The Bank of Mum and Dad

America has exported a few key assets to the U.K., such as Elvis and The Motley Fool. Unfortunately, our friends on the other side of the pond have also taken to a few of our less-attractive cultural phenomena: reality TV, for one.

This month the BBC will debut a series ripped from the pages of our own TV Guide. It's got all the key elements: real-life family conflict, lovers' quarrels, tight living quarters, and, of course, money. What makes this show a distinctly British production are the accents (which help class-up the whole concept) and the name: The Bank of Mum and Dad.

Imitation (or improvement, some might say) is the sincerest form of flattery. (Which came first? The Ramones or the Sex Pistols?) The English don't need The Donald or Mark Cuban to put their contestants through the paces for easy cash. No, they've got a much more compelling setup: Dawn and Richard.

These soon-to-be-wed "kidults" have a penchant for cars, clothes, and a cigarette habit that eclipses their monthly grocery budget. (It seems that credit card debt is another Americanism that has caught on overseas.)

Drs. Laura and Phil can't hold a candle to the drill sergeants assigned to whip the couple's finances into shape. That task falls on Jackie and Steve (here comes the clincher)... Dawn's mum and dad. They cut up the couple's credit cards and move into their flat for a week to give them a stern talking-to about fiscal responsibility. The series will follow an additional eight "twirtysomethings" and their parents on their journey toward financial independence.

The show represents a worrisome trend gripping England. The average Briton owes £1,140 ($2,044) to their credit card company, with one-third of 16- to 24-year-olds packing plastic.

Amateurs. The average American household owes nearly $8,000 to credit card lenders, according to Cardweb.com, and about 80% of teens in the 18-20 age range have credit cards.

There are a few things parents can do to put their kids on the straight and narrow moneywise while they're still living under your roof:

  • Expose your little lovelies to the realities of family finances -- show them what it costs to put a roof over their heads and junk food in their packed lunches.

  • Regale your teen with stories about your biggest money blunders and how you recovered -- or are still paying the price. I guarantee you'll get your kid's attention.

  • Some parents have their kids sit with them when they pay bills. Others have their child do the paperwork as one of their chores. How you dole out the information depends on your comfort level and your kid's maturity.

  • Take a cue from your 401(k), and offer to match (30 cents, 50 cents, a dollar) every dollar your children save. Let them save for a short-term treat, but offer to match even more money if they invest their money for the long term. Heck, turn it into a competition between your kids. They're always bickering anyway.

  • If your kid is, as the Brits say, a "kidult" still mooching off of Mum and Dad, print out this letter and leave it on the fridge. Speak to them in their language.

Who needs a camera crew and TV audience for uncomfortable confrontations when you've got kids and parents and money lessons to be taught and learned?

Tune in to the Reality TV discussion board. But watch out for spoilers!


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