Review: BBT S2E14 The Financial Permeability - Part 1

Part 1 - Penny’s debt crisis

Penny runs into Sheldon’s apartment as he returns home by himself. She is hiding from the building manager because she can’t pay her rent. Apparently she has had extra bills recently due to her car breaking down ($1200) and the restaurant cutting her hours.

“You know it occurs to me. You could solve all your problems by obtaining more money.”

“Yes … it occurs to me too.”

Sheldon offers to loan Penny money, at which she is taken aback and appears unsure of whether or not she should accept. Eventually she does borrow the money, but mumbles as she leaves “I’m regretting this already.”

During the course of the episode this borrower/lender dynamic causes Penny to be uncomfortable around the guys as she receives delivery of a beret that she had previously ordered online, and eats $14 takeout in their apartment. Penny reacts to this overspending by becoming defensive, yelling at Sheldon and Raj.

Later Penny reveals to Leonard that her plan when coming to LA was to only be a waitress for 6 months before she would become a movie star. And then presumably she believed that she would not have to worry about money again.

Her current bills include:

  • recent car repair totaling $1200
  • rent for the apartment
  • electricity and presumably some additional utilities
  • cable television
  • cell phone
  • acting classes that cost $170 each for an undisclosed number of classes
  • and a $1800 fine from Los Angeles county court which she had paid on behalf of an ex-boyfriend

It is immediately apparent that it is this last expense that has brought the whole ‘deck of cards’ down. And it makes clear the delicate balance that Penny is walking to make it in LA as an aspiring actress.

While Leonard takes it upon himself to attempt retrieval of the money from Penny’s ex-boyfriend to solve the immediate problem, it will take several more years for Penny to adjust her financial situation permanently to become more financially stable.

Penny’s financial situation reflects that of many Americans whom have life goals beyond financial stability. Often they find themselves sacrificing financial stability to pursue their dreams.

So what could Penny and other like her do differently? Basically, there are 2 main options:

  • Earn more money - income
  • Reduce costs - expenditures

Reducing Spending

The writers of this blog sometimes focus too much on Penny’s over spending habits: eating out (or ordering in), clothes and shoes, knick-knacks for her one person apartment, etc. However, it is undeniably a key area that can help with saving money and building wealth.

“A dollar saved is a dollar earned.” Or, even better: “A dollar saved is two dollars in 7 years.”

A quick list of potential areas of saving:

  • Cancel cable - she already uses WiFi from the guys for free, so she may as well watch cable with them as well!
  • Stop buying stuff for the apartment - there is just too much stuff that one person does not need
  • Stop buying new clothes and shoes - there are many other options for getting items to vary the wardrobe besides buying new
  • Pay off and cancel credit cards - to avoid overspending, limit yourself to one card and make sure you can pay it off every month
  • Cancel paid acting classes - instead join a volunteer acting club to gain experience and create network opportunities 
  • Buy groceries - ordering in or eating out amounts to paying someone to prepare food for you which inflates the cost of the food consumed. Learn to make your favorite meals or date someone who can ;)

Income Ideas for Penny

  • Sell a product online
    • Penny actually tries this in episode 18 of season 2 when she recruits the guys into helping her make and sell online the flower barrettes she calls “Penny Blossoms”.
      • This idea actually could have worked out for Penny if she had stuck at it a little bit longer and modified the plan slightly. Outsourcing the manufacturing to overseas, importing the product and selling at a higher price is the basis of current successful Amazon, Etsy and other online marketplace sellers. Penny could have been on the leading edge of that wave in February 2009 when this episode aired [1].
  • Branch out from movies
    • Again, Penny achieves this when she appears in a hemorrhoid commercial in episode 1 of season 5 - “The Skank Reflex Analysis”, and again when she has a speaking part in a TV show that is ultimately cut from the aired version in episode 12 of season 7.
    • Penny also tries her hand at stage acting, during episode 10 of season 1 she has a role in Rent musical that did not go well. In episode 17 of season 2 she is preparing for the role of Anne Frank in a production of “Diary of Anne Frank” above a bowling alley. And in episode 17 of season 6 she has a well-received performance as Blanche DuBois in a small production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
    • Something that was not mentioned during the course of the seasons was whether or not Penny had attempted modeling as an alternate career to acting.
    • While social media was around in 2009, the concept of a ’social media influencer’ was not yet main stream. However, a few current influencers started their careers around 2009 or earlier. For example, iJustine started as a life casting show on the web in 2007, right as YouTube was starting to gain in popularity.
  • Re-brand her waitress and acting skills into something that offers more compensation
    • Ultimately this is what brings Penny the career breakthrough that she has been waiting for, albeit not the exciting work that she was hoping as a movie star.

The same 3 general ideas are true for all of us as well: sell products, branch out into related areas, and re-shape our careers into new ones based on transferable skills. And if we have the same tenacity and gumption as Penny, we might just be able to make it work.

It also bears reflection, that money doesn’t ultimately make her happy when she finally starts earning more. Her relationships are the primary source of her happiness, and her new job even causes her to question how long she wants to work there. However, we will leave those discussions for another time.



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