Breaking Bad: What Would You Do?

Breaking Bad What Would You Do - picture of hand holding stamp with insurance on side

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For those of you who have been around a while, you know that we love to talk about some of our favorite TV shows. Yeah, we don’t have cable…which presents a bit of a problem. However, we do tend to catch up by binging on full seasons of our favorite shows via Netflix and Amazon. From Game of Thrones to Honey Boo Boo, we love to discuss us some quality TV.

Lately, our “drug” of choice has been Breaking Bad. (That was just too easy!) For those of you who have been hiding out under a rock for the last five years like we have, the premise of the show goes a little something like this. (Please note, we still have a season to go, so NO SPOILERS!!!) Family man and high school chemistry teacher Walter White finds out that he has contracted lung cancer, with the doctors telling him that his prognosis is not particularly good. Mr. White refuses to immediately tell his family of his diagnosis and worries about how he is going to pay his staggering medical bills. How can he go through treatment, die, and leave his family behind in a mountain of debt? You see, Walter and his family lack decent health insurance…and the treatments are liable to bankrupt him. So, he faces two choices: take the treatments and go bankrupt, or die. Booya! Gotta love healthcare in America!

After seeing a news report on TV about methamphetamine labs, Walter asks his D.E.A. agent brother-in-law Hank if there is a lot of money in selling drugs. Hank tells him there is…until they get caught. Realizing that he has the chemistry knowledge to make crystal meth and the need to leave something behind for his family, the loveable, bumbling Walter White sets out to create and sell drugs. The rest is a dark, comedic, disturbing, entertainment yumminess!

The show poses the obvious question about what you would do under the same circumstances. Yeah, yeah Canadians. We all know you would just go to the doctor and have it covered. Unfortunately, we here in the states aren’t so lucky. On the flip side, we did get this uber sweet show out of it. Bonus!

The other night, while watching the show and chomping on my hard blue rock peppermint candy, I asked Holly what she would do.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I’d hope that our insurance covered it.”

I’m not really sure what I would do either. At a certain point, money doesn’t really mean anything. Obviously, I’m going to do everything that I can in order to survive. I would do the same for any member of my family. However, like Walter, I wouldn’t want to burden my family with all of that debt after my death either. I’m not sure that I would take to selling illegal drugs, but I’m sure that there would have to be something that I could do to help the situation.

If nothing else, this show is another great reminder of why an emergency fund is so important. Having that emergency fund to fall back on can help you in so many different ways. Need to fix your car so you can go to work? Dip into that emergency fund. Lose a job recently? You’ve got a few months expenses to help you get by until you find another one. Although they can’t cure all of your financial ills, emergency funds provide a great stop-gap measure when it feels financial doom is pouring in around you.

So, what would you do in Walter White’s situation? Would you do whatever it took to survive? Would you also do whatever it took to protect your family? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Breaking Bad? Good choice, Greg! I watched whole thing and don’t worry I’m not giving any spoilers. It is by far the most intense and some of the best acting that I have seen in my life, kudos to Mr. Heisenberg. 🙂 The thing about it is that you think that it won’t get any better (because it’s already awesome) but after each season IT DOES!

    Have fun with the last season. 🙂

    1. We can’t watch it until we move because we are currently paying per gigabyte for our wifi. The suspense is killin’ us!

  2. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Breaking Bad. Unfortunately I’m not really sure what I would do if I were in the same situation. I’d love to think that my morals would keep me from doing anything harmful or illegal. But the will to survive is also one of the strongest and ruthless instincts we possess. I’d hate to see what mine would be careful of if tested!

    1. You just never know what you would do in that kind of situation, I think.

  3. It’s crazy how big that show got towards the end. I’d definitely heard about it before but only on the periphery and the BAM! the last season was all over the place. Anyways, I think it’s pretty much impossible to say what I would do in that situation because it’s just so far removed from anything I’ve ever experienced. Obviously Breaking Bad has some dramatic flourish to it, but the general idea of resorting to crime in tough spots is a pretty common one. As you say, from a financial standpoint it’s really a good reminder to not only keep an emergency fund but to make sure you actually have good insurance in place. These things do actually happen and you can only prepare for them ahead of time.

  4. Great question, and great quick recap of the show. I don’t have cable either, so Breaking Bad hasn’t been on my short list to catch up on…

  5. I haven’t seen the show (yes I do live under a rock!) so I am probably not a good person to be responding to this, but I think I would take option C (C stands for cheater option in this case 🙂 ) and I would leave no stone unturned until I found a research study to enter that would provide treatment. I certainly wouldn’t want to die if there were treatments available, but I would also feel terrible leaving my family without mountains of debt. Or maybe I could move to Canada eh.

