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Is Your Television Making You Poor?

TV has Become Part of Life

One of the greatest pastimes of Americans is the good old sport of television watching.  It seems that everyone has their favorite shows and even their favorite commercials that they talk about. I know this is true with people I’ve met as they discuss the pinnacle moments from certain shows around the water cooler at the office. The point is many Americans watch television, but is your television watching making you spend money?


Everyday millions of Americans are exposed to countless commercials from their television sets. These commercials sell everything from junk food to roller blades to toasters and everything in between. There are also a fair amount of commercials that advertise for high-end items such as cars and far-off vacations.

It is only too easy to begin wanting something that you may not be able to afford, especially if the commercials make it seem exciting and vital to have. Advertisers are not stupid people. They know how to play up to your wants – desires that can only seemingly be achieved by purchasing their product.

Even if you are barely paying attention to a commercial on potato chips, you may get the subliminal message and reach for that salty snack the next time you are in the grocery store. You may even wonder later how you are over budget on your food expenses. This very thing has happened to me. I will write a list of food items that I need to get and then mysteriously end up with a few boxes of cookies or chips in my cart. Later, I realize that those were the same things that I had seen commercials for only days before. I couldn’t believe I let that slip my mind!

Living Up to the Hype

There are a lot of shown on television that feature shows about people in lavish circumstances. These are shows that don’t have to account for the actual reality of millions of Americans – even if some of them are labeled “reality tv.” When was the last time you saw a sitcom about a family living below the poverty line? There is a lot of attention paid to celebrities as well as their habits of buying ridiculously priced things that are way out of reach for the majority or Americans. If you watch that enough, I can almost guarantee that you will feel poor in no time time – just because you can’t buy that speed boat or that island off of Tahiti.

Oh well, maybe I can buy at least a brand new purse or tool belt to compensate? Hmmm, you see the problem?

Tearing Yourself Away

Studies have shown that more television watching is linked to a greater prevalence of depression and overspending.  This is fairly easy to see as the more we watch, the greater exposure to advertising and shows that may feature these wealthy lifestyles. Lowering your television exposure is not going to keep you away from all advertising, but it helps. The good thing about television is you can switch it off with just one click of a button.

Don’t know what to do with your free time? How about planting a garden or taking a walk? Both are low cost ways to have fun while saving money at the same time. Probably the best part is you will cut down on your electricity bill which also means more money in your pocket!

Crystal's Comments:  Although I can see how television can hit you with advertising or lavish lifestyles could lead to a little jealousy, I think it is just on you to make your own life decisions.  I don't eat potato chips because I see them on tv – I eat them because they taste good and I want them.  It's not a commercial's fault they end up in my mouth.  Less exposure to ads can help – I agree.  But I do think we all have complete control over our spending decisions and need to take ownership of that responsibility.  By the way you should go check out how much Hulu cost because you can watch all your favorite shows for a lot less. I'm currently looking for the best internet provider in my area so we can possibly cut the cable and save money. The other option is using mobile hotspot to replace home internet. All of that said, I like our DVR – I don't have to watch commercials ever…love it!

What's your view of tv and commercials?

25 thoughts on “Is Your Television Making You Poor?”

  1. David Hunter

    I don’t have cable so we only get about 11 channels and one movie channel (Can you believe it?!). The only shows I watch are Master Chef and the Fox line up on Sunday nights (Which I haven’t even been watching much of that). I’m too busy experiencing life!

  2. I can see how this could happen but the more you are aware of it the less it will likely affect you. That said I have seen commercials for the neat scanner on TV and would have never wanted it had it not been for TV commercials. I haven’t bought one yet but if I do I will blame it on TV.

  3. Faith

    It’s worth noting the actual cost of the services. You typically pay for many channels that you don’t watch, and large screen televisions use a notable amount of electricity-even when turned off. Not to mention the increase of productivity without television-you aren’t going to sit on the couch staring at the wall. There are other ways to unwind and relax 🙂

  4. krantcents

    I saw this syndrome firsthand in a low socioeconomic school. The children bought into a lot of the stuff they saw on TV. Is it TV or the people who watch it? I think it is much more how it affects poorer people than if anybody watches it. It unduly influence the vulnerable of society.

  5. Smart Military Money

    I have to challenge your claim that you buy snacks and then realize you saw their commercials a few days prior. I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner two or three nights ago.

    I don’t own a TV and I don’t watch anything online with commercials thanks to ad block plugins and Netflix. But I grab snacks at the grocery too, usually because I want to treat myself.

    Commercials can have an effect on me, I’m not going to deny that. However, I’m not quick to make purchasing decisions. I like to compare products and prices for at least a few weeks before I drop a lot of money on something.

