Have you seen or heard about CBS’ summer reality-tv series “The Briefcase?” Here’s the premise: Each week the show features two families experiencing a financial setback. The families are presented with a briefcase containing $101,000; a windfall that will solve a multitude of problems and give each family some much needed financial breathing room.

They can do whatever they wish with $1,000.

But there’s a catch with the balance and this is where the social experiment element comes into play: they can keep all of it; give all of it away to another family in need; or a combination of both.

Over the course of three days they learn details about the other family’s circumstances. The presumption being that this insight will help them make an informed decision about how much of the money to share – if at all.

The cost of charity is…

And this is why the show both disturbs and excites me!

When I watched the first episode, I really did have low expectations.

CBS-Ep1However, they dive into some meaty social issues regarding money that go well beyond the numbers.

  • Values
  • Everyday life
  • The fragility of our economy and our emotions
  • The role of empathy and guilt
  • Faith vs. anxiety
  • Being selfish vs. selfless
  • Judgment
  • Generosity
  • Action vs. results
  • Vulnerability

The windfall effect is one of the reasons I find the show disturbing. Unexpected cash will certainly resolve most (if not all) of your financial struggles in the short term. (I could think of a lot of things to do with $100k I wasn’t expecting!) But only a strategic plan will ensure the benefits of any windfall last beyond a current emergency.

Another thing that disturbs me: the lack of “I can do that, too” inspiration. The show doesn’t provide specific next steps for viewers who are ready and willing to take action – beyond the act of waiting on the producers to potentially knock on their door.

To be fair, the show is inspirational in that it is fostering conversations on a macro level. Between Twitter, blog posts and news articles, the interwebs have been ablaze chronicling the strong positive and negative reactions to ‘The Briefcase’.

And, hopefully, as we witness couples navigating a new terrain of money conversations they haven’t had before, it’ll encourage us to do the same with our special someone.

So, the show gets us talking and that is incredibly important. What it doesn’t do is provide a framework of what to do when you’ve exhausted all options. It doesn’t answer the question:

What happens when you’ve already done all you know to do and you aren’t getting the results you want or need?

Like all reality-tv shows, this one follows a formula. I cringe when the episode reaches the point where the families visit each other’s home and the walk-thru includes reviewing financial documents – without the people being present. Yuck! It feels so invasive. Yet…it seems this is the tipping point that influences how much the families decide to give and keep.

The strings-attached windfall seems incredibly unfair. The “cast” isn’t just deciding whether to share and how much, but whether they are obligated to. At the top of the show, this seems to be a clear-cut decision. By the time you reach this portion of the segment, the decision becomes more complex. As a viewer, your mind is wondering throughout: “What would I do?”

The producers could have chosen to focus on systematically impoverished families. But I’m glad they didn’t. It would have made it far too easy for viewers to tune out believing they don’t have anything in common with the “cast.”

Highlighting families whom have experienced a financial setback with which you can relate and whom are struggling to stay afloat like you have (or are) makes it harder to have an “us vs. them” mentality. This is what allows you to see yourself in another person’s shoes.

As you know, there’s a lot of character judgment wrapped up in money – the judgment we have about our own “stuff;” the judgment we have about other people and their “stuff;” the judgment we believe others have about us. “The Briefcase” puts our “stuff” on full display mirroring back to us all the good and muck that money conjures.


While there are aspects of the show that make me uncomfortable, what excites me are the juicy conversations it is sparking. The show does a wonderful job of reminding us that a) money is about human stories, and b) good math and good choices don’t always net good results. Sometimes sh*t beyond your control happens, and good people find themselves in an unanticipated financial pickle. Ever been there?

It also reminds us that we rarely get out of pickles on our efforts alone.

The producers may or may not knock on your door with a briefcase filled with $101,000. (If they do, please let me know! 🙂 But you don’t have to wait on a windfall of this nature to change your life – to change how you experience money – to turn your setback into a comeback.

You can do that yourself on your own terms, and I’d be happy to show you how.


p.s. Our first call for Find Your Financial Sweet Spot is June 15th at 8pm ET. Join our intimate group. You’ll learn how to be your own windfall by creating a fully integrated savings, investment, spending and earnings plan.

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