p.m., 8 p.m. CDT) reintroduces the Bruce-Rumsey clan of suburbanites turned dumpster divers. After getting sucked down the recession's spiral, they're clawing back up to rejoin the middle class.
When we met the family members on the show last year, they had two homes in foreclosure and a construction business on life support. The second season begins with the blended family of nine having a total of $18,000 in the bank. Everybody has a job, too.
It sounds peachy, but if they played by the book to surmount their debt, that wouldn't make interesting television, would it? It would have the same effect as Snooki going to the library instead of the bar.
"Financially you're going to see us fall back into some old habits that tend to happen with people," Todd Bruce, the thrice-married patriarch, tells The Price of Fame in a recent interview.
"We don't do everything right," Laura, the mother, says.
The Anthem, Ariz., couple and their children -- two of his; five of hers -- own seven cars and are considering buying another house. In the finance-recovery game, TPOF calls that inadvisable.
But Laura and Todd have plenty to teach us about the right things for parents to do in tough times. Here are a few:
They get the children involved. All of the kids are working to help make ends meet -- and to earn money for personal needs. Three of the boys are now moving dirt at $50 a pop to begin the second season. "If you empower kids, they have more control over the situation and it's better for them," Laura says.
They applaud entrepreneurship. "It encourages outside-of-the-box thinking instead of just going out and finding another job," Todd says. "The world revolves around entrepreneurs. You want to teach them financial responsibility." After several other family ideas to make money (fans might remember the "goo" manufacturing scheme), 11-year-old Danielle is now creating flower designs for hair clasps.
They hustle. Viewers may disagree with their priorities, but Mom and Dad can't be accused of being lazy. They are working hard to regain their ideal lifestyle. Laura, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, has tried several business ventures, including a cleaning service. She returned to work as a first-grade teacher and also waits tables at a restaurant and instructs at a fitness center for kids. Todd has apparently brought his contracting firm back from the brink.
They communicate. As the family considers home ownership again, they have openly debated whether they're still in survival mode, Todd says. They always keep the kids in the loop about their fiscal plight, but try to remain upbeat. "We remind them that it's temporary," Laura says. "When we were comfortable, we always instilled in the kids to be grateful for what they have."
They save on entertainment. Vacations are out. Staycations to a nearby lake are in. So is Netflix. And eating out, one of their weaknesses, is now reserved for special occasions. But they make sure to celebrate those special occasions, especially when it comes to dinner for two. "You have to make special time," Bruce says. "You have to make sure that the kids see that our relationship is stable and you take the time for that."
They're sending the children to community college. The oldest girls, Heather and Bailey, are getting the basics out of the way at community college. "They can stay at home, get those foundation courses and save a whole lot of money," Laura says. "It makes perfect sense."
They separated dreams from real goals. Bruce says he is no longer spending thousands on baseball travel and training in the hopes his sons will make the major leagues. He's focusing on their financial education instead.
They found an effective adviser.Dean Wegner, a local housing and finance guru, provides the expert advice on the show. "I think it's invaluable to have someone like that," Bruce says. "Someone to trust who doesn't get a lot of windfall from it."
They're reading personal-finance books. Laura recommended works by Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad.
They put home loss in perspective. "A house is just a house," Laura says. "It seems scary. You feel like you'll damage the children. You'll be OK. It's not worth it. Whether it's foreclosing, selling or short selling, you'll be OK."
As for the seven cars still in their fleet, something tells TPOF they're heading down the wrong road. Laura says she told Todd that the problem with the cars is that many are too old and should perhaps be replaced with new cars.
But that's the beauty of reality TV -- when the subjects refuse to get real.