"Going from Broke:" Episode Summaries and Discussion Questions

Feb 14, 2020
Video Resource, Credit Cards, Credit Scores, Investing, Budgeting

Ashton Kutcher is one of the executive producers of a series called “Going from Broke,” focusing on the massive (student) debt issue facing young adults.  Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment is the ad-supported video streaming service that runs the series on Crackle, and it hit 5 million views after just 4 weeks.  The series appears to be attracting attention.

Dan Rosensweig, another executive producer, is the CEO of a company called Chegg and is the host of the show. Along with a financial advisor, Danetha Doe, he meets with the subjects of each 22-23 minute episode and tries to turn their financial lives around in a reality-TV, unscripted format.  

Here is what you need to know first:

  1. There are advertisements at intervals throughout the videos which are not necessarily relevant to high school students.  You can’t skip them, but you can mute them.
  2. Also included are financial product placements/promotions by fairly well-known financial experts.
  3. All of the episodes involve young adults living in Los Angeles.  Many will have you wondering what the heck these people were thinking! I am guessing some of the extreme behaviors is what the general public finds attractive about these videos.
  4. These episodes could potentially give students a view of the future if they don’t keep things under control--a cautionary tale of sorts.  The episodes are summarized below. Please review these summaries and screen the episodes before assigning or airing to make sure they are appropriate for your students and your school.  There may be subject matter discussed or language that you feel would be inappropriate for your students.  

Teacher tip: You know your students best and what’s appropriate for your student viewing. These are raw real-life stories of 20-somethings so be sure to watch prior to showing to your students so you can make your own assessment. 

Episode summaries and discussion questions

Episode 1:  The Sneakers Made Me Do It 

Obi was a successful college athlete who now runs his own business, but his spending for his “image” has gotten him into financial trouble, adding to his student loan debt.

1) Why can't Obi make ends meet on $80,000/year? What are his "blind spots?"
2) Why does Dan Rosensweig say that your personal financial life should be run like a business? What is step one?
3) Why is personal debt so detrimental to someone who is running their own business?
4) How important is it for people to understand how (student) debt works, for example, why paying it down faster is desirable?
5) Do you think it was eye-opening for Obi to write down every dollar he spent for a period of time? Have you ever done that?
6) What lesson did he learn from Ronnie Lott? What did Obi do to demonstrate that he learned something from him?
7) Do you think Obi will be successful? Why?
8) How did you feel about the financial product promotions within the video? Do you think these are useful products for people in similar situations? (This question could be asked for every episode)


Episode 2:  Responsibility Over Payment 

Miracle is an aspiring violinist who was blindsided at graduation by the reality of her student debt situation.  She has delayed facing this reality, which has put her further into debt.

1) How was Miracle blindsided at graduation?
2) What are the three areas Dan concludes will be critical in turning Miracle's finances around?
3) What is the goal of refinancing student debt? Was it worth doing all the paperwork? What was the result? What are the dangers of $0 income-based repayment?
4) Was Miracle able to control her spending? Why or why not?
5) What did Miracle have to do in order to "monetize her passion?" (playing violin)
6) Miracle's trip to Asia could have been a disastrous move. Explain how it actually turned out help her be successful? 
7) What did Danetha mean when she said your net worth = your self worth? Why do you think some people have such trouble asking to be paid their market rate?

Episode 3:  Till Debt Do Us Part

A couple falls in love and gets married.  Both came into the relationship with debt. Within a short period of time they find themselves with two children and little income and need help to find a way out of their predicament.

1) Most marriages break up over what?
2) Do you think this couple talked about their respective financial situations before getting married?
3) What events led to the massive growth in their credit card debt?
4) What steps did they take to stop their credit card debt from increasing while they were looking for work?
5) Would you be able to take the painful steps if you ran into a similar problem? What would you have done differently to begin with when starting out?
6) What were some of the more creative ways Megan found to help with her family's "P&L"?
7) What type of insurance did Max and Megan need? How is purchasing insurance a financial decision? 


Episode 5: Time to Buy or Time to Sell?

Alana came to LA and landed a great job, but she really has a passion for two things: her YouTube channel and clothes.  She quits her day job and tries to make it as a YouTube vlogger. You can guess what happens next.

