Peter Griffin’s in Debt! The Finances of 5 Favorite TV Characters

As our most time-consuming leisure activity, we watch nearly three hours of TV per day, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics time use surveys. Television has an impact on our lives. Shows like The Office may have just a small impact — they make us laugh at the stresses of the workplace and we may imagine what it would be like to go to work and act like one of those characters, even for just a day. Then there are shows like The Biggest Loser and American Ninja Warrior, which can inspire and completely change lives.

We all have our favorite television shows, and we choose them for varying reasons. They bring excitement to our lives, they evoke emotion, or maybe we relate to the show’s characters. “Claire on Modern Family acts just like my sister,” we think to ourselves, or “Peter Griffin reminds me of my nephew” (hopefully, this is not the case).

If someone asked you to describe your favorite TV show character — his or her career, where that person lives, his or her lifestyle — you could probably do it, right? Using information from some of the top-rated TV shows from both the past and present, we applied realistic numerical data to their lifestyles and found out which ones would be raking in the dough and who would be in big-time debt. You may be surprised at the results.

1. Peter Griffin of Family Guy

  • Jobs: Toy factory worker, brewery worker, ship captain, bar owner (varies)
  • Salary: Estimated household income of $50,000 annually
  • Monthly cost of home in Quahog, Rhode Island: $676.40 (before property taxes or insurance)

The Griffins purchased their family home in 1999 for an estimated price of $126,000, the median price of Rhode Island homes during that period. Today, the family home’s value is probably much higher, around $219,000.

Although the value of the house has seen an increase, this equity has likely been quickly been absorbed by Peter’s lapses in employment. At times, his spouse is the primary earner, bringing in only a music teacher’s part-time income of $600 or so per week.

Extreme purchases of items like “Petercopters,” tanks, “Hindenpeter” blimps, and “Peterangs” are also common for the TV dad, and he must spend exorbitant amounts of money on auto accidents, court costs, and medical bills. You might say this stuff is “shockingly expensive.”

Peter is most certainly facing extreme debt, and bankruptcy or severe debt counseling is probably ideal for him. But hey, we still love Peter Griffin.

2. Homer Simpson of The Simpsons

  • Job: Nuclear power plant safety inspector
  • Salary: Around $67,000 annually
  • Monthly cost of home in Springfield, state unknown (likely near Portland, Oregon): $456.30 (before property taxes and insurance)

If Homer paid the average price in the Portland area for 742 Evergreen Terrace back in 1989, he would have only paid around $85,000 for the family’s home. Today, the Simpson family’s home value is much higher — probably close to $300,000. With this home equity combined with a moderate salary from his job at the power plant and manageable expenses, Homer may very well be in a stable financial position.

The Simpsons dad does, however, have a few things working against him. Alcohol consumption, coupled with the tendency to get into mischief that costs hundreds, or even thousands of dollars to repair, may result in financial losses for Homer. His job security is also only fair, although he has managed to keep his position for several years now.

3. Al Bundy of Married With Children

  • Job: Shoe salesman
  • Salary: $14,310 annually in 1990
  • Monthly cost of home in Chicago: $555 (before property taxes and insurance)

Al Bundy: He strongly verbalized his hatred for his job and sometimes even his loved ones. Yet we all knew he loved his family, in spite of his shortcomings. Bundy had a low-paying job, and the show made sure to highlight the family’s financial toils.

“Tang sandwiches” and “toaster scrapings” were meals the family frequently ate, and they looked for opportunities to get ahead financially. If Bundy purchased his home in 1987, he probably paid less than $100,000 for the property, and by the show’s end, the home would have gained some substantial equity. However, considering the household’s low single income, the spending habits of his spouse, and his frequent visits to the “nudey bar,” he likely would have had to use this equity at some point.

Bundy was in debt, big time. The wannabe football star had big dreams that were quickly shattered by the harsh realities of life.

4. Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory

  • Job: Theoretical physicist
  • Salary: More than $100,000 annually
  • Monthly cost of home in Pasadena, California: Around $900

Sheldon’s job is bringing in a substantial income for the highly intelligent physicist. Living in California, he’s likely earning around $9,500 per month (before taxes), and with a roommate, the cost of his home and utilities are reduced substantially. Sheldon’s frugal ways help him budget effectively.

He has a large percentage of his income left over for savings and discretionary spending. He doesn’t have to be overly concerned with having enough money for ordering takeout, spending on dining out, or buying random items for his home. Sheldon may have even paid off his student debt, and is in an overall healthy financial position. Maybe we can pick up a few pointers from Sheldon in some areas (but in other areas, perhaps not).

5. Elaine from Seinfeld

  • Job: Copy editor/catalog editor
  • Salary: $81,540 today or $53,343 in 1995
  • Monthly cost of home in New York: Around $1,800

With her quirky ways, Elaine always entertained us. She changed careers a few times throughout the show, but being an editor seemed to be her cup of tea. Today, editors in New York earn a little more than $80,000. If we adjust that money downward to 1995 dollars, this is reduced to a little over $53,000.

The same applies for a New York City apartment. Today, the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in an area with such a high cost of living is around $2,600. Adjusting downward to 1995 dollars, Elaine would have been looking at a cost of around $1,800.

She enjoyed getting out and about, as well. Restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, and the diner we all came to know and love were all places where Elaine spent a great deal of money. We seldom saw her cook at home.

Living alone, Elaine’s home cost was likely around 40 percent of her income, which is extremely high. She had high levels of spending, particularly on food away from home. She was likely in some debt, and had little or no savings. Most of us don’t mind though: Elaine is still a classic TV character.

More from Personal Finance Cheat Sheet: