Get Smart With Money review – Martin Lewis could teach these financial ‘experts’ a thing or two

This documentary’s solutions to its participants’ jeopardy-free first-world problems are incredibly basic. If you have any knowledge of money-saving advice, you know them already

Ah, the middle-class-lifestyle makeover show. Fire up BBC Two or Channel 4 at 8.30 on any midweek evening in the past 20 years and you’ll have had a good chance of seeing a toothy expert giving advice to people who would be absolutely fine if left to their own devices. Homeowners ask for help to further enrich themselves; people whose clothes aren’t quite right are shown more stylish outfits to buy.

It’s a genre that dislikes jeopardy – and there’s very little in the new Netflix documentary Get Smart With Money, a US take on domestic financial management. Four hapless punters are taken under the wing of a money guru, but as well as being oddly formatted – what you would expect to be an episodic series is presented as a feature-length one-off – the film is mainly concerned with comforting the already comfortable.

One of its case studies, Teez, tells us that when he joined the Detroit Lions in the 2017 NFL draft, his first paycheck was for $1.6m (£1.4m). But once he had paid his agent’s cut, and his taxes, and bought two houses and several holidays, he only had $280,000 left! Teez is anxious about the fickle transience of money and, with his career stalled by injury, wants to make the most of the bundle he has left over from two seasons with the Lions. Ross Mac, YouTuber and former hedge-fund manager, urges him to funnel cash into a share index fund.

The film has a go at making us care by flashing up a caption that says black families own less than 2% of all stocks in the US. But surely this is because many black families do not have the means to buy stocks, not because elite black athletes aren’t alert to investment opportunities? As Teez tries to revive his football dreams by trialling for the Chicago Bears, his story becomes a mini sports doc where the prize at the end will be … buying more shares in Apple.

More interesting but also not in urgent need are Kim and John, a nice couple from Boulder, Colorado. In lockdown, Kim’s life-coaching business proved well suited to Zoom, and now brings in $300,000 a year. Financial efficiency guru Pete Adeney, AKA Mr Money Mustache, observes that the pair’s $13,000 monthly expenses are a crimp on what ought to be their goal: retiring early. Oh no!

But, hey, first world problems are still problems for those who have them, and there is a question to be considered about frugality as a lifestyle choice. Should Kim and John give up their big house, with four different cheeses in the fridge and a constant stream of Amazon and Etsy purchases landing on the porch, or are those the things that make Kim’s work pressures bearable? As the big spreadsheets come out, look in her eyes and you can see Kim having this debate with herself.

The darker side of the consumerist urge to spend is embodied by New Jersey resident Ariana, who recalls carefree post-graduation years filled with $100 Manhattan brunches; now in her suburban family life, she’s basically OK, but her credit card debts are like an anvil tied to her household’s prosperity. Financial self-help author Tiffany Aliche steps in, splitting Ariana’s salary into strictly maintained budget pots.

For anyone even slightly versed in money-saving advice, this is basic stuff – all the experts here are babies staring up at Martin Lewis’s ankles – but a point Get Smart With Money makes well is that sensible budgeting, debt management and investment are only easy once you know about them, and most Americans have never been taught. While the film might be unwilling to acknowledge that for so many people, no number of tips will help because they can’t be smart with money they don’t have, here and there it does seem that the system is rotten. Just as credit card lenders shouldn’t have been able to prey on Ariana, the situation of Lindsey, a bartender/waitress in Austin, Texas, isn’t right.

Despite having two jobs, Lindsey cannot pay her bills and is nowhere near being able to afford the therapy and/or medication that would help with her mental health issues – the US having decided that such things should be expensive items to be coveted, not dignities provided to all. So we are delighted when podcaster Paula Pant comes up with clever ways to replace one of Lindsey’s grinding service-industry jobs with enjoyable “side hustles”, utilising her talent for art and fashion. It’s the only narrative in Get Smart With Money that we can really invest in.


Jack Seale

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Devil’s Advocate review – a mind-boggling tale of a real-life grifter
This documentary looks at the rise and fall of the ‘lawyer’ Giovanni di Stefano, whose list of clients reads like a Who’s Who of criminality – from Saddam Hussein to Harold Shipman

Lucy Mangan

15, Feb, 2022 @11:00 PM

Article image
Kathy Burke: Money Talks review – TV filler that’s 10 a penny
With trademark directness and authenticity, the actor offers glimpses of insight in this two-parter exploring wealth in Britain. However, analysis is severely lacking

Lucy Mangan

05, Jul, 2021 @10:05 PM

Article image
Moors Murders: The Witness review – these heinous crimes have nothing more to teach us
This three-part documentary which hangs on ‘never before seen’ letters and an interview with Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law is a thinly veiled ratings-chaser with little value

Lucy Mangan

21, Feb, 2022 @10:00 PM

Article image
The Money Maker review – Obama guru leads a one-man Dragons’ Den
This new series sees CEO and ex-presidential adviser Eric Collins help flailing British businesses. Will his calm authority – and southern charm – stop them from going bust?

Lucy Mangan

04, May, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
The Trouble with KanYe review – this hugely impressive documentary holds the far-right figurehead to account
From tackling the harm caused by the musician’s rhetoric to addressing the stigma around discussions of West’s mental health, this is seriously important TV

Lucy Mangan

28, Jun, 2023 @9:15 PM

Article image
63 Up review – documentary marvel makes all other reality TV look trivial
Michael Apted’s groundbreaking seven-yearly series returns, seeming more dreamlike than ever as it follows its subjects into retirement and beyond

Lucy Mangan

04, Jun, 2019 @9:00 PM

Article image
I Just Killed My Dad review – this true-crime story will sweep away your faith in humanity
Was Anthony Templet, who shot his father, Burt, a cold-blooded killer? This documentary about the truth behind the case is every bit as hooky and twisty as you’d expect from Netflix

Lucy Mangan

09, Aug, 2022 @5:26 PM

Article image
Myanmar: The Forgotten Revolution review – as chilling and courageous as TV gets
As we watch young protesters become a guerrilla army with just one firearm between them, this startling film lays out the brutality of last year’s military coup. This is not just television – it is evidence for a future war crimes trial

Phil Harrison

25, Jul, 2022 @11:05 PM

Article image
Super Surgeons review – the cancer doctors who really should have God complexes
This awe-inspiring documentary follows the doctors at the Royal Marsden hospital, who are pushing the limits of what is medically possible … and seem impossibly modest with it

Lucy Mangan

18, Jul, 2022 @10:05 PM

Article image
Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story review – hour after hour of boredom
It was the amazingly bizarre legal battle that got us all excited. Sadly, this tedious trudge through dry Rooney biography does not do the same

Lucy Mangan

18, Oct, 2023 @4:00 AM