1) What was Alana's first big financial misstep?
2) Under what circumstances would you quit a job with a steady income to go out on your own?
3) What homework assignments did Dan and Danetha give Alana? What did you think would be hardest for her?
4) What did Alana learn while selling her clothes?
5) What were other important steps Alana took to increase her income?
6) Alana seemed to have turned her situation around within a month. Did that surprise you?
7) Did it surprise you to learn at the end of the video that Alana took a full-time job and decided to make her YouTube Channel her "side hustle"? Why or why not?


Episode 6: Jobs and Going Nowhere

Amanda is an incredibly responsibly young woman working ridiculous hours to make payments on her student loans, including the Parent Plus loan her mother took out to put her through college.  She is working herself into the ground and not making much progress. Her goal is to maintain her level of income but have more time with her girlfriend and just living her life.

1) How does the fact that Amanda's student loan debt is in the form of "Parent Plus" loans make the situation more complicated?
2) Taking responsibility is NOT Amanda's problem. Give at least two examples of how she is being financially responsible.
3) What is Amanda's road block? What are Dan and Danesha's recommendations to work through it?
4) Why is it so difficult to refinance Parent Plus loans?
5) Why does Danetha advse against refinancing her personal student loans? What does she recommend instead and why?
6) How has Amanda done regarding cutting expenses?
7) What options turned up for Amanda regarding employment? What factors does she have to weigh in deciding what to do?


Episode 7: Art Before Rent?

Steven is a vlogger who moved to LA and is living out of his car to pursue his art.  He has avoided his father, who took out Parent Plus loans to put him through college.  It is time to face reality and start “adulting.”

1) What is Steven's number one issue (whether or not he thinks it is)?
2) Would you be willing to live in your car to pursue your dream?
3) What has Steven's decision to live his life as he is living it done to his relationship with his father?
4) Given that Steven's father has co-signed $50,000 of his debt, do you think Steven's choices are selfish? Why or why not?
5) Do you think Dan's assessment of the situation--making following a dream versus being responsible an "and" not an "or"--will compel Steven to get a job?
6) Did Ashton Kutcher seem to convince him where Dan was not successful?
7) Why is Dan having such a hard time getting an apartment?
8) What was the impact of Dad's visit?


Episode 8: Finances and Family

Jonas is an aspiring musician, singer-songwriter who is living with his mother after graduating from college with a degree in Economics and Finance.  He wants to quit the job he has in financial sales. His mother is an immigrant who took out $80,000 in Parent Plus loans to put him through school.  Neither has sufficient income to pull the family out of this situation.

1) What makes Jonas' situation complicated beyond wanting to pursue his passion?
2) Why is it important to pull Jonas' mom into the equation?
3) Why does Jonas' mom NOT want him to go into music? What is most important to her?
4) At 23, what are the signs that Jonas is actually fairly financially responsible?
5) What is the first and most important thing Jonas needs to do? What sort of career advice did he get that he needed to hear?
6) In your own words, how would you describe the balance Jonas needs to find?


Episode 9: Butt Before Budget

Valley girl Allie is spending almost twice her monthly income on a lifestyle that is unsustainable, even with help from mom, all for the perfect Insta shot.  I personally doubted this one would "end" well, but the reality check seems to have provided the kick she needed to her surgically enhanced butt. (Warning: One of her debts was for cosmetic surgery on her butt.)

1) What was your first reaction hearing Allie talk about her lifestyle and spending?
2) When Dan and Danetha went through the numbers with her, did you think Allie would be able to cut back on her spending?
3) Why was the financial support from her mother making things worse?
4) How long did it take Allie to go from being in the red every month to being in the black?
5) It turns out one significant change seemed to help her stay on track. What was it?
6) Do you think Allie will stay on track? Do you think people can change their lifestyle that quickly and be happy?


Episode 10: The King of Failed Investments

Brandon has gotten himself deep into debt, including not only pay-day loans, but a loan from a loan-shark.  His mental health issues have exacerbated his financial woes.

1) What factors do you think contributed to Brandon's dire situation?
2) How and why is Dan trying to get Brandon to redirect his focus?
3) After looking at all the numbers, which group of loans did Brandon learn was the real problem?
4) What was the impact on Brandon of getting rid of expenses as well as possessions he didn't really need?
5) Brandon aligned all his bills with his paychecks. Explain how managing "working capital" saves you big money in the long run?
6) Why is it critical for Brandon to get support for his mental health? What are Employee Assistance Programs and what do they cost?

You can go online to https://www.goingfrombroke.info/ to read articles related to each episode and to find tools and resources mentioned/used in each episode.

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an M.B.A. in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducting student workshops, and developing finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.