09/30/2014 08:01 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

Your Finances: Sitcom or Melodrama?

To make the subject of your personal finances more interesting, try imagining it as a television show or a movie. The scene opens, and there's you, or at least the actor paid to represent you (no doubt someone suitably young and attractive). The question is, when the characters open their mouths, what type of program does it turn out to be?

The type of TV show or movie your finances would make is a good clue to what shape those finances are in, and how effectively you handle them.

On tonight's episode ...

Here are some TV formats you might be able to see yourself in:

  1. Melodrama. With some people, there is a different bit of melodrama every week. Will the utilities payment clear this time? Will the repo man find where you parked the car? Can you get one more credit card approved so you can pay the bills on the others? If this sounds at all familiar, you are living too close to the edge financially. Cut expenses until paying for things becomes less of a source of suspense and heartache.
  2. Sitcom. Are you the loveable-yet-hapless sitcom character who everyone in the audience knows is going to have his latest get-rich-quick scheme fall through by the end of the episode? The guy who bought AOL instead of Google? The guy who plowed everything into oil futures at the height of the energy bubble? The guy who got taken because it turns out that "15 percent returns -- guaranteed" must be a scam? If you are going to do laughable things with your money, try at least to make it one of those sitcoms where the final scene announces the moral to the story, and everyone learns a valuable lesson for the future.
  3. Britcom. British comedies are often based on class differences and the attempts of would-be social climbers to present a better front than reality justifies. The American version is simply spending too much so your neighbor thinks you are richer than you are. Once you start going into debt to do this, it ceases to be funny.
  4. Romance. Maybe your relationship with money is neither adversarial nor funny -- perhaps you love money with all your heart! You were meant to be together! Just remember, you may feel that way about money, but money does not feel that way about you. In fact, it has a way of leaving people just when they need it most.
  5. Military epic. The way some couples manage money, it's all open conflict and strategically plotted campaigns. The territory being fought over in this case is the issue of who gets to control the budget, and who benefits most from it. Usually, these things end with way too much blood being spilled.
  6. Western. Some people make every negotiation a one-on-one shootout. It's good to stand your ground, but get too confrontational and people just won't want to deal with you. Too much of that sort of thing gets old in a hurry -- there's a reason westerns went out of fashion decades ago.

Perhaps it is a sign you are doing a good job with your personal finances if they would make a lousy TV show. After all, conflict, mayhem and hijinks may make for good entertainment, but they are really bad for your net worth.

Also by Richard Barrington: