The Big Bang Theory's Theory of Personal Finance - Live Like a Mensch
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The Big Bang Theory's Theory of Personal Finance


Photo courtesy of Kristin Dos Santos

I was pleased to see two of my worlds intersecting last Thursday when one of my favorite television shows, The Big Bang Theory, took on some weighty personal finance issues in The Cooper/Kripke Inversion.

It all started when Raj and Howard spend $500 each to have personalized action figures made of themselves. (A great deal of time was spent ridiculing this waste of money, and although I certainly wouldn't have spent that kind of dough on it, I do think having an action figure of oneself is both a valid life goal and an awesome thing to do. Someday!)

Of course, their dolls arrive looking nothing like them. So Raj suggests that they buy a 3-D printer in order to make their own.

That's when things get really interesting.

First of all, 3-D printers are AWESOME. These bad boys can make anything--and they work on a similar principle to a dot-matrix printer. The existence of 3-D printers show that we're that much closer to Star Trek style replicators, and I would do many many things to own one myself. Including, perhaps, paying $5000 for a used one, which is exactly what the characters do. (Side note: the idea that you could get a second-hand 3-D printer for less money than you can get a good condition second-hand Toyota Celica BLOWS my mind. Then again, this is a fictional show and their numbers may be just as fictional).

This is also the point wherein the characters start really exploring the realm of personal finance. When Howard starts second-guessing their plan to purchase something so expensive (after all, it's his wife's money rather than his own that he will be spending), Raj tells him that he deserves the 3-D Printer and that he worked hard for the money. (Howard then agrees that he did work hard to find a woman who makes more money than he does.) With that minimal justification, they go ahead and buy the 3-D printer.

"Deserving it" is one of my favorite false justifications for a big purchase. Because anyone anywhere could say such a thing. "I work hard all day at my minimum wage job. I deserve this 75-foot yacht!" Hearing it stated so starkly is enough to make it sound as ridiculous as it is, even when the difference between expense and ability to pay isn't nearly so vast.

We are all deserving of many things, but expensive toys is not one of them. We deserve a safe place to live and good food--and most importantly, to be free from debt. We don't deserve 3-D printers, no matter how flipping cool they may be.

Of course, Howard gets his comeuppance later in the episode. He brings home the little Howard and Bernadette action figures that he made using the 3-D printer to show to his wife. She's charmed by them, until she finds out just how much money he spent to make them. (One of my favorite moments was when he claimed they cost nothing because he made them himself. How many times have we all fallen for that DIY lie?)

At that point, she makes him sell his half of the printer back to Raj, takes him off the joint checking account until he learns the value of a dollar, and gives him a food allowance, which he's already spent on Pokemon cards by the end of the episode. While that's certainly not a healthy marriage/money dynamic, I did appreciate the fact that a beloved sitcom took the time to show the importance of husband and wife being on the same page financially. We don't often see that in pop culture.

Have you seen money issues pop up in any pop culture recently?



haverwench said:

Ah, but just wait until Raj uses the 3-D printer to start a side business selling personalized action figures to undergraduates for only $250 (only half of what they cost from the first source they tried, and so much more accurate!) and earns back the cost of the printer with his first 20 sales.

Although actually, I did a quick search, and it appears that nowadays you can get a small 3-D printer for as little as $500. (www.solidoodle.com) So if they'd done their homework, they could have just bought the printer for what they spent on the action figures in the first place.

February 5, 2013 1:12 PM

haverwench said:

Also, I just looked up personalized action figures and found that you can actually get one for only $100, or $50 for just the head, which you can then pop onto an existing figure. (www.thatsmyface.com/.../View-all-products.html) These guys are just terrible at bargain-hunting.

February 5, 2013 1:14 PM

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