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Two of the TV sit coms (situation comedies) we like to watch are Modern Family and The Middle. There’s not much that can be learned about personal finances by watching Modern Family as its three families appear to be pretty well off and there isn’t much talk about money. On the other hand, if you watch The Middle there are things that can be learned about what to do and not to do about personal finances.
What the show’s about
The Middle centers on the Heck family in the fictional Indiana town of Orson. The Hecks are a middle-class family (hence the show’s name) headed by the mom, Frankie Heck, and dad, Mike. Frankie once sold cars but is now a dental technician. Mike manages a local quarry. They have three children – Axl who is in college, Sue who is a sophomore in high school and Brick who just started middle school.
What makes The Middle different
Few situation comedies other than The Middle and Two Broke Girls tackle financial problems. They’re just not a factor in comedies such as Two And A Half Men or Mom. In comparison, The Middle is a lot about the family's struggles to keep its head above water financially. If you watch a few episodes, you’ll laugh a lot and also learn some valuable lessons about personal finance and life in general.
What to do about your job
In the first seasons of The Middle Frankie sells used cars for Ehlert Motors where she had the company's worst sales record. She is ultimately fired. Realizing that she's not at all good at selling used cars, Frankie doesn't try to get a similar job. Instead, she decides to go back to school to become a dental technician. There are a couple of good lessons that can be learned from this. First, losing your job isn't the end of the world. In fact, as the old saying goes, "when one door closes another one opens." Instead of becoming morose and depressed over losing her job, Frankie sees it as an opportunity to reinvent herself. Second, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again isn't necessarily good advice. If you find yourself in a job you dislike or if you're not earning enough for a decent lifestyle, think seriously about making a change. Like Frankie, you might have to go back to school to acquire new skills but these days you could do it evening's, weekends or even online – at whatever times you wish.
You would never mistake the living room in The Middle for one in Modern Family. The Heck’s living room sofa is patched and most of the furniture appears to be old and well worn. And the three kids' clothes look as if they might have come from Target or Walmart. But the daughter, Sue Heck, has braces that would have theoretically set the family back several thousands of dollars. The oldest son, Axl, is now in college. While this seems to be thanks mostly due to an athletic scholarship Mike and Frankie still need to provide him with the requisite furniture, books and so forth.
While the Heck family may be fictional, it clearly has its priorities straight. The furniture might be a bit beat up looking but their kids get the important stuff they need. So, do you have priorities and do you keep them straight or are you easily distracted? If you fall into the latter category, you need to write out a list of the things in life that are really important to you and what they cost and then assign priorities. If you’re like us and the Hecks, you can't afford to "have it all." But you can have the critical things so long as you prioritize them. For example, it might be great to take a dream 10-day vacation in Hawaii but maybe you also have an older car that needs to be replaced. We don't know about you but our recommendation would be to replace the car so that you would have a dependable source of transportation. Hawaii might be fun but it wouldn’t be any fun at all if your car broke down and you couldn’t get to work or buy groceries.
In the show’s second season, the Hecks take a family vacation. Money might be tight but rewarding themselves was smart. If you're doing careful budgeting and money is tight you need to find ways to reward yourself from time to time to stay motivated. The old cliché, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” could be brought up-to-date as "all budgeting and no reward makes it tough for Jack to say on his budget." Your reward doesn't have to be a vacation – camping or otherwise. It might be something as simple as dining out, going to a movie or inviting friends over for drinks and dinner.
One of you has to be able to say "no"
As good a mom as Frankie is, she does occasionally become unglued. For example, in one program, Frankie decides the family needs to abandon their house (which is basically falling down) and move to an apartment. Fortunately, Mike who is the family's voice of reason talks her out of it. His job of managing a quarry is just about perfect because he is often the family's rock. Are you or your partner the steady, stable one? It's critical that someone plays that role even if it doesn't come naturally. When both partners are sort of happy-go-lucky and not worried about money disasters are bound to occur. One of you needs to be able to say "no" and make it stick. Maybe your daughter would just love a new North Face® fleece jacket but the $150 it costs could be better used elsewhere like to pay down a debt. Someone has to be the bad guy just to keep the family on track. It's not a fun role but it is a critical one.
Never stop trying
The Heck daughter, Sue, is optimistic all of the time regardless of circumstances to the contrary. She is continually trying out for something such as the cheer team and failing or trying to get her driver’s license despite six previous failures. Sue is even good at working around failure. In one episode she doesn't make the school's cheerleading squad so she forms her own squad to cheer for the school’s wrestling team – which didn’t have any cheerleaders.
The lessons here are very simple. First, managing your finances is easier if you can stay positive. And second, there’s just no substitute for persistence. In another episode, Sue enters a cross-country race and runs five laps with a twisted or possibly broken ankle. It starts raining on her last lap. She is splashed with grass and mud and ends up dragging herself over the finish line using only her arms. But she did finish. No matter how tough it might be to stick to your budget or pay down your debts, stay persistent and you will eventually drag yourself over the finish line.
Learn from your mistakes
You probably will make mistakes but don't get discouraged. Learn from them. In a season three episode, Frankie realizes she’s more considerate to people outside her family than to her own family. She learns from this mistake and beings paying more attention to Mike and the kids. If you go over budget in some area such as groceries or clothing, learn from this and adjust your spending accordingly. There are probably other categories where you didn't spend as much as you had budgeted. You might be able to take money from them to make up the shortfall in your food category. But then learn from this and try to make sure you do a better job of food shopping next month.