Why "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" are Bad Role Models

Last Updated May 31, 2009 5:22 PM EDT

If you haven't seen Bravo's latest reality show, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, you're missing out. It's the train wreck you just can't take your eyes off. But once I got past the initial entertainment value, I actually started to worry about the message the program is sending to other families.

Don't worry, I'm not going to lecture you on family values. I could care less that one housewife is obsessed with plastic surgery or that another's son only aspires to open a strip club. (His Mom says he should just make sure it's one of those high class joints that she can be proud of.)

What bothers me is the conspicuous consumption. But again, I'm not judging their values. (So what if these women are spending money on frivolous baubles and McMansions at a time when others are losing their jobs and homes? This is America and it's their right to spend their cash however they like.) What does concern me, however, is the collective financial naiveté among the families. And I worry that viewers will be influenced by the reality show's stars rather than better role models.

If I had the kind of cash these Housewives are spending, I would allocate it very differently. Once I got to the point that I felt well-off and could easily afford the necessities in life, I would focus on setting aside funds for my retirement and my children's education.

Next, I would start thinking about family legacy. I recently read James Hughes' book, Family Wealth, Keeping it in the Family, which is considered required reading for wealthy folks. Hughes discusses the challenge many parents face when they try to hold onto their riches for future descendants and avoid the proverb of going from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. When I watch the Housewives of New Jersey I can't help but think that these families are destined to spend their fortunes inside of one generation, or if they're really lucky, maybe two.

Instead of shelling out $120,000 on furniture for a new home - yes, one of the Moms actually spent that much in just one shopping spree - I would begin putting money into a trust for future generations. And rather than dressing up my little girls in designer princess outfits, I would start giving them an allowance and teaching them the importance of giving to charity.

Finally, if my goal was to give my kids a better life than I had - as many of the housewives argue they're trying to do - I would go out of my way to teach them how to manage money and the importance of hard work. I may even make their inheritance contingent upon them having careers of their own and promising to provide for future generations.
Am I being too harsh? How would you spend your wealth?

NJ Turnpike image by TheTruthAbout, CC 2.0.