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Personal Finance Is a Challenge—So We Turned It Into A Reality Show!

To create [NerdWallet’s]( new reality show, So You Think You Can Finance, we didn’t pick people who were already personal finance pros. We picked people who have a lot to learn about managing their money, and will benefit from seizing control over their financial lives, whether that means rethinking savings plans, paying down debt, or planning to buy homes. And, like any good reality show producers, we picked some colorful characters.

We’ve got: Jia, the hustling, globetrotting freelancer who’s ghostwriting her way through grad school, Matt, the college senior who’s dreaming of starting the next FunnyOrDie someday, Meghan, a concert promoter living in the big city who’s buried in student debt, Seth, a newlywed professional with long-term goals he doesn’t know how to achieve, and Tristan, who’s managing a thrift store in Virginia right now, but hopes to be law school-bound soon.

In our [first challenge](, we saw these contestants answer the question: what am I worth? Figuring out your assets (your home, your car, the value of your 401k, among other possessions and accounts) and then subtracting your liabilities (your outstanding debts, such as credit card debt, student loans and car loans) is a great first step on the road to financial literacy. You can’t take control of your finances without first understanding them.

So how did the contestants do? Our judges generally wanted to see more specificity. Jia and her boyfriend are planning to marry soon—so where is the discussion of joint accounts or post-wedding finances? Matt’s a freelancer who wants to turn web entrepreneur—does he have enough of a financial cushion to soften the blows of freelance work? Meghan has a mountain of student debt—when does she think she’ll start paying it down? Seth excels at setting deadlines for himself and has clear goals—but is he biting off more than he can chew? And Tristan was great at valuing his possessions, but doesn’t seem to have a grasp on the real price tag law school carries.

The big winner of this challenge? Seth! He’s going through a big transition now due to his recent marriage, but still has his eye on the prize of eliminating student loan debt in five years. Still, the judges want to see him prioritize his goals and thinking of the timing of the costs involved.

Figuring out your net worth is valuable, because even if the number you come up with is negative, you need to know the scope of the problem before you can fix it. If your net worth is a healthy positive number, that’s a good sign, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on track to achieving the situation you dream of down the line. The next step on the path to financial literacy is figuring what your goals are, and how you can manage your assets and liabilities in order to achieve them. Our contestants will be doing just that next week in Challenge #2.

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