Commentary: WE tv’s “Downsized”

Mr. NSF recently introduced me to this train wreck of a show, Downsized. It follows a blended family — a couple with 7 children from previous marriages — in Arizona who suddenly have to cut corners after the father’s contractor business went bust along with the economy.

I’m sure a lot of the things that happened in the few episodes we watched were orchestrated by the producers. At least, I hope so, because the things they were doing to make money made no sense to me.

In fact, every single scenario I saw drove me batty — so much so that I’m blogging about it two days later!

Here are just a few of the situations that made me nuts:

1. Wife takes on a part-time job cleaning a neighbor’s house. Then proceeds to make their 4 daughters come and help, promising to pay them $5 each as their “cut.” THEN she only charges the homeowner $80 instead of the $100 she first said would be the fee.

My thought: It would make much more sense to 1) Charge what you’re going to charge and 2) Not take all four girls with you and pay them a ridiculous $5. We’re not talking young kids here – the ages are 10, 14, 15 and 16. The older three could easily get jobs of their own and use the money to pay for a portion of their needs and wants. In fact, the oldest one is said to have a waitressing job.

2. The family JUST now starts to cut down expenses. This is after exhausting their savings and 401(k) plans. One episode has them outlining how much cable TV, extracurricular activities and eating out cost them. They figured out that they could pay the entire rent by trimming the fat and spending less. Their two homes went into foreclosure, but they’re still renting a pretty big house for what seems to be about $1500 a month — and that home fits all 9 of the family members.

My thought: Sure, they originally were living beyond their means, but once the contracting work began drying up, wouldn’t it have been smart to reassess their budget then — and not two years later?

3. The mom complains about giving up her morning coffee, which she purchased from a coffee shop. But her “morning coffee” is really some sort of iced coffee drink. The father comes home with the ingredients necessary for her to make her own, complete with a reusable plastic cup with a lid and straw. So what do we see? The mom proceeds to make a large quantity of the coffee drink and share it with the kids.

My thought: First of all, kids don’t need the caffeine found in coffee, and secondly, she just wasted her entire ingredients supply.

4. One daughter gets to go to prom (father’s daughter from previous marriage), while other daughter (mom’s from previous marriage) can’t, even though she already has a dress. This one really blew my mind. While I know the dad’s daughter was able to go to prom because her biological mother paid for her ticket to attend, the “destitute” family couldn’t afford the same ticket. Adding to the sad story, the tickets wound up being sold out before her boyfriend could buy them.

My thought: The money the dad spent on the coffee ingredients could have put a nice dent in the ticket price. And the situation could cause animosity between the stepsisters.

There were many more examples, but these were the ones that stood out to me. I won’t be watching this show ever again, that’s for sure.

Commentary: “Amish Fireplaces”

By now, we’ve all seen the commercials and advertisements for the Amish fireplace. It’s basically an electric space heater dressed up with a wood mantel and made to look like a fireplace. And it can be yours, FREE, if you just purchase the mantel!

It’s supposed to save you tons of money on your heating bills.’s ConsumerMan column has a more in-depth explanation of this ruse.

The “Amish fireplace” mantel costs $337. For another $18, you get a remote, and a 2-year extended warranty will set you back another $36. Of course, there’s a $49 charge for shipping and handling. So the heating component is free, free, free! /sarcasm/

So who in their right mind would pay $440 for a glorified space heater? While I can appreciate Amish craftsmanship, I doubt it’s worth that much. And who knows how much of the

The Heat Surge technology claims to crank out 4,606 BTUs of energy — “Heat Surge infrared technology safely heats a room faster and more effectively than typical space heaters.”

Well, my $35 oil-filled, radiator-style electric space heater puts out 5,115 BTUs on the high setting, and within 20 minutes, our formerly-cold porch room is comfortable enough to use. Another 15 minutes, and the ambient temperature meets that of the rest of our home.

In general, space heaters only warm up small areas — one room. And to reap the “benefits” of space heaters, you need to turn down — or turn off — the heat to the rest of the house. Otherwise, you’re paying for two heating sources.

Also keep in mind that in most areas, electricity still costs more than gas — so whether or not you save money remains to be seen.