What I’ve Got In My Pocket: 6 Things I Learned About Money by Watching Shameless
The darkly comical Showtime series, Shameless has quickly become a favorite of mine and a lot of TV fanatics’ across the country. Adapted for North American television from the original hit show set in Manchester, Great Britain, Shameless is the wonderful, frequently agonizing story of a broken, but loving family of miscreants who do anything and everything they need to survive in the slum of Southside Chicago. They steal, they work, and most importantly, they try to save. As far as shows that involve personal finance and the idea that every penny really does count, Shameless takes the proverbial cake. If you haven’t seen that show yet, what are you waiting for?
Be warned, spoilers await you below.
A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned…Until Someone Steals It
The first few seasons of Shameless are especially ripe with the concept that saving as much as possible while keeping spending to a minimum is the best way to stay alive. Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum), the show’s protagonist, is the effigy of all low-income earners as she diligently, often begrudgingly slogs her way through a multitude of random jobs to support her five younger siblings. Her parents being null and void, to say the least, Fiona, who in the first season is only 21 years old, must stick to the mother of all budgets to ensure that she and her family don’t go hungry. While their situation alleviates somewhat over the course of the seven current seasons (soon to be eight), the Gallaghers live in a state of borderline poverty for what seems like an eternity. Every time Fiona or one of the other children manage to make a bit of cash, they lose it on something that needs fixing. Whether it’s their busted water heater in the first season, a threatening debt in the next, or the actions of their alcoholic father, Frank (William H. Macy), nothing they gain ever seems to stay.
However, this is where part of the show’s magic comes to fruition. While other shows coat their storylines in glamor, Shameless, in many ways, is far more realistic. There are poor neighborhoods in almost every city in the world, where good jobs don’t come easily to people who can’t afford a proper education or who get dismissed simply because they were born there. So, budgeting and saving are essential. The Gallaghers, young and old, must learn to save every penny they can and use those pennies to buy discount items because a cold winter is always around the corner. Since no money equals no food, Fiona and her siblings, Ian, Debbie, Philip (a.k.a. Lip), Carl, and Liam scramble about with whatever tasks they can accomplish, truly living day by day. While stealing and scamming should not be on anyone’s agenda, their struggle will certainly give anyone who lives under better circumstances a more appreciative view on life. It isn’t until their mother, Monica comes to town and swipes all their savings that the show really takes a dark turn.
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Protect Your Money
“The first rule you learn in this house? You hide the g****** money.” A quote by Lip (Jeremy Allen White) segues us nicely into our next point. Shameless does more than just teach us about love, hate, and ironically shame, it teaches us to be cautious of who we should trust. Towards the end of the second season, the Gallagher childrens’ bi-polar mother reappears after abandoning them time and time again. Fiona, despite Lip’s warnings to take Monica’s returned love with a grain of salt, lets her back into the house where she soon discovers the family’s savings for the winter, stored in an empty Crisco can. Monica, being who she is, blows all the money on drugs, a car, and other ridiculous items, including a stack of expensive dolls for Debbie. Lip must then return those dolls and use his own money to bail Monica out of jail when after she’s arrested for driving under the influence of the drugs she bought with the proceeds. Nothing says “trust issues” more than having your own parents rob you of every nickel and dime you’ve worked hard to save. Not to say this is the case with everyone, although it is for a lot of people, but the overall principle is an important one to learn: protect your money properly.
Since the Gallaghers don’t seem to have enough set aside to justify opening a bank account, a hiding place for their money is the best they can do. The unfortunate truth is that a lot of people simply can’t afford the monthly fees that most banks charge for their services. For anyone that can, this is another lesson you should learn. Whatever bank you should choose, keep your money and financial information protected to the best of your ability. Don’t trust anyone with your PIN number, even if that person is a close friend or family member. Always make sure when using an ATM or bank machine, that no one is looking over your shoulder, and keep your receipts until you can dispose of them properly. Scam artists, including fake lenders trying to sell you loan insurance scams, are always coming up with clever ways to steal from you using your own personal and financial information. So, be careful of who you trust with your money or you might end up paying dearly for it.
Use What You Know
Another area in which Shameless sits high above others its wide range of grungy, but lovable characters. While Frank isn’t much for displaying his talent, except for fueling his alcoholism by any means possible, each of the Gallagher children seems to have a “gift” that they use to earn the family extra cash here and there. With Fiona, we have her hard-working attitude and the money-making skills she’s developed by being responsible for the lion’s share of the family’s livelihood. Lip has the mind of a genius, which he tries to turn towards the education of both him and his younger brother, Ian. Young Debbie uses her fondness for babies to open an in-home daycare, where working mothers drop off their children for cash up front. While Carl’s sanity can be questioned on numerous occasions, he puts his somewhat unethical skills to work when it’s crunch time.
