Helping Buffy slay her financial demons
Summers has made a lot of mistakes in her short life -- she lost
her virginity to a vampire, for Pete's sake! -- and her latest error
could have long-lasting effects:
She didn't consult a financial planner.
2001 has been a lousy year for the title character
in the UPN series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Last spring,
Buffy's mom died. Then Buffy died. Friends brought Buffy back to
life, ripping her out of heaven. Early this season her basement
flooded, and the plumber presented a big bill.
That's when her friends deliver the bad news: Buffy
Buffy jokingly suggests burning the house and collecting
the insurance. "Plus, fire pretty," she adds perkily.
But the situation is so dire that her friends don't laugh.
"It's not like it's the end of the world,"
Buffy says. "Which is too bad. Because that, I'm good at."
A Slayer with a plan
Buffy has more financial troubles than your typical 20-year-old.
She can't hold down a job. She can't call herself a full-time student
on her taxes because she dropped out of college the last time she
died. Much of her mother's life insurance payout went toward medical
bills. The rest of the insurance money paid for upkeep of Buffy's
home. Buffy's little sister, Dawn, is probably headed for college,
and there's no evidence that anyone saved money for that. Buffy's
father doesn't pay child support.
"Buffy should have a financial planner.
She's a very worthy person," says Robert Lurie, a financial
consultant in Westport, Conn., who has seen every episode of the
show, now in its sixth season.
If Lurie were to sit down with a real-life Buffy,
he would talk to her about starting a rainy-day fund, saving for
Dawn's college and asset allocation for Buffy's retirement plan
-- even though Lurie realizes that "vampire slayers don't actually
have a long future."
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a remarkably realistic show,
on a metaphoric level. That description might sound paradoxical,
even silly, by those who don't watch. But in the years during and
just after high school, life is full of horrors: dating, cliques,
parents, betrayal from friends, drugs, date rapists, worries about
one's unpopularity and bad hair, and disastrous choices in sexual
partners. "Buffy" tackles all these issues, sometimes
symbolizing them with demons and vampires, and sometimes not.
"I guess that's why we watch it -- it's
analogous to what goes on in the world," Lurie says.
Fans say it's the best-written show on broadcast
The series begins when Buffy and her mother move
to Sunnydale, a Southern California town situated on the Hellmouth,
an infernal portal between this and demonic dimensions. Buffy learns
that she is the Slayer, a girl who is born with a supernatural ability
to detect and kill demons and vampires. She is trained by Rupert
Giles, a tweedy, English, school librarian who belongs to a secret
society of Watchers who look out for the Slayer's welfare.
Five years later, Giles has just moved back to England.
Now Buffy's circle consists of Dawn, brainiac-witch Willow, her
former lover Tara, construction worker Xander, and his fiancee (and
ex-vengeance demon) Anya, who manages The Magic Box, a store of
the occult where the gang hangs out. Oh, and don't forget Buffy's
vampire enemy/ally/lover(!), Spike.
Buffy vs. money
The gang is always battling a foe. Recently the enemy has been financial.
After the basement debacle, Anya suggests that Buffy
charge for her services, but Buffy refuses. She works strictly pro
bono. Buffy goes to a bank to ask for a loan (she takes her report
cards for documentation), but the banker turns her down. He explains
that she has no job and no collateral except the house (which has
been losing equity because "for some reason, Sunnydale property
values have never been competitive."). A demon interrupts their
conversion, bursting in to rob the bank. Buffy slays. Does rescuing
the banker mean he'll reconsider her loan application? No chance.
Later, Buffy takes a couple of jobs -- toting I-beams
at a construction site, working the sales floor of The Magic Box
-- but they don't work out. Giles's parting gift before flying back
to England is a check for a large amount. That seems to solve the
financial problems, at least in the short term.
A stake in the future
But in the long term, Buffy still has financial issues.
"I think Buffy has a lot of options there,"
says Kim Baker, an investment adviser in western Massachusetts.
"Giles gave her a lot of money -- that should have been looked
at and put in an investment plan."
Lurie agrees. He was a teacher before he was a financial
consultant, and he occasionally talks to students about money.
He would explain to Buffy "two aspects of investing
-- one being asset allocation, so you're not at too much risk in
one group. The other, of course, is compounding -- if you put money
away, it's going to compound, and the power of compounding, especially
over long periods, is enormous. Those two core ideas would be important
for Buffy to understand."
He says he would tell Buffy to set aside a month
or two of expenses for emergencies, then start investing in an individual
retirement account for herself. Also an education
IRA or a Section 529 College Savings Plan to cover Dawn's college
education. Section 529 is new and not yet well-known; in California,
it's called ScholarShare.
Slay for pay
Baker concurs that Buffy needs to plan for the future. "And
working for free at a highly dangerous job is not how you plan for
the future," he says. "The Watchers should give her disability,
a retirement plan and probably some kind of stock options. If you
can't work a deal with the Watchers, then she'd have to work a deal
with the community, I'd say."
In other words, negotiate a contract with Sunnydale
so she could get paid for protecting its residents. "The services
she renders are priceless," Baker observes. "If Buffy
goes on strike, they're in big trouble."
He adds that a real-life Buffy could document her
stories and sell the movie rights. "I think her income potential
is limitless," Baker says. "And the other thing is, when
you kill one or two of these demons, save the evidence. They have
Believe It or Not' centers -- I'm sure she could get a fortune
for these demon parts and corpses."
Wooden stakes? Deductible!
There are tax implications in not being paid for her slaying services.
Cameron Hess, a certified public accountant in Sacramento, Calif.,
notes that "what she does may be classified as a hobby and
not a business if she is not engaged in slaying vampires for a living.
Plus, with her arsenal of wood stakes, certainly she has some deductions
"Also," he adds, "with all those
risks she takes, maybe she should work through an LLC (limited liability
corporation) to limit her personal liability. After all, just one
stake in the wrong heart -- a non-vampire -- can ruin her reputation."
Working through an LLC would provide her some protection
against losing her house and Dawn's college savings in the event
of a lawsuit.
Hess doesn't think Buffy could swing a slay-for-pay
deal with the city of Sunnydale. Unlike the Powerpuff Girls or Batman,
Buffy is not a welcome presence among her community's police and
political leaders. After all, when the former mayor transformed
into a giant serpent at the graduation ceremony, Buffy killed him
by blowing up the high school.
Paul Peterson, a certified public accountant in Walnut
Creek, Calif., e-mails that Buffy's main problem is that "she
has half of Sunnydale living in her house rent-free, and she is
destined to work as an uncompensated superhero."
Actually, now that Willow and Tara have broken up,
only Willow is living in the house rent-free, and she took care
of Dawn while Buffy was dead for four months. Maybe that's why Buffy
has been so tolerant of the magic-addicted Willow.
Peterson suggests that Buffy charge rent anyway.
Saving more than lives
Financial advisers agree that Buffy is thrifty.
"She doesn't own a car," Lurie says.
"They don't go out to eat. She doesn't go clothes-shopping
-- you don't see her going into the mall and spending stuff. She
seems to be frugal, actually."
One of the most puzzling things about the show is
that Buffy and the gang live in Southern California and are always
looking for one another to communicate urgent messages. (Buffy is
constantly asking in panic, "Where's Dawn?") Yet none
of them owns a cell phone.
Thrifty to a fault.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
airs at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) on UPN.
-- Posted: Dec. 19, 2001