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Lessons Learned from Reality TV

January 14, 2010

Michael Roush

This post was contributed by Michael Roush, National Project Director for the National Disability Institute and “Chief Financial Officer” of his family.

I can recall the first Reality TV show that I had ever watched back in 1992 with Heather, Norman, Eric,  and Julie — the cast of Real World, New York on MTV. As a junior in high school at the time, I had no idea that one’s first NYC apartment was not a luxurious oasis where seven people could cohabit peacefully – or not so peacefully — they made it seem so believable and, well, fun. As the years went by, I progressed to Survivor, Amazing Race, Super Nanny, and yes, even Keeping Up With the Kardashians (oddly enough, one of my faves). Obviously, it wasn’t too long before I began to understand that Reality TV, was, in fact, far from reality. To think there was a time when I actually wanted to be a Kardashian neighbor!

A true Reality TV show that provides practical tips and lessons is now my new must-see, Til Debt Do Us Part, which focuses on helping couples become debt-free as they tackle various financial challenges. Led by financial coach Gail Vaz-Oxlade, couples face-up to their debt, head-on; from curbing spending and cutting up credit cards to organizing bills and revealing often embarrassing debt-status to friends and family. Not the same shock and awe as some of the usual Reality TV hurtles (say, eating exotic live insects or navigating foreign countries with less than 60 bucks in your pocket) but Til Debt Do Us Part’s spotlight on the examination of personal spending habits presents a very real — even terrifying — challenge for many.

Much of that challenge seems to be focused around behavioral change, freeing ourselves of unhealthy rituals in which habit dictates actions over genuine need. The key here, as Gail emphasizes, is to remember to give yourself emotional room when tackling tough challenges (a.k.a. Let Go, A.C.T., Achieve). Because sometimes everyone falls off the wagon and needs to start over. Remember: this does not equal failure, rather, a mere bump in the road.

Most impressive about Til Debt Do Us Part is it’s clever delivery of financial education to the masses disguised as entertainment (again, I’m reminded of high school). Clearly, their method works. We’re watching. And learning. I can personally say that I’ve used Gail’s tips to help shape my own economy. Now that’s reality.


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