“Inventory, budgeting… Go grocery shopping for a family of six with what I’ve got in my pocket, then let’s talk” (Season 2, Episode 10). A quote that describes her character, in a nutshell, Fiona says this while pitching her case to the hesitant manager of a local nightclub. Fiona knows that her talent for managing a family is something that can get her ahead in life without the help of a high school diploma. The lesson here is: if you have the drive, use it. Don’t give up when one opportunity doesn’t pan out because if you’re motivated enough, another will appear somewhere down the road. If your own motivation doesn’t do it for you, trying to support yourself or your family definitely will.
Click here to find out How to Teach Your Children About Personal Finance.
A Lot of Debt Can Lead to Serious Problems
Just as Fiona is our effigy of saving, Frank is the embodiment of debt related problems. Not only does he owe money to every loan shark and criminal in town, he also has a massive amount of debt due to the many credit cards that he’s opened using his own children’s names. In Season 1, Episode 7, the family is plagued by two gangsters hounding Frank for the $6,000 he owes them. The only way to dodge their threats is to fake Frank’s death. In Season 2’s premiere episode, Frank again muddles things up when he makes a bad bet with a fellow bar patron, who ends up taking the Gallaghers’ infant brother, Liam, as collateral. The other members of the family must once again scrounge whatever they can to get Liam back safe.
While these events are only some of the shenanigans that Frank gets into because of his absurd spending habits, once again, the underlying rule couldn’t be truer. Pay off your debts, because if a loan shark doesn’t come knocking, somebody else will. The Gallaghers almost always find a solution for their father’s debt problems, but the same can’t be said about everyone who racks up a bill they can’t afford. Yes, a credit card qualifies as “unsecured” debt, meaning there is no collateral involved. This is the thing that most people take for granted when it comes to credit cards. Ignoring a sizeable credit card bill, then opening up another account definitely does not erase that debt from existence. Sooner or later, that credit card company will sell your profile to a collection agency, who in turn, can and probably will take legal action against you, resulting in heavier consequences like wage garnishment.
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Just Because You Have The Money, Doesn’t Mean You Should Spend It
Our fifth point amounts to one of the most basic principles of personal finance, one that is characterized in various ways throughout Shameless’ seven seasons. No member of the Gallagher family can truly be painted as a portrait of morality. But, they all have moments when the shame of something they’ve done prompts them to take the high road. Fiona, in particular, is a good example of this as she learns to pay it forward because of all the times she’s been duped and robbed in her life. This brings to mind a scene in Season 2, Episode 3, where Fiona finds a forgotten purse on the L-Train. Inside is a wad of cash, which she then uses to feed the family. Our second rule can be put into play here, particularly when she tries to justify stealing the purse, saying the owner’s fault for leaving it on the train in the first place. However, upon returning the moneyless purse with the hopes of a reward, Fiona discovers that the owner is a lot like her; low income-stressed out over her family and needs the money to pay her rent. Needless to say, Fiona gets her moral comeuppance towards the end of the episode.
When we mention the principle of saving the money we earn rather than spending it, we’re usually talking about what comes from say, a promotion or a pay raise at work. The example above is a tad different, but the rule, displayed in different ways throughout the show, is not. Just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you should spend it, because the consequences might be worse than guilt. Not only should you take the proper measures to ensure that your money is kept safe, but whatever extra money you do have should, for the most part, go towards the essentials, such as housing costs, groceries, and saving for the future with a Tax-Free Savings Account or an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan).
Start an Emergency Fund
If Shameless has taught me anything, it’s that starting an emergency fund is one of the best things you can do with your money. In fact, this rule encompasses all of the others, and it’s also something that our Loans Canada team loves to remind you to do. As I mentioned earlier, as far as financial realism goes, Shameless is one of the best examples on mainstream television, the notion of “if something can go wrong, chances are it will” being thrown at us in multiple episodes. Whether it’s Monica stealing their savings, sky-high medical bills, or Carl blowing up one of their appliances, the Gallaghers have to deal with pretty much every financial emergency imaginable.
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If any of these emergencies should happen to you, it’s extremely important to have an easily accessible nest-egg that you can use to help deal with those issues. Unfortunately, as Shameless teaches us over and over again, things can and will happen that we simply cannot control and will have a hard time getting ahead of without the money to do so. Get creative, spend, sell, and save wisely because it will certainly benefit you in the future to be smart with your money now. If you’re looking for some good examples of both good and bad things to do with your cash, Shameless is a must-see.