By Nicholas W. Stuller
I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Ashton Kutcher’s new reality show called “Going from Broke” which takes aim at the problem of the extraordinary debt that college graduates have accumulated. The 10-episode series which is shown on Sony’s Crackle streaming service focuses on the personal financial struggles of 10 different groups of people. I saw the first episode about 23-year old entrepreneur Obi Nwankwo and came away with a number of observations.
First, and most important is that we should all congratulate
Mr. Kutcher for getting involved in a topic that is of critical importance to
society, but in all candor is a very difficult subject to make good television
out of. I do hope he is able to get season two made, as financial literacy
needs to be tackled from every conceivable angle.
I think the first episode is without question a net
positive. It shares in a very relatable way how easy it is for a successful
young person like Obi, a former student athlete who makes good money with his
new business, to get off track fast by allowing peer pressure and a lack of
personal finance counseling to get him into debt.
The show’s host Dan Rosensweig, the CEO of Chegg (and show sponsor) and financial expert Danetha Doe offer different and useful advice to Obi. In some cases they are empathetic, sharing he is not alone in his financial plight with college debt that is substantive. In other cases giving incredulous looks at his rationale for spending $800 on sneakers that he originally thought was a good business investment for his fledgling sports representation firm.
The most impactful lesson to Obi was the humbling experience
of selling his collection of expensive shoes to pay down debt, including
selling the very shoes on his feet. The team of Dan and Danetha went through
the process of analyzing his personal profit and loss statement and pointing
out expenses that were bloated including his rent, entertainment and an
assortment of other costs. One of Obi’s eye-popping moments was when Danetha
showed exactly how much interest he would be paying on his college debt, well
over $100,000 over the life of the loan, if he did not change his personal
Room for Improvement
There were however some areas for improvement. First, there
should be a licensed, tenured Financial Advisor, preferable a CFP that joins
Dan and Danetha to advise these indebted students. Having someone who is
licensed to give professional advice would improve the credibility of the
Second, the editors need to be mindful of what makes it to a
final episode. For example, Dan when making the point that Obi’s rent is too
high, states “you pay more in rent than most grads make in the first year in
salary” His rent was $1,600 per month, annualized is $19,200 and less than half
the average starting salary of today’s recent grads. These details matter after
all we are talking money and moreover in this jaded environment, anything that
diminishes trust in the content lessons the potency of the lesson being taught.
Another improvement would to be circumspect about the ads
that are sold within the segment. When I watched the segment, multiple credit
card company ads were shown and even a casino ad appeared. These are
conflicting messages when speaking about personal finance and saving and today’s
technology allows certain types of ads to be blocked by category. This would improve
the impact of the content.
A Worthy Effort
In sum, I enjoyed the first episode, its message and how it
was conveyed and look forward to viewing the next nine episodes in this first
season and do hope they continue with future seasons. If you know anyone
struggling with college debt, tell them about this new series.
Nicholas W. Stuller is the Founder and CEO of
MyPerfectFinancialAdvisor.com, a 30-year veteran of the financial services
industry and author of THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOUR WALLET FREE: Secrets to Finding
the Perfect Financial Advisor, published in 2018 by Post Hill Press.