As a general rule, I don’t watch much TV. I got rid of cable over a year ago and bought a TV antenna, so I get only the most basic of basic channels. The few shows I follow I either binge watch at the end of the season, catch up with them online the week after the episode comes on, or very rarely catch it on TV in it’s timeslot.
I had a lazy weekend so I read a bunch of books, knitted and watched some NFL football. (Did anyone see the Chiefs come back? No? It was amazing.) I’m going to be traveling a LOT the next 6 weeks, so I wanted to store up some energy. That meant bingeing out on the boob tube. I now remember why I don’t watch a ton of live TV, because the commercials were horrible. Cheesy, cringe worthy, and trying to sell me crap I don’t need.
However, once in awhile I get surprised by what I’m missing by not watching TV.
Someone on the financial independence subreddit linked to a YouTube channel full of episodes from a show called Til Debt Do Us Part. I’d never even heard of it before, but given that it seems to be a Canadian show I’m not surprised. Here’s the link to the show’s site in case you want to check it out. Only people in Canada can see the episodes but there are plenty available elsewhere on the web.
The basic premise of the show is the host, a lady by the name of Gail Vaz-Oxlade, comes in and helps a family fix the problems with their budgets. She goes over their current spending habits, lets them figure out a budget within certain parameters and then gives them a series of challenges to work on. Depending on how they do at the challenges, they get some money from her at the end to put towards their debt. Some families really appreciate the help and work hard to improve, and others…… well…… don’t try so hard.
After watching a few episodes (also known as most of season 8), I noticed a few common themes show up with each family and how they were being brought down by their poor decisions. I provide a contrast from an FI perspective to their decisions to see how these “normal” behaviors prevent them from ever having a chance to retire, let alone retire super early.
Each family featured had car debt or as one guy called it, “negative equity”. One or both their cars were either leased or under a long term loan with ridiculous interest rates. The host made one guy live in his car for an entire weekend to realize how insane it was to pay so much for something that wouldn’t help him or his wife out should they lose their roof over their head. This guy also had an expensive motorcycle just sitting in the garage he ended up putting up for sale.
I don’t have any car debt. I bought my first car at age 18 for $4,000. I put half down and got a loan for the other half which I paid off in 18 months. In those 18 months, I learned I hated having a car payment. At one point, I had absolutely no money and a payment due. I ran out and got a job to pay for it, but it was a less than ideal situation. I paid that month and then used my Christmas money to pay down the next few months before I left for basic training. I would’ve loved to use that money for anything but a car payment.
I’m only on my second car at the moment. The only reason I have another car is the first one got totaled in an unfortunate collision with a full grown deer. When I totaled my first car, insurance cut me a check for $4k. I couldn’t find a decent car at that price range, so I took some of my bonus from the military and paid cash for a nice car that cost $8k. That was over 5 years ago!
Just imagine if I’d bought a brand new car that cost $25k with a 5 year loan at 1.5%. My payment would’ve been roughly $450 a month. I would’ve paid almost $1k in interest to the bank/stealership/credit union. $450 a month just to have a new car! What! That’s the amount I set aside each month to put in my Roth IRA! Instead of paying them, I paid myself and hit $100,000 net worth at the age of 25.
It amazed me the families in the show would go shopping without a list. One stay at home mom would go shopping just because she was bored! No wonder their house was overflowing with unnecessary crap and they had no spare money! One lady had to inventory everything in her house and was amazed their 2 year old daughter had over 20 dresses. It’s easy to forget what you already have if it’s buried under a mountain of other stuff.
If I go shopping for something, it’s only for food or something that needs replaced. Or an emergency. Like when I went to my friend’s wedding out of town and was informed the rehearsal dinner required a nice dress and had to buy one there.
Aimlessly wandering around a store without a list and a specific reason to be there is just asking to waste your money. I have a list (organized by section in the store so I don’t waste time crisscrossing aisles), get what I need, and get out. If it’s not on the list, I’m more than likely not going to get it. An exception being if it’s something I needed and forgot about when writing the list.
I know I will see things I want, but most of that is marketing and very little of it is based on genuine need. Accepting temptation will be there helps you realize the emotion (is temptation an emotion?) when it happens and helps you avoid it.
Means Based Spending
What is means based spending? It means spending within your means, or not spending more money than you have. This lesson was drilled into me practically from birth, but it seems the people on the show didn’t get that growing up. They routinely spent $2-3k OVER their income each month. I suspect these couples were cherry picked for the show based on how bad they were doing (I mean, it is TV after all and they needed viewers), but still. It was ridiculous. What helped some couples wake up from the spending spree was seeing every purchase listed out (Mint is great for this!) and seeing what impact that overspending would have on their future. Being told you will have $600k worth of debt if you keep up this spending seemed to be a good slap in the face for most couples.
There will be occasional months where my expenditures exceed the money I have coming in, but they are few and far between. Most of those months occurred when I made a big purchase I’d been saving up for months to make (fancy quilting machine, big international flight, etc). Considering I spent several or more months saving up and spending less than normal, those hardly count. Spending more than you earn each and every month is a sure fire way to get into debt and never be able to retire, let alone retire early.
Hobbies are some of the best things in my life. They keep me grounded, allow me to express my creativity, get me out of the house and let me meet new people. However, I keep it very reasonable. I’m in one, maybe two sports leagues at any given time. One guy on the show was in 5 leagues! And gambled with his buddies during their weekly poker nights. One, that’s way too much time away from home (where he had a new baby and a wife), and two, the league fees and money spent on equipment was tanking any hope they had of maintaining a balanced budget.
Hobbies are one of those things that sneak up on you. “Oh it’s fine to spend $$$ on this fancy specialized doodad! I need it for this one project!” And then the project is over (or more likely, set aside and never finished) and you never use the doodad again. Since I started my side hustle/hobby this summer, I’ve spent over $1k on it! And I barely noticed. I gave myself a free rein over supplies and equipment although I didn’t go incredibly crazy because that’s not who I am. Imagine if i did that with every hobby I have. I’d not only be broke, but way in debt. Control your hobbies before they start controlling your life!
In the future, if you have some free time you feel like wasting, watch a few episodes and see how the host was able to help at least a few people dig out of the debt hole they’d started down.
Do you know anyone who should’ve been on the show? If you’ve seen it, what did you think?