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Unbroke: What You Need to Know About Money

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This last Friday, at the dreadful 9PM timeslot, ABC ran a show called "Unbroke: What You Need to Know About Money." If you follow personal finance blogs, you've probably read a lot of reviews. I've been busy moving, so here's my unbiased thoughts on the show... done Bill Simmons diary style.

9:02 - Show starts off strong with a bunch of CNBC types in a board room discussing the economy... and Will Smith saying effectively, "What?!?! You people are boring... Worse yet, I don't know what you are saying." The best line was, "Imagine I was a person, how would you talk to me?" When they start to show him slides, he unplugs the projector. The average person doesn't (and shouldn't) follow a report with a rolling stock ticker on it... it should be a universal rule of personal finance.

9:03 - Will Smith decides he needs to talk to Mellody Hobson. In my opinion it's an unusual choice since she is president of Ariel Investments, LLC, a Chicago investment firm managhating over $3 billion in assets (according to Wikipedia)... and she's on the board of Starbucks... can anyone say latte espresso factor? It doesn't sound like she's the average person... plus it seems like she's the board room type that Will Smith just got fed up with.

9:03 - A flash comes up that Mellody's walking speed in heels is 9.36 mph. Kristanna Loken didn't walk that fast without heels in Terminator 3. It's a good thing that the intro is in slow motion... we wouldn't see her.

9:04 - Mellody starts out strong... makes the great point that you don't learn about money in school. Instead you learn how to make bookshelves. Looking at my own experiences, I know how a cam shaft is, how to plane with the grain of the wood, how to create a "well" in my mixing bowl (at least I think that's what it's called), and how to thread a bobbin. These are all things that most people could pay others to do if they didn't carry an average of $8,000 of debt. As Mellody points out, everyone could use personal finance... only a few actually use the wood working skills. I don't want to trash being handy at all, but personal finance should rank ahead of it.

9:05 - Antonio Banderas and Marisa Tomei talking about credit card debt as if their daughter is on drugs. I love it... great analogy.

9:06 - Cedric the Entertainer comes up with one of the most controversal topics of personal finance... he says that using credit card is a relationship and he strongly implies that using them is bad... this is fine for beginners, but Cedric doesn't tell people why is bad... there's no explanation about using it for reward points. I'm sure this is directed to those people with $8,000+ in credit card debt as mentioned above (update a couple of minutes later they say it's up to $10,000 on average).

9:08 - A survey "on the street" shows that quite a few people have many credit cards... as many as 9. Here's the thing... number of credit cards should not be a factor to most people. I probably 9 at one point in college. I used them responsibly to get 10% at Structure... oh I just dated myself. The show is focusing on the wrong thing... the number of credit cards alone doesn't hurt you. Using credit and not paying it all off each month does.

9:12 - Subprime mortages explained by Cedric the Entertainer... Is he talking, because his hands are all over the place as if he's trying to wave in a plane.

9:14 - Mellody interviews what seems to be 4 or 5 New York City people on spending habits... It's not exactly a diverse sampling.

9:15 - Seth Green doing "Cribs" on the budget and it just isn't funny. Good mention of saving money by shopping on Craigs List. There's no way the car he shows gets 38mpg on the highway as he claims. While everything in the house looks well worn, the kitchen has brand new stainless steel appliances. The stove might even be a Viking.

9:17 - Mellody is back to New York asking people about their emergency fund. No one has a good answer. I don't really the see the value in this. Of course you can find people in New York City who don't have emergency funds.

9:18 - Mildly entertaining speed dating skit with Antonio and Marisa. Weren't they married and talking about their daughter earlier?

9:28 - The show took too much time explain what stocks and bonds are... though the Etrade babies were entertaining.

9:29 - How did they find all these people who don't know what the S&P 500 was? Maybe it's just me, but I knew at 13...

9:30 - ... and aparently the Jonas brothers do too. Well sort of... there's no mention that the S&P 500 typically has only bigger companies. There's no mention of small company indexes like the Russel 2000. Not a peep about the Wilshare 5000. Hmm, Nasdaq has the "newest and coolest companies", is this a product placement/advertisement?

9:32 - Oscar the Grouch saving up for a dumpster... fantastic!

