Do TV characters share your money problems?

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Ever wonder how your favorite TV characters handle their money troubles? So do we. We took five primetime TV characters and looked into their wallets, seeing where their faults are and where they could improve financially. We then tapped the assistance of some financial planners to help get them back on track. Click through the television to see our TV money makeovers.

Alan Cryer of Two And A Half Men

Two and a Half Men

Character: Alan Harper (Jon Cryer)

Although there has been a lot of real-life drama off the set of “Two and a Half Men,” on set the issues have always revolved around Alan Harper’s mismanagement of savings.

Alan Harper is a divorced father of one living with his brother, Charlie. Despite his extreme frugality, Alan was unable to pay rent for the first five years of living with his brother due to alimony payments and child care costs.

Alan Harper
Key issues 3 steps
  • Little retirement savings.
  • Living with his brother.
  • Pathological cheapness without ever getting ahead in his finances.
  • Expensive past relationships.
  1. Change his attitude and set goals.
  2. Manage his cash flow.
  3. Develop a coherent plan of action.

Advised by: Robert Fragasso, Certified Financial Planner, president of Fragasso Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh.

Goals and attitude

Alan first has to change his mind before he can change his actions.

Frankly, in my opinion, Alan is not going to change his way of dealing with things. But I would try, through questioning, to get him to understand that he has three basic problems.

The first is attitude. He’s not seeing himself as a success and therefore is not seeing himself as a potential success. He is seeing himself as being acted upon. And he has plenty of opportunity as a licensed practicing professional to turn his finances
and his life around.

This is not someone who lacks education and is unemployed; this is someone who has control over his own chiropractic practice. He had the opportunity to expand his practice, and instead of using the resources that were extended to him to do advertising
and promotions, he consumed the money.

This is someone who is never going to be successful unless he comes to grips with who he is and what he wants. And that means setting goals.

He first has to see himself being successful, being independent, having the kinds of things and associations that he wants and that money will help him attain them. He has to see himself in possession of that and he can move toward it, but he can’t move
away from his abject position right now.

Then when he can make a statement that this is what he really wants, that would be the motivating factor that we would put down on paper in formulating the plan.

Cash flow management

This is where we map out a plan of action to get to his goals, and a big component of that is cash flow management. We would have to get a good fix on his revenues and his expenses.

If he has debt, we have to whittle down the debt before we can build the assets.

This is not a short-term plan; this is going to be a couple of years. It sounds as though he’s brought the same poor attitude to his chiropractic practice as he has to his life in general.

Plan of action

We would have to spend some time talking about how we would restructure his practice to attract more people and more revenue; how to make it more sustainable; get his business expenses under control and what kind of promotion must he do to get there.

This would be part of a written plan of action, with a timetable with steps and costs associated.

Part of the plan would be making his business successful.

Then, he has to go back to starting a retirement plan for himself, getting a home, changing his view of the things he wants in his life and how to get them.

Also, he shouldn’t get married again. Alan should try to work out an arrangement with the two ex-wives. He should try to get the alimony agreement under control — then he can start to build assets.

In two years he could be on track. The key word here is control: controlling his own life, controlling his own destiny and controlling his own actions.

Pam and Jim Halpert of The Office

The Office

Characters: Pam and Jim Halpert (Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski)

Pam and Jim Halpert recently got married and had a baby. They also own a home. Jim worked as a regional co-manager in the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin/Sabre but voluntarily stepped back into his old sales role in order to make more money. Pam returned
to work after maternity leave and seems happy with the decision. She is now the office administrator.

Pam and Jim Halpert
Key issues 4 steps
  • Saving for college.
  • Saving for retirement.
  • Maintaining an emergency fund.
  • Life insurance to protect their young family.
  1. Establish a budget and emergency fund.
  2. Life insurance.
  3. Save for retirement.
  4. Save for college.

Advised by: Kimberly Foss, Certified Financial Planner, president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif.

Establish a budget and emergency fund

Pam and Jim really need to have a budget. Successfully managing a budget can strengthen their relationship because they’ll have to work together as a team. They are going to have a bigger success ratio in their marriage because they have skin in the game
to make the budget work and both have a say in it.

After Jim and Pam establish a budget, they need to work on their emergency fund. They should have two to three months’ worth of their salaries saved — for both of them. And six months’ of living expenses. That will be the first savings goal.

Life insurance

With both of them working, they have a vested interest in providing money for the family and should both be insured. They need to have enough insurance that the surviving spouse would have enough money to sustain their lifestyle. If one of them were to
pass on, they have to plan for income replacement.

It’s really important to cover those expenses, but you also have to account for inflation wrapped around all that — including inflation’s effect on their salaries going forward. There are two ways to do the calculations. One is kind of a ballpark figure
which is five to 10 times your annual salary. Better, they should go to a website such as for a life insurance calculator.

Saving for retirement

People have a baby and think, “I have to start saving for college.”

That’s not exactly true. Pam and Jim are at that critical age where they can save $1 now and that dollar is going to grow faster and compound in value more than if it’s saved when they are 45 years old.

