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Helping Buffy slay her financial demons

BuffyBuffy 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 is broke.

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.

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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."

Realistically symbolic
"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 TV.

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 these 'Ripley's 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 to claim.

"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

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