A little reality television never hurt anyone.
In fact, we like to think that it can be educational. We learn important things, like not to feed our children Go-Go Juice (thanks, "Toddlers and Tiaras"), not to date a guy who spends more time on his hair than you do (looking at you, "Million Dollar Listing") and how to "smize" (our gratitude, "America's Next Top Model").
Then there are the more substantial lessons. Money lessons, in fact. For every Real Housewife selling her life story to tabloids, there are savvy businesswomen, brilliant managers and etiquette situations we might all face one day.
So take this opportunity to learn money lessons from six popular reality shows... and no one will blame you if you need to do some follow-up "research."
The Plot: One of the OC housewives, Vicky Gunvalson, is an insurance broker who has accumulated both wealth and financial savvy through her own company. Her lifestyle and beautiful home is out there for all to see each episode. Enter new boyfriend Brooks, who reportedly has been jailed for not paying child support. Vicky's daughter Briana thinks he may be an opportunist. The Reality: Many financially successful women are remaining single much later than past generations, or are single again after divorce. How can they protect themselves from guys who may be in it for the money? "People of means or celebrity status are especially vulnerable because of their visibility and assumed deep pockets," says Sean Dowling, a Certified Financial Planner® and President of the Dowling Group Wealth Management in Stamford, Connecticut. But even those of us who have not attained celebrity status can take a tip from them and protect ourselves better. Dowling says: "Don't lend more than you are willing to lose. If the person never pays you back it was an inexpensive (hopefully) lesson to know they are not creditworthy. Do not sign anything for anyone where your credit is involved, because it never ends well. If the person you are in a relationship with is denied credit from a financial institution, there is a reason--so you shouldn't step in." Sound familiar? You might need our Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp.
The Plot: Love 'em or hate 'em, this family has learned to turn personal experience into big bucks and branding. Mom turned bladder control issues into a paid spokesperson gig and the sisters own several successful stores in three locations. There's Silly Bandz, a Sears line, diet pills and a deal with Vegas's Mirage to put the girls' photos on room keys and carry their products in the hotel's mini bars. "Momager" Kris Jenner is landing endorsements and deals galore, turning their name and personal interests into a business empire. The average woman can learn something from this female-dominated family worth an estimated $65 million. The Reality: "Go with opportunities as they present themselves," says Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100% women-owned private bank on Wall Street. "Turn obstacles into money making ideas." This family is famous for embracing the old saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Get fired? Start a business. Got jilted? Get even with your financial success. Develop a health problem? Figure out how to help others. "They've successfully employed that in everything from monetizing a sex tape, to monetizing marriage and then a quick divorce," says Kaplan. Sound familiar? You might like our Build Your Career Bootcamp.
The Plot: In this reality show, one lucky Bachelorette weeds through 25 guys looking for "the one." There are lots of big budget dates, including jetting off on a private plane, traveling the world, driving racecars and taking helicopter tours. The Reality: While dating can be expensive and today's women do contribute to some of that cost, here's how to date on a budget: "Despite what the Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise would have one believe, you don't have to have a Trump-sized bank account or private helicopter to go on a date," says Blane Bachelor, author of "On Being a Bachelor: Thoughts on Dating, Mating and Relating." Check out national and state parks. They're perfect for picnics, kayaking and hiking, and usually have only a minimal entry fee (or are free to enter). "I'm a huge fan of going for drinks instead of dinner. It's cheaper and less formal, and if you hit it off, you can always meet over a meal next time." "While I think any guy worth his salt should pick up the tab on at least the first date, and ideally the first two or three-I'm old-fashioned that way-gals should be offering to split the tab, get the tip or spring for a round of drinks. And yes, you should plan on paying the whole bill from time to time," says Bachelor. Sound familiar? You might want to keep an eye our for these eight financial red flags in a relationship.
The Plot: In this Jersey franchise, two branches of an Italian family tree lived a life of excess on air, including shopping sprees, trips and the construction of an in-home recording studio. It appeared as though they were rolling in the money ... but star Teresa's family filed for bankruptcy last season, and now her brother Joe's family is reportedly in severe financial straits. The Reality: "Individuals in the spotlight tend to want to keep up these appearances because they are embarrassed about their financial problems," says Jennifer Streaks, financial columnist, author and pundit. It's not so different for regular folks, either. "I would advise anyone having financial problems to have an honest conversation with friends and family. Typically, if you are trying to brush it under the rug, you are also not being honest with yourself and this will only lead to your financial problems getting worse," says Streaks. Once you come clean, people will know you're cutting back: not eating out, shopping or taking vacations, and they're more likely to support your goals. Sound familiar? You might need Get Out of Debt Bootcamp.
The Plot: Snooki, The Situation and the rest of the shore gang might want to bank some cash, especially in light of Snooki's upcoming childbirth. Just like Olympic athletes in the prime of their career, these reality stars are probably enjoying their maximum earning potential right now, with a short window of riches that could drop off substantially since there's no telling when the show could be canned. Saving and investing as much as possible to fund the rest of their lives is key. The Reality: Though most women aren't living a lucrative life in front of the cameras, they may find themselves with a large bonus, a financially successful book deal or a one-off business opportunity where they earn some big bucks during a short period of time. If you have debt, we recommend using a windfall of this type to pay it off first, prioritizing "bad debt." (For more on the difference between good and bad debt, read this.) Then create your emergency fund, which should include at least six months of take-home pay--and up to nine if you have an irregular income. After that, you'll want to set up savings and investment accounts. "Assemble a team of professionals, including a fee-only financial planner (who should act as the QB), attorney, accountant, insurance agent and real estate agent," says Rachel Sanborn, a Certified Financial Planner® at Financial Focus, Inc., in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. "And don't rely solely on referrals from friends. Make sure you check out disclosure statements and regulatory history so you don't get defrauded." Sound familiar? You might need our checklist: I Want to Set Up a Savings Account.
The Plot: Bethenny Frankel launched a line of shapewear, expanded her alcohol offerings and just landed a talk show. Each episode follows her in a host of business meetings, making major personal and business financial decisions. Her backstory? She comes from little to no means and just two years before hitting it big had trouble paying the rent. The Reality: What should you do if you've had some financial success? "Shhhh. Keep your newfound financial success to yourself and your very close friends. It's wonderful to make a lot of money after struggling, but many of the people around you may still be trying hard to make ends meet. You'll also avoid the inevitable outstretched hands this way, too," says Erica Sandberg, author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." "And keep an eye on your cash flow," Sandberg adds. "It's amazing how many rich people get into debt because their income--even a large one--fluctuates." Sound familiar? You might want to look into creating a living will and health care proxy.
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