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One of the highlights of our summer was traveling the country and filming our series Money on the Table. Somehow, between Atlanta, Tulsa, Houston, New York City and Oakland we ventured down to Alabama to film a segment on the hit television show, Love and Marriage Huntsville.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s an unscripted series [aka reality TV] on the OWN Network. On the show, they follow young, Black professionals and entrepreneurs as they navigate their collective ambitions to revitalize the Huntsville, AL real estate market. And given the name of the show, they do all this while balancing the ups and downs of love, marriage and parenting.
As you might expect—like most reality tv shows—there’s a fair share of drama captured while the cameras are rolling. For example, one of the couples, Melody and Martel, end up divorcing, there’s drama between extended family members and the proposed business deals that brought them all together in the first place; eventually falls through. Fortunately, we weren’t asked to jump in to solve any of those issues.
But since we do know a thing or two about balancing money, love and communication, we were asked to lend a helping hand to Marsau and Tisha who were struggling to get on the same financial page. To say the least, it was a surreal experience and one we’ll never forget. Below is a clip of our conversation with Marsau and Tisha and a few of our most memorable takeaways from our appearance.
Behind the scenes of a reality TV show
We have a fair amount of experience being on camera but this was our first time being on a true set in someone’s home and we were completely blown away by all that goes into creating what we all see on TV. First, as we pulled up to the property, we could see there were multiple production vans filled to the brim with camera equipment. It looked like they packed up an entire office building and packed it all into a few vans to travel across country.
Secondly, we couldn’t believe how many people were involved to bring just one scene to life. For context, when we shoot Money on the Table, at most, there is a three person crew; one lead videographer, one secondary camera operator and one floater/production assistant who helps with essentially everything else from staging, audio, setup, photography and breakdown. But on this set, there were about 10 people involved with shooting the scene.
There were at least four camera operators in the room, one person managing audio, a producer inside the home, a supporting producer outside the home watching everything on camera and multiple people both inside and outside the home communicating via walkie-talkie. There were lights tethered to window curtain rods, tucked behind flower vases and hanging from chandeliers. We didn’t even realize they were there until after we were done shooting and the production team started breaking it all down. The entire production and staging was seamless and left us with a great appreciation for all the work that goes into creating what we all see on our television screens.
Meeting with the couple [Marsau and Tisha]
Whenever we’re asked to help a couple get on the same page, we never quite know what to expect. But in this case, since we were already familiar with the show, we actually had insight into who they were and their relationship dynamic. Here’s the thing—it’s common to assume that people are “playing a character” on reality television, but we can tell you that in this case, Marsau and Tisha are pretty much who they appear to be on TV. And when it comes to managing money, they’re no different than many of the other couples we’ve come to know in that they simply don’t talk about it.
When we asked Marsau how often he and Tisha talk about money, he responded, “once”. To gain some clarity, we asked whether he meant once a week, month or year and he added jokingly “a marriage”. In his mind, their early conversation about money was the only conversation they ever needed to have. For some viewers and fellow personal finance enthusiasts, this may be shocking but we weren’t surprised at all. Many of the couples we’ve been asked to help feel similarly. In fact ,they take great pride in the idea that the conversation only needed to happen once. The only problem is life doesn’t stand still.
So when situations arise that warrant revisiting spending, saving, or any other financial topic, couples who haven’t built healthy routines find themselves wrestling with the financial problem they need to solve and rusty…
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In Marsau and Tisha’s case, they’re entrepreneurs who own and operate a commercial real estate construction company as well as a restaurant, lounge and cigar bar. As business owners ourselves, we know how stressful this can be; especially when you add children to the mix.
Since only Tisha is responsible for managing the household budget which has steadily grown over the years; all Marsau see’s is an increase in spending. And since they don’t talk about household spending, he’s assumed that it has largely gone to towards the makeup and jewelry Tisha likes. In reality, the increase in spending could be attributed to several budget categories like food, utilities, insurance, daycare and others that have all increased in cost in recent years.
Our advice to them was the same as it would be to anyone, regardless of your employment status or level of success—talk frequently about money together. Doing so ensures…
finances are a shared responsibility and not something only one person bears the burden of carrying.
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When both people share the responsibility of financial decisions, you ensure shared visibility and accountability in your marriage. You also gain the benefit of two sets of experiences to sharpen decision making which strengthens the partnership. Whereas, when only one person is responsible for managing the money, there is less oversight over household finances, a greater likelihood for disconnect and even financial abuse.
Managing financial conflict
If you’ve been following our story for a while, then you know, our origin story is rooted in financial conflict. Our break up early in our relationship was caused by a disagreement about money and our blog is, in part, inspired by our desire to help others have better conversations about money than we did when we first met. So what do we mean by “better conversations about money”. To us, it means demystifying financial jargon, busting financial myths that influence decision making and encouraging greater transparency to name a few. But it also means encouraging people to embrace, rather than avoid, financial conflict in relationships.
So many of the people we’ve met over the years have defined success, [in terms of relationships and money] as the absence of conflict in their lives. But we believe the absence of conflict is more often a sign of dominance, avoidance or ignorance. Furthermore, we want to remove the negative connotation associated with the word conflict. Too often, people envision or think about conflict like they do violence, arguments or fighting. When actually, conflict in a marriage can be the result of a simple disagreement, a difference of opinion or an evolved point of view. The point is…
In our upcoming book, Cashing Out [summer 2022] , we dedicate an entire chapter to helping people think differently about financial conflicts and share some useful tips on how to navigate them. You’ll have to wait until then to read exactly what we share but we can assure you this much—we don’t recommend surprising your partner with financial and relationship counseling like an intervention. Yikes.
when we encourage the minimization of conflict, we suffocate opportunities for growth and valuable learning opportunities within our relationships. Breakthroughs only occur after conflict.
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So what does this mean for us?
Recently, a friend who knows about our appearance on the show not-so-jokingly asked if this meant we we’re officially famous. The answer to this question is of course not. We are just as “REGULAR” today as we were yesterday. But we do hope our appearance inspires people to see what is possible for them when they invest in their ideas and talents. We didn’t expect to be on the top rated show on the OWN Network but…here we are.
Our appearance has also taught us something else. Since airing, several people have congratulated us on the exposure but warned us against the perils of entering the world of reality television. This tells us two things:
- We’ve built a community of real people who respect and want the best for us
- Our followers/viewers want and value smart content, entertainment and programming; not the drama we’re too often fed by the mainstream media
With that said, we can assure you won’t ever see us caught up in drama playing out for the world to see. We respect ourselves, our family, community and you too much for that. As we wrap up what has been a record-breaking year for us as entrepreneurs, we’ll certainly be adding this experience to the highlight reel. And hopefully it plants the seed for even bigger and better opportunities.
Til next time.
Julien and Kiersten