’90s TV Families Were Totally Broke

There’s no way could the 7th Heaven family could have gotten by on a minister’s salary. A BuzzFeed original analysis of the finances of five TV families.

Just how realistic were the financial scenarios of our favorite TV families? Your best guess is the right one: not very. However, certain shows gave us an illusion of plausibility thanks to likable, supposedly “modest” set-ups. With some help from our BuzzFeed data team, we were able to take a general look at five TV families to see what their finances might have been like.

1. “7th Heaven”

Place: “Glen Oak,” CA
Aired: 1996-2007
Background: OMG, living in this house must have been the worst. The Camden Family, lorded over by minister Eric Camden, started out with five children, until the twins were born in third season, bringing the household tally up two adults and seven children for a total of 9 under one roof. As a stay-at-home mom, Annie didn’t bring in much income, so the family relied fully on Eric’s salary. They had certain economic advantages — the house would have presumably been paid for by the church; the kids seemed to have attended public high school (although Ruthie had a very brief stint at private school). As the story progresses, certain of the Camden kids do go nearby colleges, however most of them hold down jobs at the same time so it would be safe to assume (considering the family’s size and traditional ethics) that the kids were expected to take out loans and work through school to support themselves.

“7th Heaven” Financial Summary

The Camdens were losing a buttload of money each year.

2. “Full House”

Place: San Francisco, CA
Aired: 1987-1995
Background: As the host of local news show Wake Up, San Francisco, Danny Tanner probably made a pretty decent living as a local celebrity. However, supporting three children without a full second income (mom was deceased), plus adding two additional household members (Uncles Jesse and Joey) would have brought additional costs. Although Jesse and Joey worked, it’s safe to say that the incomes from their chosen careers — rock star, voice actor, and “advertising agency” — probably didn’t contribute much to the household budget. Jesse seemed to “contribute” more by offering childcare, while Joey seemed slightly more responsible (and therefore more likely to pay for groceries and household items more often).

“Full House” Financial Summary

3. “Step By Step”

Place: Port Washington, WI
Aired: 1991-1997
Background: The Lambert-Foster clan may have looked like an average, modest family, but their gang of children would have been hard to support. Living in a Milwaukee suburb in a comfortable home, Frank was a contractor while Carol supposedly brought in income from her sleepy, in-home salon. Together, they were supporting six kids, plus Cody (although he lived in a van in the driveway).

“Step-By-Step” Financial Summary

4. “The Nanny”

Place: New York, NY
Aired: 1993-1999
Background: The Sheffields were supposedly very well off. They lived in an Upper East Side townhouse; all three children attended private school; and the family was able to afford a live-in nanny and butler. The family’s only income came from the father, Maxwell, a “moderately successful” Broadway producer. It’s hard to gauge what, exactly, that would mean in terms of finances, but assuming he did okay, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he makes much more than the “average TV producer,” which would be about $113k. Let’s say he brings in five times that, so $565,000.

“The Nanny” Financial Summary

5. “The Cosby Show”

Place: Brooklyn, NY
Aired: 1984-1992
Background: The Huxtables were supposed to be a solidly upper-middle-class clan with two highly educated parents (a doctor and a lawyer) bringing in two nice incomes. Again, owning a home and having a gazillion kids (including ones who go off to fancy colleges) takes a toll on their finances.

“The Cosby Show” Financial Summary

Looking at the show’s scenario as it was in 1986.

A few notes:

1. All dollar amounts are in 2011 dollars, adjusted for inflation.
2. We researched salaries by state on payscale.com, taking the median result.
3. The cost of living was determined by taking total expenditures provided by Census data, subtracting housing (mortgage), and dividing by the population. Then multiplying by the number of household members in a given scenario.

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