Class Assignment and Discussion: Money Lessons from the “New Girl,” Zooey Deschanel

On the television series “New Girl,” Zooey Deschanel plays “Jess” Day, a cute, perky teacher who moves with three guys into an apartment she found on Craigslist after breaking up with her boyfriend.  In real life, she’s just broken up with her husband, Ben Gibbard, who is the lead singer for Death Cab for Cutie.  While this is a sad event for all involved, and one that deserves privacy, it is also one that that we can learn some financial lessons from.  Divorce is also a major Financial Life Event – Life Event 10: Divorce – from Chapter 18, and if you aren’t as wealthy as Zooey, the financial impact of divorce makes a bad situation all the worse.  Moreover, with over 40 percent of all first marriages ending in divorce, this is a life event that affects many of us. Not only are money problems the major cause of divorce, but divorce usually leads to reduced income and the burden of expenses that were formerly shared.

When Zooey recently filed for divorce, her lawyer filed an “income and expense declaration” detailing what she spends each month and also her net worth.  As you might expect, with an income of around $95,000 per month, her spending patterns aren’t typical of what we saw when we looked at the spending patterns of Americans in Chapter 2.  That said, she does a pretty good job of living frugally, although when you make as much as she makes, her spending habits are no doubt more extensive than yours.  The LearnVest Financial Planning website takes a look at Zooey’s budget as compiled in her divorce filing in the article “Zooey Deschanel’s Budget: What She Could Do Differently”.  The article recaps her financial picture, analyzes her spending and saving habits, and in general has great things about Zooey’s handling of her money.

Discussion questions:

  1. Zooey spends quite a bit of money on groceries, about $1,000 per month (she’s a vegan, and this may or may not have something to do with that), but it’s only about 1% of her total income.  Looking at the article “Mapping Global Food Spending,” how does the percent Zooey spends compare to spending on food around the world?  What about this surprises you?  What do some of the higher percentages mean in terms of lifestyle?  Be prepared to discuss in class.
  2. If you were Zooey, what might you do differently?  Be prepared to discuss in class.
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