  6. I’ve never seen the show, but I don’t think that I would endanger my family in order to pay for medical treatments.

    1. Hey, you never know. I could totally see you cooking meth in an RV.

  7. Hey, love Breaking Bad, only on season 1 on Netflix! Speaking as a Canadian, and most of us don’t say, eh 🙂 the health insurance is just one part of it. WW doesn’t want chemo because of how he’ll be remembered and how it will affect him very negatively – losing hair, throwing up, too weak to do anything and feels he’ll be a burden. He also won’t be able to work so can’t provide $ for his family plus his wife will have to take care of him, their older son and a new baby. Lots of dilemmas here besides the health insurance.
    In Canada, we also have waiting lists for many health procedures. I know of someone who waited months or even years for an organ for a transplant or she could have went to the U.S. and paid something like $50,000 (sorry I think that’s the dollar amt but can’t quite remember). They chose not to go. She was in a critical state when an organ became available (at no cost in Canada). She took the chance and the organ came through. Many many factors have to evaluated when making these tough decisions!

    1. Karen, thank you for a point of view of Canada’s health care from someone who is living with it. We’ve been sold a bill of goods in the U.S. that single payer health care is a medical utopia, but you have wisely pointed out that the waiting lists exist and some people don’t get care there either.

      Ok, to the show….I’ve never seen it and don’t plan to ever watch. The synopsis makes it sound like it is glorifying illegal behavior. I don’t care to watch.

    2. You can’t just come to the U.S. and automatically purchase the organ of your choosing. We have waiting lists here as well. I know someone who waited three years for a kidney!

  8. The main problem is that an emergency fund wouldn’t help much in Walter’s position. I finished the entire six seasons in a month and a half, and I hope this isn’t a spoiler (I’m 99.9% sure this was earlier than season 6) but his surgery wasn’t covered because the specific doctor wasn’t in his network and it was 150-200k in total. I don’t know anyone with THAT sort of emergency fund, and that was after paying for everything else.

    I meant to write about this show, actually, because it made me wonder whether he would get a life insurance payment if he was covered and passed away from cancer. I personally haven’t looked into life insurance yet (it’s on the 2014 goals) so I didn’t write the post. But that’s the main financial takeaway I found from the show.

    I also don’t think that being covered by health insurance or not is the issue. He also wanted to have money for his children’s college and his wife, so he was motivated to make a massive amount of money in a short period of time. Again, made me think of life insurance.

    1. I had the same thought. My guess is that he never bothered with life insurance beforehand, and after being diagnosed with cancer, it would have been prohibitively expensive to get a new policy.

    2. It’s been a month or so since we’ve watched an episode….and I forget. Did he not have life insurance either? It’s all getting a little fuzzy to me.

  9. I’m just starting to get into that show. I wouldn’t do anything illegal. Seems the stress of that “job” would take more of a toll on one’s health. But even an emergency fund can’t cover cancer treatments. At least not all of it. It’s sad. And although I wouldn’t want to be a financial burden, not telling my friends and family would make it hard going through something like that. I would hope that if I really need it, we collectively could raise money some how. I love seeing communities come together to help out an individual who needs it.

    1. I think I would do something illegal if I thought it could work. I don’t think I would make meth, though. That really is a disgusting drug.

  10. I’ve never seen the show but I keep hearing about it. I don’t think I’d sell drugs to get the treatment, I’d just hope my life insurance was big enough to pay off the hospital bills so that my family wasn’t stuck with them. I’d feel bad contributing to the demise of another family (I work in social services so I’ve seen how often drugs and drug use ruin families) to save my own.

    1. Just another reason to be thankful if you have life insurance!

  11. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    I’d just have life insurance in the first place 😉 But if he had life insurance, we wouldn’t get a great show out of it! So taking that out of the equation, I don’t think I would go to those lengths. I don’t think my family would want to remember me as a criminal, even if my motives were good.

    1. Yeah, he show wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if he had comprehensive health insurance and plenty of life insurance.

  12. We’ve been living under a rock. 😉 Actually, I really want to watch the show but am trying to convince my wife to watch it too. That said, I would do a lot of things if it came to it, though I don’t know quickly I’d be to start pushing the boundaries in terms of doing something illegal.

  13. I just started watching the show and its awesome! I don’t think I would do what Walter did (endanger my own family to sell drugs for treatment). However, I don’t know if I would say the same if I was in that situation. I understand that desperate times call for desperate measure and the human will to survive can overpower anything.

    1. Yeah, I agree. Drugs are just especially scary because there are so many dangerous people who deal in that “profession.”

  14. Breaking Bad was an amazing show! From start to finish, it was incredibly riveting.

    As for what I would do in WW’s situation… Sad to say, but I would probably refuse treatment and use the last few months of my life to cross some items off my bucket list, spend time with my family, and earn whatever I can (legally) working from home.

    1. Do you have kids, Sarah? You might feel differently if you did.

      I would do anything it took to spend my life with my kids. ANYTHING.

