Does TV Give Us Unrealistic Financial Expectations for Our 20s?

My significant other and I have recently started attending couples therapy. Not because we’re on the rocks or pre-marital shenanigans. No, we’re attending couples therapy simply to talk about communication, independence, transitions, and the technicalities of building a life together (i.e., finances) in a safe space. I hadn’t quite thought about it before, the financial commitment to one another. Not until my significant other casually said something about the future followed by, “when we have a joint bank account.”

Hold up. Joint bank account? Hell to the no. Finances will f*ck you up. But after getting all Miss Independent, it dawned on me: I work in non-profits. The idea of a savings account, let alone retirement funds, is going to be an immense struggle. Our careers, particularly mine, will be leading us to major cities like L.A., New York, Washington D.C., or London. Major in size and major in cost.

When I think about my future apartment, I think about old, vintage buildings. I swoon over hardwood floors, embrace the exposed brick walls, weep over the beautiful crown moldings, and my heart cries a little every time I see the built-in shelves and nooks that come with so many old apartments. However, with the continuous rise in rent, and my very small salary, there is a minuscule chance I will be able to live in a major city and live in a dream apartment.

As we were sitting with our therapist, me explaining my concerns of joint bank accounts and that I will be the one making less money, my significant other calmly stated things like,“Well we’re committed, who cares,” and, “We’re building a life together, which means sometimes the other one is going to have to help out more; it’s just life.” As he sat there so calm, cool, and collected, my eyes became green with envy. His parents had shown him and his siblings a very stable financial relationship throughout their childhood.

Then our therapist said something that resonated with me. Essentially, our generation is going out into the world with a warped perception of what it means it live off of the wages we’re making. Random bits of research are coming out about the unrealistic expectations showcased in media and how we as twenty-somethings are being hit with the hard truth that our lives may not be as glamourous as entertainment has presented them to be. I was stunned. How am I going to afford all of my books? How am I going to build my library?!

Before I could delve deeper into the crumbling abyss of books I may or may not be able to buy, my significant other chimed in, “Oh yeah! I’ve been hearing about that lately.” You have? Hello, where have I been? “Yeah, like all of those HBO shows in San Francisco and New York.”

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Our therapist began explaining that when she was growing up, television shows matched jobs and salaries with characters’ lives. In a sense, it made it more believable because people were either living a similar lifestyle, or could anticipate living a life presented in media based on their future incomes. There wasn’t any envy, or jealousy, for furniture from Restoration Hardware. Nobody was paying attention to the replicated Pottery Barn Kitchen. So what has sparked this change?

It can be argued that activities such as Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook have sparked the desire to emulate the lives of people other than ourselves. Some say this comes from the negative impact of social media and the internet: each one of us pining over materialistic goods we would like to have but cannot afford. Or it can be argued that the shift from live-studio television to on-set television has altered our perceptions of what our futures would look like in a big city on minimum wage.

Sure, both methods of television invite us into the homes of the characters, but when I watch “Seinfeld,” I don’t look at the shelves, bedspread, curtains, etc. I look at the characters, I anticipate Kramer bursting through the door. However, when I watch “Girls,” I’m paying attention to lampshades, kitchenware, and color schemes. I’m watching the show, but I’m also debating potential decorative displays, comparing and contrasting each character’s apartment.

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There has been discussion amongst moviegoers about television being the new movie. Meaning the storylines, production sets, and character development are all following a similar guideline to that of a movie. Let’s call it an extended movie (unique, I know). For example, “Breaking Bad,” “True Detective,” and before it became money-focused and added three extra seasons, “Lost.” Each of these shows has a set number of seasons, or episodes to tell the overarching story. This way, characters are built to fulfill this one particular narrative. Resulting in the necessity for producers to up the costume and set designs each season. Instead of the camera and audience facing inside the house, we’re now in the house, able to look at each wall from every angle. When we watch “Friends” or “Seinfeld” our focus is on the conversation and the characters. However, when we watch shows emerging today the interior deserves as much attention as the characters do. Why is that?


That is the question I want to answer. My first assumption is because we want to emulate certain characters. Jess from “New Girl” is particularly adorable, therefore we have a desire to know where she’s buying her clothes as well as where she finds her unique furniture. The interior of each character’s bedroom is a representation of who they are, which is why each apartment or home is decorated just so. Therefore when we connect with a character we want to mimic certain aspects of their lives. We’re learning that our living space is equally as representative of our unique selves as our physical beings.

This is not to say that finding new decorative or fashion ideas from television is a negative. I too am someone who at times looks past the characters and looks into their spaces. But it’s important to understand, that many of our favorite shows don’t represent the realities of living vs. working. Nor are we supposed to be able to fund a particular lifestyle in our twenties. Our expectations of life after college should come from our immediate surroundings and not from the latest television show.

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