Teresa Giudice, best known as the volatile, table-flipping mom on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey, also has a side-career as one of the most famous bankrupt reality television stars. Her money woes first hit the presses last year, after she filed for bankruptcy. According to court documents at the time, she and her husband Joe owed over $10 million to banks and other creditors for homes, cars, credit cards, and business deals. Meanwhile, the couple said they earned just $79,000 a year.
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Now, Giudice and her co-stars are back for another season of fighting, family drama, and shopping, and her money problems don’t appear to be getting any better, although there have been some changes. So in the spirit of offering unrequested, free advice—a theme that permeates the show—here are four financial strategies that could help Giudice reclaim control of her financial life:
1. Hide those cookbook earnings. Not from your creditors or the IRS, but from yourself. Giudice has two Italian cookbooks out, both of which are selling briskly thanks to her fame (and, fans say, the recipes). She likely received substantial advances for the books and can turn her newfound expertise in the kitchen into a mini empire, as New York Housewife Bethenny Frankel has done. (Giudice already appears to earn some money through ads and products on her website, www.teresagiudice.com.)
Instead of wasting that cash flow on new outfits or more plastic surgery, Giudice should bank the money for her top priorities, which might be her daughters’ college educations or her own future retirement. In fact, Giudice should investigate opening up tax-advantaged accounts, including a 529 for her daughters’ educations and a Roth IRA for herself. (Depending on the status of her bankruptcy filings, she might need to pay back her creditors before saving for those goals.)
2. No more clothes shopping. Seriously. This season has already featured several shopping sprees, including one in which Teresa jokes about buying a new outfit to seduce her husband Joe. While that might not be a bad idea (see next point), she has far more pressing demands for her money right now than fashion. In fact, given her shopping sprees from season one, Giudice could probably shop her closet and find plenty of new outfits with their tags still attached. Whenever Giudice feels like shopping, she should plan a fun, free activity instead, such as paying a visit to one of her castmates’ homes for a glass of wine.
3. Invest in marriage. Joe has taken a relative backseat this season compared with season one, which is a troubling trend, given rumors surrounding the state of the Giudices’ marriage. Divorces are devastating financially as well as emotionally, so an investment in some marriage therapy now could be a smart move for the couple. In fact, a better relationship could also help Teresa Giudice control her spending habit, according to therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil. She says people’s spending sprees are often fueled by fights, because shopping produces good feelings that boost moods and counter the tension of the fight. Instead of getting that high from shopping, Weil suggests kissing and hugging your partner. (See The Biggest Money Mistakes Couples Make)
4. Don’t give up. It’s tempting to write yourself off after bankruptcy and think your credit can never make a comeback, but it can. Secured cards, which require upfront deposits, as well as utility accounts, can help people starting from scratch rebuild their credit. While credit scores begin to improve after only a year of on-time, regular payments, it takes longer—seven to 10 years—for credit reports to fully recover from the stain of bankruptcy.
Here are more money ideas for our favorite reality stars (not that they asked):
Caroline Manzo: The queen bee of The Real Housewives of New Jersey should take a page from Giudice. Why hasn’t the matriarch of the family written her own book yet? If Skinny Italian goes to the top of the bestseller lists, The New Jersey Tiger Mom’s Guide to Parenting can’t be far behind. It’s time for her to take her brand beyond the show and get paid for it.
Bethenny Frankel: Her fans were sad to hear that she was being sued by a former business partner over her Skinnygirl cocktail brand. Frankel dismisses the lawsuit as baseless. Our advice: Invest in a top-of-the-line lawyer and save up just in case you have to pay up.
Ashley Hebert, The Bachelorette: Perhaps so many Bachelor and Bachelorette couples break up because they never talk about one of the biggest issues for couples during their fancy, on-air dates: money. As Ashley chooses her man, we think she should try to get at his financial personality as well as his romantic one. Is he a big spender? A saver? What are his big financial goals? What did his parents teach him about money growing up? The answers could give her some much-needed insight.
Snooki, the Situation, and Pauly D of MTV’s Jersey Shore: Save all your money. Just like an NBA star in his prime, you are probably enjoying your maximum earning potential now, and it could drop off substantially in just a few short years. Saving (and then investing) as much as 90 percent of your post-tax income to fund the rest of your life is not a bad idea.
Do you have advice for a reality TV star? Please share it below.
Kimberly Palmer (@alphaconsumer) is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.