‘Sister Wives’: Kody Brown and His Wives Once Relied on Food Stamps and Bankruptcy to Make Their Finances Work

The Brown family’s financial dysfunction was on full display during the most recent season of Sister Wives. As the series followed the family’s attempt to settle into their new home in Flagstaff, Arizona, fans often brought up the fact that the Browns’ finances made no sense. They owned four properties in Las Vegas that they were struggling to sell and had three rents and at least two mortgages to juggle, all while supporting an army of kids. While the family’s reality TV salary has never been revealed, fans surmised their TLC paychecks surely were not big enough to cover everything. As it turns out, the Brown family has never been particularly good with money. Prior to welcoming the TLC cameras into their lives, the Browns filed for bankruptcy multiple times and subsisted with the help of food stamps.

Meri, Christine, and Janelle all filed for bankruptcy at some point

Before Robyn joined the family in 2010, all three of Kody’s wives filed for bankruptcy at some point. According to The Hollywood Gossip, Janelle was the first wife to declare bankruptcy. Her filing took place in 1997, just four years after she married Kody in a spiritual ceremony. Jenelle had been previously married to Adam Barber, Meri’s brother.

Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown and Christine Brown appear on 'Good Morning America' in 2011
Kody Brown with wives, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, and Christine Brown | Ida Mae Astute/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

In 2005, Meri, who was legally married to Kody at the time, also filed for bankruptcy. According to court filings, the couple owed creditors more than $80,000.  Just five years later, while Kody was courting his fourth wife, Christine also declared bankruptcy, claiming she was unable to pay back $25,000 in debt. Her youngest child, Truely Brown, was born the same year.

Several of the sister wives received food stamps in the past

Many of the Brown children are adults who have begun lives of their own, but when they were all living together in Utah, money was tight. According to The Ashley Reality Roundup Group, Kody’s work history before Sister Wives is a bit of a mystery. He claims that he once supported his family with “online sales,” but precisely what that means is anyone’s guess. The family also revealed in their book, Becoming Sister Wives, that they moved around quite a bit before settling in Utah, so it’s unlikely he held onto a single job across multiple states.

Meri and Janelle both held jobs, while Christine cared for the family’s children before Sister Wives was picked up TLC. The money they brought in was not enough to feed the 13 children within the family, at the time, though. Several publications note that Christine Brown received government assistance for food through the first season of the family’s hit television show.

While the family clearly has more money now, some critics argue that they’ve done little to ensure their finances will be healthy when the show eventually ends. Some believe that day is coming sooner rather than later. Based on the most recent season of the series, if that day comes soon, the Browns will be in a precarious financial position.

Are the Browns headed for more financial disaster?

The Brown family is not alone in their financial woes. According to The Ascent, more than 700,000 individuals filed for bankruptcy in 2018. That number is considered low. In 2005, more than 2 million people in the United States asked the courts to intervene in their finances. Fans, however, are highly critical of the Browns because they have seemingly failed to learn from their mistakes. Many believe the family is headed for certain financial ruin when the TLC cameras eventually leave the Browns behind.

It has been rumored that the Browns took a massive pay cut just to keep the cameras rolling, but they seemingly haven’t changed their lifestyle to accommodate their change in income. It took more than a year for the family to unload all four of their Las Vegas properties, and during that time, they were purchasing properties in Flagstaff at a breakneck speed.

Christine and Kody purchased a property in Flagstaff for $500,000. Kody and Robyn eventually purchased another property in Flagstaff for an eyewatering $900,000. Janelle and Meri continue to rent properties within the city, and the family also has acres of land they purchased ahead of their move sitting untouched. Sure, they’ve managed to sell their Las Vegas properties, mainly at a profit, but fans wonder if they’ll have enough income to support themselves if TLC chooses to end their contract. The resounding assumption is that, no, the Brown family will falter without their reality TV income. Christine suggested the family was financially drowning even with their television income; without it, it sounds like disaster wouldn’t be far off.