Debt Lessons from Breaking Bad

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"Breaking Bad" is one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past 10 years. The story of a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher and family man who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and then turns to a life of crime has riveted audiences for the past five seasons, and the show just recently aired its stunning series finale.

“Breaking Bad” is about a lot of themes – greed, pride, revenge, and how far people will go to deceive themselves in the name of a larger goal. But one of the biggest themes explored by the show is the question of how people respond to financial adversity. Walter White, the main character (played by Bryan Cranston) decided to use his chemistry skills to cook methamphetamine and sell the drugs to help pay for his medical bills. That initial decision, which he felt he could keep secret and under control as a way to provide for his family, soon spiraled into a chaotic web of lies and violence.

Here are a few ideas of what "Breaking Bad" can teach us about getting out of debt and recovering from financial difficulty:

Be Honest and Open About the Problem

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Walt makes his situation worse by deceiving his family. First he tries to hide the fact that he has cancer, and then later he builds a secret life as a criminal, all with the goal of “protecting his family” by protecting them from the truth. Even though most people won’t turn to a life of crime in an effort to get out of debt, many families struggle with secrecy and hidden debts that spouses cannot openly discuss with each other. Trying to hide your debts only makes the situation worse. Talk openly and honestly with your spouse about how much you owe, how much is on the credit card, and what it will take to get out of debt faster.

Keep Your Family Close

Walt starts out in his secret life of crime with the goal of leaving a nest egg for his family - but his misdeeds ultimately tear his family apart. In the same way, don't let debt problems undermine your relationships with your loved ones. Financial difficulty is a leading cause of divorce, and stress related to debt can also be a contributing factor in mental illness and other health problems. Don't let money stand between you and your family. No matter how much debt you’re in, it can be overcome – but if you allow your financial trouble to undermine your marriage or drive you apart from your loved ones that is a much harder situation to recover from.

Get Help From Experts

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Without giving away any spoilers -- at various points in the show, Walt needs to enlist the help of outside “experts” to get him out of difficult situations. In the same way, getting out of debt sometimes can be done faster if you get help from experts like a debt consolidation firm or credit counseling agency. They can help you settle your debts for less than you owe, or help you set up a debt management plan to make fixed payments each month that might be less than you were already paying. There are almost always a variety of options to help resolve any financial difficulties that you might be facing – but the first step is acknowledging that you need help, and then following the plans developed with the help of your expert advisers.

Hopefully none of you will ever find yourself in such a dire predicament as Walter White. While “Breaking Bad” is very dark and occasionally brutal, there is a constant thread of humanity and the possibility of redemption. No matter how bad your debt problems might be, remember there is always hope. There are ways to get out of debt, recover your credit rating, and move on with your life – without ever having to turn to a life of crime or make the mistakes Walter White made.