Reality TV Underscores Financial Literacy Need

If Gen Y-ers try to emulate Snooki or the Situation, they’ll quickly find their wallets empty.


Watching television is the number one American pastime, accounting for about half of all leisure time with viewers watching an average 2.7 hours per day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And a good many of the programs they’re watching are reality TV.

Gen Y-ers are affected dramatically by reality TV, with correlations shown between eating disorders and plastic surgery and time spent viewing reality TV. Four out of five patients reported that television influenced them to seek cosmetic surgery, according to Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery academic journal. Not only is reality television dampening self-images, but it has an effect on the demographic's financial literacy.

Credit unions have been working hard for years to underscore the importance of financial literacy within the Gen Y demographic. By looking at today’s reality show trends credit unions might better understand who influences Gen Y.

I’m a member of Gen Y and I love to hate reality TV shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, Charm School, and Jersey Shore. I watch these shows in utter disgust but, like many other Gen Y-ers, I can’t seem to turn away. And while watching Jersey Shore one afternoon, I noticed reality TV hardly ever portrays a character actually paying for things.

The episode featured them going to bars and throwing back shot after shot, but never once did I see Snooki or The Situation pay their tabs or leave a tip for the bartender.

And even if you did see the characters paying, they are constantly going out and spending money without a second thought. The actors are getting paid a ridiculous amount of money for acting like an idiot on screen. Do Gen Y-ers assume they can easily emulate that lifestyle? If so they’ll quickly find their wallets empty.

Plus, reality TV stars lack lessons in work ethic. Most of the time, they walk in late, hung over from the night before, and spend most of the day standing around complaining.

Finances don’t seem sexy enough for TV, but can they be?

If credit unions accept reality TV and play-off of pop culture, they may reach more of its target Gen Y audience. Using reality TV stars and other pop culture icons as examples – mostly of what not to do – can help Gen Y relate to financial institutions. Gen Y will admire a credit union that wants to learn with them by embracing their pop preferences.

The two topics credit unions can address in Gen Y financial literacy programs that reality TV dismisses include: budgeting in the face of an ever-growing number of spending options and keeping their income larger than those expenses by taking responsibility and working hard. And remind your members: there’s nothing real about reality TV!


May 22, 2012


  • Loved this article. These reality shows are so unreal. Our young people should invest time in a Dave Ramsey course instead of wasting time with these shows.
    Linda Reutzel