Personal Finance: A financial lesson from the life of Gary Coleman

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, June 3, 2010; 11:20 AM

Some readers have asked, "Why do you single out celebrities and their cash problems?" The recent death of Gary Coleman is why.

So many people think if they could just dunk a ball and become a wealthy ballplayer their money troubles would go away. Some dream that the way to financial bliss is becoming a singer, rap artist, athlete, television star, or even lottery winner. But fame and fortune without good money management skills or the ability to hire the right advisers just means your money problems are more expensive.

If there ever was proof of this you only need to look at the life of Gary Coleman, the former child star of the hit sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes." Coleman obtained wealth and fame only to have it taken away by those who claimed to love him the most. And when his wealth and fame went away, he struggled to find a life in the normal lane with a regular job and income.

In his obituary, Post reporter Matt Schudel writes that Coleman's life was plagued by health problems and financial strains.

You certainly can't blame Coleman for all of his troubles. His fortune was once reported in the millions, but as Schudel reports, Coleman sued his parents and advisers for taking money from trust funds meant to support him.

And later in life Coleman couldn't seem to find a job like the rest of us. He couldn't adjust to middle-class living. It was never enough. Coleman ended up filing for bankruptcy and working odd jobs, including a stint as a mall security guard.

I still giggle at Coleman's famous line, "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?," but his life is a reminder that more money doesn't solve your problems. Striking it rich without a wealth of good financial sense can leave you broke and broken.

Color of Money Question: Your Responses

Last week for the Color of Money question, I wanted to know your thoughts on the story about the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who was caught on tape trying to sell access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew.

Many reports show that Ferguson, another celebrity who once had ample cash, is now struggling financially.

Here are some of your responses to this latest celebrity cash faux pas:

"Obviously this lady was not brought up to spend and save thoughtfully," said Virginia Gambil of Laurel Park, N.C. "In other words, one should know to spend on necessities first and then what is left over can be used for the wants. No sympathy here!"


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