It’s important that they are participating in their 401(k) as much as they can. If they can’t contribute the full $16,500 every year, then it should be as much as they can.

Retirement savings have to take priority over college savings. If you can’t make sure you are going to be self-sufficient in retirement, you may end up living with your kids.

Saving for college

I’d like them to max out their 401(k) contributions before saving for Cece, but they can start a savings account for her while they are doing that.

Here is what I want them to do for Cece for her first birthday: open a 529 account.

The best plan last year was the Utah 529 account with the lowest expenses and best selection of investments with the lowest expense ratios. Basically, a lower expense ratio means higher returns for the child.

The accounts have little coupons that can be printed out. They can give the coupons to people, family and friends, and say “Hey, if you’re going to spend $25 anyway, spend $5 on a toy and then something for her future.”

People are hesitant to give money because they feel like the parents are just going to spend it. So, I advocate writing a check to the actual fund or just make it like a joke the 1-year-old would say: “Thanks Grandpa, I’m going to Stanford so this is
going to help.”

Sam Merlotte of True Blood

True Blood

Character: Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell)

Sam Merlotte is a restaurant owner. After stealing $100,000 from a supernatural creature, he opened Merlotte’s, a bar and restaurant in the small Louisiana town where he lives. When the owner of the money demanded repayment and ultimately wanted his life,
he was severely injured. Instead of a savings account, Sam has a habit of keeping large sums of cash in a safe in the bar, which isn’t as secure as a bank.

Sam Merlotte
Key issues 4 steps
  • Maintaining an emergency fund.
  • Finding a safe place to park his cash.
  • Borrowing money wisely at reasonable rates.
  • Health and life insurance.
  1. The right savings vehicle for his emergency fund.
  2. Borrowing money wisely.
  3. Health insurance.
  4. Start a 401(k) plan for his business.

Advised by: Jim Wright, chartered financial analyst, president and chief investment officer at Harvest Financial Partners in Paoli, Pa.

Finding the right savings vehicle for an emergency fund

Obviously, if Sam is worried about his family stealing his money, he needs to keep it somewhere other than in a safe in his bar.

Whether that is banks or CDs or short-term bonds, they are all better places for an emergency fund. We think everyone should have an emergency fund, probably with six to 12 months’
worth of your spending needs readily accessible.

He should also keep some money accessible in savings or checking accounts, and short-term CDs of maturities between one and six months. They need to be accounts he can access relatively quickly should something happen. He could even try some short-term
investments: high-quality stuff that will mature fairly quickly in case he needs it.

If some of it is money he wants to grow, he can take a little risk if he doesn’t need it for five or 10 years. He could think about putting it into the stock market through stocks, mutual funds or ETFs.

Borrowing money wisely

Next time Sam borrows money (he should refrain from stealing it), he should make sure it’s a low-cost loan.

Sam owns a home and we recommend that people have a home equity line. It’s part of that emergency reserve, and he can tap into it if he needs it. Rates are very low, so he could borrow on it pretty reasonably. We wouldn’t
recommend living off it because he would be borrowing equity in his home, but if something happens and the heating system blows up or there’s a hole in the roof, it’s a good place to tap into.


We’ve been fans of these high-deductible health savings accounts. They might be very appropriate for a healthy, young guy like Sam.

Ultimately, the way they are structured, they tend to have much lower premiums on a monthly basis. After the deductible is met, either all of your health care costs are covered or there are modest copays. It’s great for young people because of the low
premiums and protection against catastrophic events.

Start a 401(k) plan for his business

Sam is a small-business owner and my understanding is that he’s a nice guy and cares a bit about his employees, so it might not be a bad idea to set up a 401(k) plan.

With a 401(k), Sam and his employees can begin putting money aside for retirement. Also, as a business owner, he may be able to put aside up to $49,000 per year in a retirement plan, but there are some rules to get to that amount.

He should look to put together a low-cost 401(k) plan — one without lots of administrative costs. They can be expensive, so he should put one together that has low administrative expenses and a healthy helping of low-cost index funds.

Tracy Jordan of 30 Rock

30 Rock

Character: Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan)

Tracy Jordan is an eccentric late-night TV star with more money than he knows what to do with. He has no sense of how much money he has or how it’s invested, but often has a Midas touch when he gets involved with crazy schemes or investments.

Even with all this money, Tracy hasn’t really taken into consideration his family or his health. He has poor health, which is exacerbated by a bad diet.

Tracy Jordan
Key issues 5 steps
  • Overspending.
  • Hiring a financial adviser.
  • Finding balance between speculative and conservative investments.
  • Health care costs.
  1. Hire a financial adviser.
  2. Planning.
  3. Budgeting.
  4. Insurance.
  5. Estate planning.

Advised by: Kelly Campbell, Certified Financial Planner and founder of Campbell Wealth Management in Fairfax, Va.

Hire a financial adviser

Bigger money means bigger toys. A theme with working with someone like Tracy Jordan would be limits and discipline. He’s probably never had any limits and discipline — but now is better than never.

