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5 money lessons from TV’s ‘Nashville’

Susan Johnston Taylor

Set amidst the cutthroat country music scene, the hit TV series “Nashville” features money-embezzling ex-husbands and country superstars signing bad contracts and spending with abandon. The show, which returns to CMT for the second half of its fifth season this week, offers plenty of financial lessons between soaring piano-tinged ballads and high-energy guitar riffs.

Added bonus: You don’t have to win a CMA (Country Music Award) or wear cowboy boots to appreciate these financial facts of life.

Here’s a look at five money lessons “Nashville” teaches us. Caution: spoilers ahead!

1. Discuss money early and often.
Early in the series, Teddy Conrad, then husband to country music superstar Rayna James, gets in over his head with a bad land deal and embezzles money to cover it up (a blatant act of financial infidelity).

Rayna is blindsided by this because she’s too busy touring to see Teddy’s financial blunders or his unhappiness at relying on her income. If Teddy maxed out their joint credit cards, Rayna’s credit could be tarnished, too.

Later, while engaged to fellow country star Luke Wheeler, Rayna discovers that Wheeler has prepared a prenuptial agreement (so he doesn’t get taken for everything like with his first wife, he tells her) and she’s offended.

Both relationships would have benefited from more candid conversations around money matters.

2. Stay engaged with your finances.
Rayna James not only avoids discussing money with her romantic partners, but when she launches her own record label, Highway 65, she doesn’t review the books and discovers her sister Tandy is bouncing checks for the fledgling record label. As word gets out, artists grow reluctant to sign with Highway 65.

Perhaps Rayna should have had a business credit card. Even if the record label had to pay off the balance over time with interest, that might have preserved her and her sister’s reputations, stretched out payments and imposed better limits on spending.

Either way, these plot points demonstrate the danger of wearing financial blinders.

3. Read contracts before signing.
Pop-country darling Juliette Barnes signs with Highway 65 and then tells Rayna she wants out. Rayna’s daughter Maddie signs her own record contract in an act of rebellion, and it takes some serious maneuvering for Rayna to get her out of the contract. The songwriting characters on “Nashville” aren’t always happy with their licensing deals, either.

Moral of the story: Always read your contracts! This is true not just for record contracts or song licensing deals (you most likely want a lawyer to review those), but also with smaller agreements like signing up for a credit card or signing an apartment lease.

If you don’t read the contract, you might not like certain terms but you’re legally bound by them.

4. Live below your means.
When album sales stagnate or tour sales fall below expectations, Juliette, Rayna and their country music cohorts panic. How will they pay for their private jet, personal assistant and McMansion now? #firstworldproblems

Maybe they had the money for the McMansion (the Nashville house used on the show was on the market in 2012 for $19.5 million, reports Trulia) when they bought it. But big, fancy houses (not to mention jets or cars) require expensive upkeep.

Had they maintained a more basic lifestyle and saved for the future, the financial ups and downs of country music fame might be a little less stressful for them.

On the other hand, when Gunnar Scott receives a hefty royalty check for his song, he buys a modest house and continues living with roommates. Way to avoid lifestyle inflation, Gunnar!

Much like any other type of freelance worker, musicians can have huge fluctuations in income when a gig ends or financial situations change, so it’s a smart idea to keep a cash cushion for those times rather than relying on credit cards or blissful ignorance. A rainy day fund is also helpful for salaried employees in case of a layoff, car trouble or unexpected medical bill.  

5. Get your affairs in order.
Rayna’s sudden death earlier this season has left Highway 65 on uncertain financial footing with her family struggling to pick up the pieces. It’s tough enough for Deacon and Rayna’s daughters to deal with the emotional fallout of her death, but worrying that Highway 65 could fail without her adds to their struggles.

Before undergoing a liver transplant, Deacon gets his affairs in order. But Rayna was still relatively young and healthy up to the car crash that killed her, so she seems not to have done the same.

Even consumers of more modest means might want to consider buying life insurance so that one spouse’s death doesn’t financially derail the rest of the family’s goals. Both spouses should also know where important documents are stored and what bills need to be paid and when – just in case.

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