    -Christian L.

  6. American Debt Project

    @krantcents: You are right on. Television can become a peer for children, especially those who have less powerful influences around the home.

    TV is changing these days, with shows improving greatly in terms of writing quality, the type of actors they attract (television no longer has to be a step down from movies, because TV writers and directors are just as innovative as their movie counterparts) and multiple-season storylines. We as consumers are becoming “binge watchers”, where watching an entire season of a show in one weekend is not uncommon. I actually just took a 28 day break from television to quit my habit of watching reality shows. I still watch a few shows every week that I like in terms of cinematography, character development, etc. but I am OVER watching reality TV every night because “they’re dumb and I like to laugh at them and I need to take a break”. It was eating up a lot of time that I need to be using more productively. So I definitely am not someone who is going to decry the evils of television, but I think dedicating a few hours a day to television is probably too much.

  7. Trisha

    There is nothing wrong with watching television. But watching several hours a day every day seems to me a waste of time. Not to mention getting influenced by commercials.
    I think Nathalie has a point, when she states that seeing wealthy people makes you feel less successful. I do not think that seeing a commercial makes you buy candy, cookies or crisps. However I do believe that commercials can give you a preference for a specific brand and/or can undermine your willpower. You might end up buying more, frequenter or a specific type of cookies because of commercials. And rationalize that you made that decision (and you did, but you were influenced). My solution? Don’t watch commercials. Tape your favorite show or buy or rent dvd’s.

  8. Kathleen @ Frugal Portland

    My TV makes me fat and drunk — I know that when it’s on, I’m less apt to move around the house. I’ll plop down. And the one show I watch (Bachelor/ette) is impossible to watch without a glass of wine!

  9. Squeezer @Personal Finance Success

    The $81 a month tv bill is making me poor! But I just can’t give it up.

  10. @ Trisha, I agree there is nothing inherently wrong with watching television. Its just when it starts consuming your life that there is a problem. I believe the same can be said for commercials as well. Unless you live under a rock, there is no escaping at least a little bit of marketing from companies out there that are desperate to get you to notice them-either from billboards, signs, radio commercials, and even some schools and churches, etc. If you can watch you favorite shows without commercials, then thats great! But this just isn’t the case for most of American and like it or not-that is what advertisers are counting on or they wouldn’t be in business. Being mindful is the only thing I wanted to bring awareness to and not that TV is automatically evil.

    @SmartMilitaryMoney, Thats great that you don’t let the subliminal messages influence your buying habits. My point was that they do for a lot of other people especially those where money my be a major issue as mentioned by KrantCents. I NEVER meant to say this is a one size fits all type of deal.
    Thanks for reading!

  11. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

    I don’t own a TV so the only thing I’m missing out on is knowing about new commercials or movies.

  12. Sheryl

    I get that there’s subliminal messaging and all, and that commercials and product placement are impossible to miss on TV. At the end of the day, as adults we are capable of making our own decisions – to stick to our grocery list, or add a few extra things, for example. That’s not TV making you broke. That’s not sticking to the list, or the budget, making you broke.

    Do I sometimes do the same? Sure. But that’s my fault, not TV’s.

  13. Julie @ Freedom 48

    I think we’re lucky to not be influenced at all. Luckily, we can fastforward through all commercials, and we really only watch the news, and a few “reality” type shows like Survivor and Big Brother. Maybe Survivor is teaching me how to be a minimalist?? =)

  14. BryanSr

    I am not worried about commercials since everything I watch is recorded on dvr and I skip the commercials. I am more concerned about the time wasted watching TV. For me I have to fight against the amount of time wasted being nonproductive while I sit watching TV being nonproductive.
    I agree that commercials influence the young ones like crazy.

  15. Jacob @ iheartbudgets

    We watch our shows on the free Hulu desktop app. The commercials don’t bother me much, we honestly just mute the computer when they come on. We don’t watch reality shows, but the shows we do watch make the locations they are at seem VERY attractive. We watch Burn Notice (Woot Woot!) and my wife and I joke all the time about wanting to go to Miami. In reality, I hear Miami isn’t all that great, and definitely has some crime issues.

    Luckily, we pulled the cord on cable as soon as we got married, and have not missed it since. When we want to watch a show, we have to be intentional about it, not just flip on the TV and browse. I think that cable is a waste of money, and no one should be paying for more than just cheap, high-speed internet, and maybe a netflix subscription…..maybe. 🙂

  16. For me, it’s the DIY shows that make me spend money. They make it look so easy to redecorate your home that once you start you can’t seem to stop. And before you know it you’re spending money going from room to room.

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