With so many families facing hard times, it was only a matter of time before a reality show about our rocky economy was created. WEtv's "Downsized" centers on modern-day "Brady Bunch" parents Todd and Laura Bruce and their seven children (which includes a set of triplets!), and how they coped with going from a cushy life to facing financial hardship -- and the radical change in lifestyle that inevitably followed.
Having filmed "Downsized" between May and July, the Bruces are still in the process of recovering from their brush with financial peril. Mom Laura Bruce took some time out to speak with us about what led them down this path, and how doing the show helped unite her family through laughter and love.
momlogic: So many families are going through hard times, I'm sure many folks will relate to your show. Tell me a little about how things took a turn for the worse in your financial lives.
Laura Bruce: We didn't really foresee it. My husband has a construction business and it was doing really well, and we only thought it would get better. His business was doubling and tripling. We were also blending a family, so on top of it all, we bought a house and were paying for a lot of expenses to ease that transition. We were planning on settling down a bit more, then the economy took a turn.
ml: So even though you were making a lot of money, it was a very expensive transition in terms of blending your family?
LB: Definitely. Having seven children can be really expensive!
ml: And teens and tweens typically want big-ticket items.
LB: There are lots of things you don't think about. Some of our kids had the opportunity to do dual-enrollment in high school, where they can take college courses and receive high school and college credit. It's so great to be qualified, but then we're also paying college tuition. You love them and you want to give it to them. It's hard.
ml: How does it make you feel?
LB: Guilty. I mean, parents feel guilty all the time anyways. In the long run, I'm pretty confident that the experience will build character. When it's time for our kids to have children, I would like them to learn from my life. That's all I can hope. Sometimes when I think about what happened, when our kids are married and have children and if they go through any kind of financial struggle, I want to be able to guide them in the right direction.
ml: What has this experience taught you and your kids?
LB: We definitely have to contribute to creating our own financial luck. It's a weird analogy, but like with death, you get to know that pain and that struggle. Similarly, when you have financial loss, it makes you grow and feel things that you've never felt before. It makes you a stronger person.
ml: When money got real tight, how did you tell your children they were going to have to give up things like cheerleading camp and stuff like that?
LB: It was a lot easier for the triplets -- they decided to give up baseball themselves, the three of them, because they are involved in sports through their high school. But with my daughter, it was a lot harder, because I felt like I gave her my word [that she could go to cheerleading camp]. I felt like I wasn't keeping my promise. Would I want my child to struggle financially because she's keeping her daughter in camp? Absolutely not. But she's developing as a person and as an adult. Do I want her to realize that we are struggling financially? Yes, and through this experience, there are other things we are teaching her. I love my children and I want the best for them. I want them to learn from this experience, look at it and try to see that you can take things that are negative and make something positive out of it. And every opportunity that we could, that's what we tried to do. It's not easy. You'll see in the show that it's not easy, and they do get hurt. They are kids becoming adults. But in the end, without these struggles, we wouldn't have gotten where we are today. We're a stronger family for it.
ml: Have things improved since doing the show?
LB: It's like you go four steps forward and two steps back. My husband's business is picking up, but we no longer qualify for government services. I'm very happy that we no longer need government assistance. It's important that people use government assistance when they need it because that's what it's there for -- to help transition -- but it's not a lifestyle. But now that we're off of it, it's hard to afford our bills again. Health insurance for my family is $800 a month and my paycheck is a little less than that every two weeks. When we went off state insurance, we decided we didn't want to pay so much a month, so we cut back on insurance. But about two weeks after we got off, my son had a major asthma attack, which never happened before. He's never been hospitalized for anything before, but he was in intensive care for three days. So now we have that bill. But again, it's how you look at it. I'm so thankful he's OK. There is the frustration, but it's done, it's over; now we have insurance. But we're far from set. You should be able to take care of your health without worrying about paying the bills.
ml: As parents, what have you learned about or from your children through this experience?
LB: I cannot explain in words how grateful I am to our children. They somehow pulled together and were determined. Instead of looking at the negative, they had the right attitude and they supported each other. We have a lot of laughter. We would laugh when things got really scary. We'd eat dinner together and I can't stress how important that is -- sitting down as a family. We're so grateful for everything that we have. As long as you're breathing, life is good.
ml: What advice would you give to parents about to "blend" a family?
LB: Our kids cared enough about our happiness. They loved me enough to want the best for me. That's what made things a lot easier. The love was there to make it work. I remember feeling very emotional. We went around and asked all the kids what they wanted out of us. It was so reassuring to hear that everyone wanted to be great friends and they were driven to work toward it. It doesn't come easy -- you do have to work toward it. You have to take the good with the bad, but if everyone is willing to work for it, it works.
ml: What advice would you offer to parents facing an economic downturn?
LB: I would definitely encourage them to reach out for assistance. I'm not for that as a lifestyle, but the help is there for a reason. The hard part is finding out how to do it and reaching out for economic services, but they'll lead you in the right direction. You're going to get a number and you're going to get in line for food stamps. Remember -- it doesn't define you, it's a transition. Also, support each other and ask for help. Don't be ashamed, because more than likely, someone else you know has either gone through it or will go through it at some point in their lives. If people can't understand that, then they aren't being realistic.
Don't miss Laura and the rest of the Bruce clan on "Downsized," premiering Saturday, November 6, at 9:00 PM ET/PT on WEtv.