June Financial Fitness Challenge--Reality TV Drives Fantasy Spending
In the space of 24 hours you can enjoy, at least by proxy, a catered birthday party for 4-year-old twins, complete with event planner; a private jet whisking six women to Las Vegas for a "girlfriends" weekend; a home makeover complete with four-car garage; and a $35,000 canary yellow diamond engagement ring—sought by an already once-bankrupted suitor.
Fake it 'til you make it
Ever since host Robin Leach first wished us "champagne wishes and caviar dreams" at the close of each episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," back in 1984, we've enjoyed glimpsing how rich folk enjoy their money—or their bloated lines of credit.
On some level, it seems harmlessly entertaining to view this kind of excess and to feel slightly smug in the belief that we know what's really important in life.
But at the same time, watching these showy lifestyles risks resetting our own internal expectation levels. Almost imperceptibly, what we consider normal becomes several notches higher than it used to be.
Viewing popular home remodeling shows, for example, can suggest new—bigger, better, costlier—projects. Watching can be a smart way to learn about new products and design trends, but it can wreck your budget if you get carried away.
Few of these programs share total project costs, if they include costs at all, with their consumer audience. Production companies often provide the labor, and vendors discount or donate high-end goods in exchange for the "product placement" that such shows thrive on. And even when these programs cite a square foot price, they exclude appliances and furniture so you're not going to get a true cost.
Model responsible behavior for your children. Don't let other people set that standard.
We're used to identifying pitched products in advertising. Reality TV operates much like advertising, but it's under the radar—in disguise as programming.
And if all of this influences adult TV viewers, imagine how it affects impressionable kids who have no other measures of success or satisfaction. For example, one newspaper account of high-school prom season likens today's annual dance to the red carpet spectacles preceding major media events. Yikes.
There's a reason that catalogs have always been called wish books—it's fun to imagine having the best, the most up-to-date, the highest performing products. But there is a potential price in peace of mind and real satisfaction, not to mention the cash cost.
You can enjoy your guilty pleasure TV shows and keep your priorities straight at the same time. Here are some guidelines:
Financial Fitness Challenge
Your credit union money mentors bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your financial resources. The Financial Fitness Challenge continues to look at ways you can make better financial habits no matter what condition the economy is in.
Each month we randomly select five winners to receive $50 Visa gift cards; we choose each month's winners only from that month's entries, so enter every month. Remember to register for the Financial Fitness Challenge.
Home & Family Finance® Resource Center