      1. It’s entirely possible, but I really don’t know.

        A lot of it would depend on the odds of survival. I would hate to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on cancer treatment and risk bankrupting my family just to delay the inevitable by a year or two. Especially if the treatments (specifically chemo) made me too sick to enjoy the extra time.

        1. Hey, you never know. You might fall into the small percentage of people who heal quickly and recover. To me, it would be worth it for one more day (or year) with my kids!

        2. LLBigwave says:

          I have to agree completely with Sarah here.

          The will to survive is extremely powerful, but I think it’s important to assess the odds as rationally as possible under the circumstances. Death is absolutely inevitable, and I have no desire to extend my own lifespan by, say, 5% while burdening my family with enough debt to cripple the next generation (or two).

          YMMV. My way may not be right for everyone (or anyone!) else.

  15. I just finished the last episodes a couple of weeks ago. Had to buy them on Amazon because I couldn’t wait a year for Netflix! Best show ever. Any show that can make you root for a crystal meth cook has amazing writing and characters.

    DC was right. Cancer treatment was covered but he wanted this hot shot surgeon who wasn’t in his plan. They all thought he was going to die anyway. Regardless, I’m not sure if I would pursue something experimental or in a clinical trial or just enjoy the time I had left. I won’t give anything away, but your question of whether he was right or wrong is certainly dealt with in the last season. For myself, I don’t know that I would do anything illegal, but if it was for my kiddo, I probably would unless it meant directly hurting someone else. Even then, I’d like to think I’m civilized enough not to cause harm to others, but I might for my child.

    1. It’s hard to say. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it, but I would be afraid to get involved with drugs since we have kids.

  16. We discovered Breaking bad on Netflix and caught up with the TV episodes, continued watching until it was done. Sometimes in life you got to do what you have to do for your family. And Heisenberg did just that. He used his Chemistry knowledge. I believe I would also use a talent or knowledge I have to make ends meet,legally.

  17. I just started Breaking Bad too!

    To sound absolutely terrible, his form of cancer was inoperable (at least in the episode I’m on in season 1) — so if it were me and my family couldn’t afford treatment then I’d probably just live out the days I had left.

    The whole show reminds me of the “steal a loaf of bread to feed your family” morality question. But dealing meth seems to be a touch more extreme than stealing bread.

    Mostly, I’m with you on the need for an e-fund, even if you’re in debt to begin with.

    1. But he has kids! That’s the difference. Most parents would do drastic things to stay with their kids as long as possible. I think that plays a part in it.

  18. I only got through the first season and my boyfriend and I agreed the show wasn’t as good as we expected it to be. I’m sure it gets better as everyone raves about it, but the episodes dragged by for me. *hides*

    In any case, I’m not sure what I would do, either. Certainly not resort to illegal activity. It seems as though they didn’t have their finances in shape to begin with, and this was yet another source of worry. I probably would have taken that job offer from the friend. Yes, his wife kind of poked him into giving that offer, and it might have been out of pity, but at least the expenses would be taken care of. I also wouldn’t have hid the news from everyone.

    1. I agree with that. Take the job offer from your rich friend for heaven’s sake! I would totally do that to save my life and my family from financial ruin.

  19. After all the recent complaints about Obamacare on this site, I’m shocked to see this topic brought up here without any mention of how Obamacare would impact the premise of the show! The days of medical bankruptcy in the US because of healthcare costs are OVER. That is something to celebrate! Yes, some people will pay higher premiums (myself included), but most will see lower premiums as the pool of insured people increases and the subsidies kick in for those who need them. The comparisons to Canada are not that useful because of some key differences between our new system and theirs. We don’t have socialized medicine in the US, it is still through private insurance companies. Even if scarcity necessarily means that there could be waits for certain treatments, this is because people that didn’t have access AT ALL now have a chance, and the rich in the US will still be able to pay their way to treatment just like they always have.

    1. My husband wrote this post and he’s not nearly as obsessed with the failure of Obamacare as me.

      With that being said, Walter still wouldn’t get the best treatment with Obamacare. Why? Because of the narrowed networks. Most of the ACA plans exclude the top hospitals and doctors. In my state, many of the top hospitals have opted out of ACA plans altogether or are only participating in one plan.

      The only hospital in my town is only taking Anthem ACA plans, for instance. So, if I go with Anthem, I can go to the local hospital and several others in the surrounding area. However, Anthem plans aren’t being accepted by the top hospitals in Indiana (St. Vincent’s network, IU Health, etc.) Anthem plans also aren’t being accepted by the two major childrens hospitals in the state- Riley Children’s Hospital and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.

      I have two toddlers. If I want coverage at the local hospital, I have to forgo coverage at the two top children’s hospitals in the state. Awesome.

      I truly believe that Walter White would still be shit-out-of-luck after the ACA regardless.

