Home > Managing Debt > Would You Keep $100,000 or Give It to a Family in Need?

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If it were easy to separate emotions from money decisions, people would probably be a lot more financially stable. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be very interesting to watch a TV show in which struggling families are given briefcases full of $101,000 and told anything they don’t keep will be given to another family in need. In the absence of emotion, those families might just keep the money and address their financial woes with it.

Of course, such a decision is a lot messier than it should logically be, as CBS’s new reality show “The Briefcase” exhibits when it presents families with precisely that dilemma. In the premiere episode, which airs at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Kim and Joe Bergin struggle with whether they should keep the money to save their business, manage their medical expenses and chip away at their massive debt or if they should give some or all of it to another struggling family, Cara and Dave Bronson. What they don’t know is that the Bronson family also received a briefcase and is trying to make the same decision.

If you doubt how difficult such a decision would be, you might change your mind within minutes of starting this show, which features Kim, Joe, Cara and Dave in tears quite often. Trying to decide what to do with the money makes Kim Bergin physically ill at one point, and the tears continued to flow weeks after she and Joe met the Bronsons and shared their decisions.

“I’m crying now,” she said in a phone call on May 21, when she and Joe recounted the experience to Credit.com. “It’s still so emotional.”

The Bergin Family

Kim and Joe Bergin live in Matthews, N.C., with their three teenage daughters. They own an ice cream truck business that has fallen on hard times, which were compounded by trucks falling into disrepair and Joe getting in a car accident that prevented him from working for three months. They rarely have enough money to cover their monthly expenses.

Before any of this happened, the Bergins said they didn’t know how they were going to get out from under the more than $140,000 they had in debt (including their mortgage).

“We felt like we had a black cloud hanging over us,” Kim Bergin said. “My husband is the hardest-working person I know, and we could never get ahead. … This show brought this beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Bergins were cast in “The Briefcase” under the impression they were participating in a documentary about Americans struggling with their finances, so when a producer of the show arrived with the briefcase of $101,000 and told them their options, they were stunned. (They got to spend $1,000 immediately and had 72 hours to decide what to do with the remaining cash, and they received information about the Bronsons along the way.)

“The first thing was really the unknown,” Joe Bergin said of the experience. “You just assume the family is more deserving than you, you assume that they’re worse off than you, and the way I was reared, I don’t deserve this money because I didn’t earn it.” He also had to think about the message he wanted to send his kids in the decision to keep the money or give it away. “A lot of that was going on in my head … it was very, very, very emotional, up and down.”

The Bronson Family

BRONSONS1

At first, the families knew nothing about each other. The Bergins eventually learned that the Bronsons lived in Manchester, N.H, with a 2-year-old son and another child on the way. Cara works nights shifts as a nurse, and Dave is a stay-at-home dad. He lost one of his legs because of injuries he sustained fighting in Iraq in 2005, and he hasn’t been able to find work because of the ongoing struggles with his medical conditions.

Both families went through a wide range of emotions during the 72 hours they had to decide what to do with the money, but the experience didn’t end with their decisions.

“I’ve changed with Kim, as far as my involvement in the finances and things like that,” said Joe Bergin, who basically had no role in the family finances prior to filming the show. “[I’m] definitely more proactive with it — more discussion time and helping her absorb all the stress.”

As emotionally trying as the show clearly was, the Bergins said they were grateful to have the experience, and they felt that way well before they learned that the Bronsons had also been going through the same thing.

“You always wonder what you would do in a situation like that, and until you are in it you just don’t know,” Joe Bergin said. “Just my outlook towards people in need, it just has changed. I used to just blow it off, and now you look at this a little differently.”

That was the idea, according to executive producer Dave Broome, who is best known for being a creator of “The Biggest Loser.”

“Money is a great opportunity for you to talk about your values in your life — your needs, your wants,” he said. He said he hopes viewers come away from the show with a renewed faith in humanity, as he experienced. “I was very, very emotionally affected by making this show like you wouldn’t believe.”

The show premieres Wednesday, May 27 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.

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Images courtesy CBS

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  • Rhonda Nelson

    I can tell you right now all we would need is 60,000.00 to get back up on our feet. We helped someone and now we are paying for it. So no I would not have a problem deciding how much to keep or where it is going. Greed does not get you any where and as it has been said someone else could use some help.

  • heavyw8t

    First I help MY family (which consists of me, my dog, and my mortgage and other bills). Then I help the dog shelter where I have gotten my last 3 rescue dogs. Though also know that the shelter is the beneficiary named in my will, so…..

  • Sharon

    I felt that my story needed to be told. My husband, daughter and I became homeless about three years ago until we found the apartment we are living in now. Before we became homeless my husband and I decided to purchase a fixer upper at the time he was working as a nurses assistant until he fallen ill. My husband started have blackouts and suffering with really bad seizures which caused him to have to leave his job and rely on disability. Not giving up on our dream of living in our home he used his retirement money to not only purchase the house but to pay people to help with the rehabilitation of the house because he was no longer able to do the work. We hired two electricians who both combined has taken us for about $3000.00 after we spent a few hundred dollars purchasing the materials we were ask to purchase only for the last electrician to steal from us. We also hired a contractor to help us with his expertise and install windows which we paid $600.00 and he still have not finished the work. Not to mention the medical bills from me getting injured at work and not having good enough insurance to pay the bills I now have to pay out of pocket. To this day we are living in a two bedroom apartment with every room stock with all of our worldly possessions from the fifteen years we have been married. I have always been a giver to anyone who ever needed me, I found my self paying off my mothers funeral in 2009 with no help from her anyone not even her other children or her husband. I believe my time is coming even as we struggle to make ends meet. The people on this show is being blessed and it is only right that they share the blessing with another family that is in need of the money. To everyone involved be blessed and encouraged.

  • mpatt53

    No question I’d use what part I needed and the rest would go to help someone else. I have a single sister who could use some help too. My husband, son and I are on Soc. Sec. and times can get hard. My sister is single, unemployed and about to lose her home. If I had the money I could help us both and still be able to help someone else.

  • http://www.dixongolf.com Joyce

    How do I get on the show?

    • http://blog.credit.com/author/christine-digangi/ Christine DiGangi

      The Briefcase has finished filming for this season, and I’m not sure if there will be more seasons.

  • Carolyn Graves

    It’s a great story line and interesting, however to me neither of these family’s are middle class – they both make more the 50000.00 and the average American yearly income is less than that so how is that middle class. I would like to have seen it been two families who made much less. There are so many far more in need than either of these two families. How about two families who make less than the national average or even less than 30000.00 a year. Now that would be life changing and heart warming to see.

  • Debbie Kolis

    I agree with the people who say the people are on the show who to me seem to have a lot don’t really need that kind of help. Why don’t they give it to some people who are hard working and due to helping their kids and
    now in old age are hurting because of it.

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