This is Not Us

One of my favorite shows on television is the NBC series “This is Us“. It tells the story of three siblings, two of them twins, the third adopted, coping with life under the backdrop of the death of their father twenty years earlier, when they were teenagers. It’s one of those emotional roller coasters of pain and elation as the characters face and overcome heart wrenching challenges.

But I’m worried about the characters’ finances. They live lavish lifestyles with seemingly no regard for where their next dollar will come from. For two of the siblings, Kevin and Kate, there may be plausible explanations for the way they live, but they are a stretch. The one I’m really concerned about is Randall.

Early in the show, Randall worked for a hedge fund as an weather derivatives trader. He had a nervous breakdown after the death of his biological father with whom he’d recently reconnected, and wasn’t able to return to work. His wife, Beth, was a city planner, but was laid off.

They have a large home in Alpine, New Jersey. A Zillow search suggests a home like their’s in that area would be worth at least $1.6 million and probably as much as $3.5 million. At $1.6 million, with a 20 percent down payment, their monthly mortgage would be over $6,000. At $3.5 million, the payment is over $13,000 per month.

For much of the second and third season, neither had a job. Meanwhile they bought an apartment building in Philadelphia, which required a significant investment for maintenance and repairs, and Randall ran for city council there. We’re not sure where the money came from for that.

So while the two were finding themselves, we can only assume they were burning through their savings like mad. Though neither seems to be worried about money. Randall’s new gig as a city council member will at most pay $150,000, or $12,500 a month. That means the mortgage payment alone will eat up two thirds to more than all of his take home pay.

Beth recently took a job as a dance instructor. That job pays about $25 an hour in New Jersey. That will give her $2,000 to $3,000 a month in pay, depending on how many hours she works. Maybe they’ll be able to cover the mortgage between the two of them. But who knows how they’ll pay their other bills.

The lifestyles of our favorite TV characters, like Randall and Beth, can distort our ideas about what is a “normal” lifestyle. The characters’ implied spending can be far above what families in similar income brackets can really afford. That world is simply not the real world, and trying to live up to it can be a dangerous trap.

While it’s natural to compare yourself to others, don’t do it. Instead consider a different comparison; where you stand relative to your savings goals. Having a savings goal and working toward it can be an effective way to overcome your concern that your lifestyle is somehow not up to par. Keeping track of your progress and comparing where you are to where you were is much more satisfying than comparing what you have to what someone else has, especially if they aren’t real.


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For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security. It is now available on Amazon.

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