      1. I read that in a year this will all change because insurance companies and hospitals expect only the truly sick to sign up the first year while healthy people can stay on their current plans. Once the healthy people start joining the exchanges, they’re hoping to swoop in and get the newcomers while the sick people stay with the plans they started with. On NPR they quoted an insurance company as saying that they expect to lose money the first year that they’ve entered the exchange because of the selection issue but they’ll make up for it year 2.

  20. I’d have to take the WW approach by doing anything that was possible to protect my family. Losing a family member is hard enough– but struggling with personal loss and endless amounts of debt is even harder to manage.

  21. My husband got me into watching this show back in April of this year before the series ended. I was hesitant in the beginning but I’m so glad I watched it. It’s an amazing drama that really makes you think and we love shows like that. We talked a lot about Walt’s situation and it’s just so hard to predict what one would do but I think most people sympathized with the character and that’s why it became so popular. I think his pride let him to the path of illegal activity and maybe he should have let that go and taken the job with his old buddy and the company he co-founded.

  22. My wife and I just finished season 5 last night, looking forward to see how this train wreck ends! I got a C- in chemistry so I would have died with mountains of debt. Dammit, I knew I should have shown up for class more often.

  23. I just finished the entire series and it was easy to see how Walter went down the path that he did. However, I would not choose the same route that he did. I empathize with the situation, however, there are ways that are logical to address the financial aspects of his situation. For instance, they could have downsized into an apartment, moved in with Hank and Marie, etc. Nonetheless, it made for one heck of a TV show!

  24. Love that show! We finished the first half of season five, waiting for Netflix to load the rest of the episodes. I’m not sure what we would do in Walt’s situation. My parents nearly went bankrupt when my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2002. They were harassed nonstop and ended up getting home equity loans to pay for radiation and medical bills that their insurance wouldn’t cover. Now they’re stuck in that house, owe twice what it’s worth, and are still in debt for ongoing medical stuff. It’s just a crap situation either way if you ask me. I’d do whatever it took to support my family, but I’m not sure I could go down the illegal route. My husband on the other hand…is like…”let’s get cooking!” Haha. (He kids, I hope.)

    1. I think I would just have to pick a different drug. Meth seems so nasty to me!

  25. Breaking Bad has always been one of my fave shows. I started watching it back in the day when it first came out. I would probably do whatever I needed to do to protect my girls as long as it didn’t put them in danger. As far as breaking the law? I wouldn’t sell meth but I don’t really agree with all the government laws anyways. It would definitely come down to the safety of my daughters.

  26. Not sure if I would resort to making drugs but I think if the circumstances called it I would consider being a drugpin! Crazy, right? But I would do anything for my family. Unlike Walter, I would tell my husband! That was a huge mistake for Walter!

  27. I admit, I’m one of the few people who have not seen an episode of this show 🙂 But everyone seems to love it!

  28. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I’d never participate in drug dealing. So unethical not to mention illegal. If I had to do anything immoral and illegal to make money, the worst I could do was participate in a money laundering scheme for stolen goods. But as I have no mafia ties, that’s highly unlikely to occur in my future.

    I’d rather take a 2nd job working 20 hours a week instead. Plus he had the ability to get money for the treatment as you see in the first season but chose not to take that money. There is no excuse for stubbornness if one’s health is on the line… I would eat my pride and take free money to help out with a life-saving health procedure!

  29. My father died in a colon cancer and we didn’t expect it. He had a health insurance but the surgery and the hospital bills didn’t cover it all. He was diagnosed that he had a cancer in August and he died on November so that was roughly only for 3 months.

  30. I am still at season 1, I was under a rock but now am hooked haha I had to read your post in diagonal to make sure I didn’t stumble upon a spoiler. I would totally do whatever it takes to feed my family, but fortunately I have taken prevention first so have a decent nest egg should I ever have kids and a need to provide for them. But if times were hard, I’d be stealing bread at the grocery store. Not much higher than this though, because a parent in jail is worse than a broke parent!

  31. Absolutely loved Breaking Bad. Even better given how they ended it. Very few shows can end their series on a high note. The only other one that comes to mind is Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m a nerd I know). Your post actually reminded me of a movie I saw when I was younger called Short Time. A cop get his diagnosis screwed up and thinks he has this fatal disease. His insurance will only pay out if he dies in the line of duty. The whole movie has him taken ridiculous risks to try and make that happen and comedy ensues. Not a bad film to check out for some ridiculous humour.

  32. I think that if I were faced with this situation I probably would do whatever it takes for my family. I would have tried to avoid anything illegal but I’ve also never tasted that type of desperation. The movie John Q with Denzel Washington raises the same question, what would you do to save a family member?

    Something I find really interesting is a person like Sam Hurd, former NFL player who was involved selling cocaine. What’s the motivation for someone who is making good money to sell hard drugs?

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