One of the things he should do is hire a financial adviser, but it can’t be a financial adviser who doesn’t have a backbone. It needs to be someone who he’s going to work well with and who will challenge him to hit goals.

He needs someone who knows his stuff from a financial standpoint, but also someone who is experienced in working with people who have way more money than they’ll ever need and have no clue how to use it. The adviser will also need to have the patience
to deal with someone who is going to be calling at 2 a.m. asking for more money.


Planning is putting things on paper. Not on a napkin at lunch but on actual paper, something he and his adviser can refer back to see how they’re doing.

It’s also about knowing what kind of distractions will come up and how to handle those distractions.

The plan will determine what kind of portfolio to put together. One of the things we might say for Tracy Jordan is that he should only put 10 percent toward speculative investments and then specify what level or degree of speculation.

I wouldn’t want to put too many limitations on him and I would want to make it very easy to understand because if it’s too hard, he’s not going to do it.


Budgeting is about being able to pay yourself first. Not pay yourself a salary and then spend it, but pay yourself the money you’re saving for your future. You can make some pretty big mistakes that cost a lot.

So Tracy needs to pocket some money, putting it away for the intermediate and long term, maybe as a plan for “What if I run out of money?”

But that doesn’t mean he can’t buy what he wants. You can budget for solid gold sneakers, but you need to have a limit, maybe only one pair per year.


Tracy will want to make sure that he has the money to pay for any health issues and that he’s providing for his kids. The first step is making sure his insurances are up to date: health insurance and life insurance.

He’s probably not going to get healthier. But he may want to come up with a rainy day health fund. If his insurance reaches a ceiling and they won’t pay anymore, then he has that extra money.

Estate planning

There are three issues with the kids.

He needs to know who his heirs will be so he can put money into a trust to take care of them so there won’t be a big dispute. A trust also is private, not a matter of public record like a will. In the trust, I would probably put some limits on what the
kids get while he’s living but also after Tracy has died.

Tracy will also want to plan for estate taxes. The estate tax ends up being close to 50 percent of what you have. But he could get insurance to pay the estate taxes. A lot of times it’s easier to buy a life insurance policy that will pay for the taxes
because you pay pennies on the dollar.

The Heck Family of The Middle

The Middle

Characters: The Heck family (Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn)

The Hecks live in a suburban Indiana town and embody the typical middle class family. Mom, Frankie, lost her job at a dentist’s office and now works, somewhat unsuccessfully, as a saleswoman at a car dealership. Mike, the dad, manages a quarry. As a family
with three kids and average salaries, Frankie and Mike sometimes struggle to make ends meet.

Tracy Jordan
Key issues 4 steps
  • College savings for three kids.
  • Retirement savings for mom and dad.
  • Emergency savings to cover unexpected expenses.
  • Saving for vacations.
  1. Get rid of debt and establish an emergency fund.
  2. Balance expenses with savings goals.
  3. Insurance needs.
  4. Long-term savings.

Advised by: Frank Armstrong, Certified Financial Planner and founder and principal of Investor Solutions in Miami.

Get rid of debt and establish an emergency fund

If the family has any consumer debt, they have to get rid of that right away. It is just so ugly. Cut up the cards if you can’t keep from using and relying on them.

In order to protect their finances from emergencies and avoid debt, the Hecks need an emergency fund. You never know what can happen: Mike might get laid off, Frankie might crash her car, the roof could blow off the house, and they don’t want to have
to dip into long-term assets in order to finance the routine emergency stuff.

Balancing today’s expenses with savings goals

Budgeting is the key to efficiently managing household finances — but savings have to come first.

Saving is really the key to financial security. There’s a lot of financial research about how people prioritize things. Distant goals are very important but are discounted in comparison to something that happens today.

For instance, “I’m fat, I want to lose weight. It’s really important to me. It’s life-threatening that I’m fat, but that chocolate bar looks so good.”‘ “I want to save for retirement. It’s really important to me that I save for retirement, but that new
iPod is so sweet.”

The family has to prioritize spending and the parents’ retirement needs to be up there.

Insurance needs

It doesn’t do the family any good to have this ambitious savings plan but never live to complete it. Insurances have a place and provide a foundation and safety net.

We first need to determine what the family’s insurance needs are. Typically, long-term disability, health insurance and life insurance are areas to explore.

It won’t do them any good to save $100 a paycheck if Frankie or Mike became disabled and never got another paycheck.

Long-term savings

For the Hecks, a single long-term savings plan can be developed that could meet several objectives based on their expected cash flows. The savings goals could be due at different times over the years: college education, maybe a second home and retirement.
We would design a single asset allocation plan that meets those needs.

We might want to spread that out across accounts. It could be advantageous to save in tax-favored accounts for some of the goals, including 401(k)s, IRAs and 529 accounts.

That is probably the most economical and effective way to meet different objectives. Create one plan that meets several objectives so it is easy to manage and visualize as well as economical to run. The Hecks can even get software to manage their plan
and cash flows. It will really simplify everything.