Jack Bauer Never Buys Anything — How TVs Frugalest Characters Get by With Less


Saving is not a common trait among television characters. It's more common to see people spending money on frivolous goods than using a coupon. But there are a number of television characters that appear to having the saving money thing down pat. (See also: 8 Surprising Life and Finance Lessons From Will Ferrell)

Here's a look at nine television characters who wave their thrifty flag proudly.

1. Jack Bauer ("24")

You can't live off the grid for four years without knowing how to stretch a dollar. In many ways, he's living the dream. No mortgage, no car payments, no credit cards. There's a lot that we don't know about how Jack's been getting by, but we do know he wears the same outfit everyday and always seems to be able to get a ride to wherever he needs to go. We also never see him eat or drink, so he's probably saving money in that area.

Granted, Jack is probably a bit of a moocher, and there are times when he's just taken stuff through force when he could have just asked nicely. But that's hardly the worst of his crimes.

2. Scooby-Doo and the Gang

The conventional advice on car ownership is to drive your vehicle until it dies, and this group has certainly squeezed a lot of mileage out of the old Mystery Machine. Scooby appears to be content with a diet of low-cost Scooby snacks, while everyone else is fine eating at whatever side-of-the-road diner they find. Their choices of lodging are often a bit sketchy, but surely offer low nightly rates. Like Jack Bauer, this crew is happy wearing the same clothing every day.

3. Max Black and Caroline Channing ("Two Broke Girls")

This is a show about two poor roommates working to try and save enough money ($250,000, initially) to open a cupcake shop. The show has several good financial lessons, chiefly the idea of having a specific financial goal and working towards it.

Also, there are some good messages about the value of hard work and taking advantage of opportunities. In last year's season finale, the duo agreed to clean a nasty, once-hidden section of the diner to make some extra money. After they began work, they discovered a window that would eventually serve as the opening to their new shop.

4. Walter White ("Breaking Bad")

The man amassed tens of millions of dollars, but he was forced to maintain the guise of the out-of-work schoolteacher. He lived in a humble Albuquerque tract home and drove a Pontiac Aztec for much of the show's run. His clothes may have been straight out of an old Sears catalog. He even saved money on haircuts by shaving his head, even when he wasn't getting chemo treatments.

5. Ben Matlock ("Matlock")

Forget $5,000 suits. The powder blue special served this successful country lawyer just fine. Matlock has a known fondness for hot dogs, not prime rib. In a crossover episode with "Diagnosis Murder," it is explained that Matlock's thriftiness may stem from the sting of a bad investment in eight-track tapes.

6. George Constanza ("Seinfeld")

This is a man whose desire to save a buck led to him selecting cheap envelopes (for wedding invitations!) with toxic glue that eventually killed his fiancee. In another episode, George insists on seeking out a lower price for a massage chair to be given to a friend.

"I'll sniff out a deal," he says. "I have a sixth sense."

To which Jerry replies: "Cheapness… is not a sense."

We agree. It's a way of life.

7. Danny Tanner ("Full House")

He's a single dad taking care of three daughters living in a house in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country. Oh, and he has to help support his freeloading best friend and brother-in-law. You can hear the bemused exasperation in his voice during this exchange with his eldest daughter, D.J.:

D.J.: "We hit the big sale at the Fashion Mart. Everything is half off."

Danny: "Of course that doesn't save me any money 'cause you'll just buy twice as much stuff, right?"

D.J.: "I like your attitude."

8. Ron Swanson ("Parks and Recreation")

I've written about the greatness of Ron Swanson frequently in this space. He knows the value of making things himself, whether it be a child's crib or a wedding ring. He appears to only spend money on good breakfasts, steaks, and scotch. His favorite store is a place called "Food N' Stuff," and he advocates for only the cheapest haircuts (high and tight, buzz cut, or crew cut).

Swanson talks a lot about slashing government spending in Pawnee, Indiana, and he no-doubt practices cost-cutting in his personal life, too. Channel your inner Swanson, and you'll likely find yourself on a more stable financial path.

9. Adam Braverman ("Parenthood")

He and his family live in a sizable house in Berkeley, CA. He has a special needs son and a wife who's battled cancer. Oh, and his daughter goes to Cornell. All this, and we're to believe that he's getting by on whatever money he brings in from running a recording studio with his brother. It's entirely possible that the Bravermans are in debt up to their eyeballs and on the verge of bankruptcy. But I choose to believe they are getting by because Adam has found some ways to save money along the way.

When he and brother Crosby open the recording studio, it is Adam who crunches the numbers to see if it can work. And when Crosby comes to him seeking money to remediate mold in his house, Adam flatly says no. (A more fiscally irresponsible person would have caved to the pressure of helping out a family member.) Perhaps Adam learned a thing or two from his gruff father, Zeke, who's always insisted on doing his own car and home repairs.

Any frugal TV characters I've missed? Please share in comments!

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