9:34 - Good call about the biggest risk when it comes to investing is not taking one.

9:40 - Christian Slater and Rosario Dawson talking to companies about 401ks. I'm too distracted about the pairing of personal questions with 401K questions from the audience.Christian Slater's abs aren't that impressive - not that mine are better. I think my wife isn't reading this, so I'll just say that Ms. Dawson is ridiculously hot.

9:44 - Average Social Security check is $1100 a month. Mellody is right about saving for retirement before saving for kids' college education. It would be nice if she explained the main reason... no one is going to give you a loan for retirement.

9:50 - Samuel Jackson delivers a great performance playing a financial expert who is broke. America needs Samuel Jackson yelling at them about living within your means.

Overall Wrap-up

The show pushed 4 points:

  • One have one credit card
  • Live in a reasonable home
  • Have an emergency fund
  • Save for Retirement

The show was entertaining, but it's trying to be too many things to too many people. If you are 60 you might be able to relate to Samuel Jackson, but Oscar the Grouch and the Jonas Brothers won't connect well with you. If you aren't into the hip-hop scene, Seth Green's "Crib's" is going to seem very out of place.

Despite the fun I pointed here, it was a very good show, and anything that pushes personal finance into the mainsteam media is a good thing.

Posted on June 3, 2009.

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12 Responses to “Unbroke: What You Need to Know About Money”

  1. Moneymonk says:

    I caught the end of it, when Samuel Jackson was shouting, I’m not gonna to take it anymore! lol

    This is a good summary you presented. Rather or not it was good or just entertaining, at least someone is trying to make an effort in directing people towards financially stability.

  2. “I’m sure this is directed to those people with $8,000+ in credit card debt as mentioned above (update a couple of minutes later they say it’s up to $10,000 on average).”

    Yeah, well, people were probably buying stuff on eBay during the show – pushing the CC debt from 8K to 10K.


  3. I don’t have cable and I’ve missed the hype about this show, so I have no idea what’s going on! lol

    But, I found myself skipping ahead in reading what you’ve posted here. Not that I find you boring, but I don’t really get into things where “celebrities” try to come off as being responsible and have something witty and groundbreaking to say regarding personal finance. I don’t know. I wasn’t impressed, but maybe I just need to see it. I think they need to put financial education in the school curriculum and stop trying to pretend like they care by gathering a bunch of A, B, and C-listers to comment on the state of the economy.

  4. Mike says:

    I saw it as a sad commentary on our society. If that it was it takes to get people to think!

  5. Roger says:

    I’ve heard quite a lot about this special, although I didn’t actually catch it. It sounds mildly intriguing, and most of the advice it’s attempting to share sounds good (although, restricting yourself to one credit card seems to be going a bit far).

  6. Jessica Walker says:

    I somehow thought from your posts you would have been a member of the Can’t Hardly Wait generation like myself. Seth Green pretending to be hip hop is about the funniest thing that I’ve ever seen. I guess humor is personal, but if you’ve seen Cribs and like Seth Green, you will find that hilarious.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    As a Buffy fan, I think I always see Seth Green through Oz-colored glasses.

  8. Bill says:

    I saw most of the show (except for the Will Smith lead in) and agree with everything that was said. As a financial consultant I wish as part of the retirement planning they would have mentioned the Roth IRA. A lot of people have no 401(k) and those people most need the Roth. It also seems a bit remiss to not mention mutual funds if discussing stocks and bonds.

  9. Nicole says:

    9:29 – How did they find all these people who don’t know what the S&P 500 was? Maybe it’s just me, but I knew at 13…

    I have no clue what that is. I’m 24 and no one (not even my parents) taught me anything about money or how to simply save let alone invest it into something.

  10. Lazy Man says:

    Sorry Nicole. Maybe I’m the weird one who read Kiplinger’s at the library for fun. On further thought, that does a little weird to me.

  11. kari says:

    appreciated the advice overall, but call me bitter (lots of student loan debt)..i had a hard time taking will smith and sam. jackson seriously when they never have to worry about money…ever. or any other celebrity for that matter.

  12. Debbie Fitzgerald says:

    Is there an answer key to this? I’m so busy as a teacher and really don’t have time to go through this unless I absolutely have to…

    Thanks for any help from anybody!

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