Flex Alexander and his wife, Shanice, were at the top of their game when they married nearly 15 years ago.
Alexander, an actor and comedian, had landed a starring role on the 2001 UPN series “One on One” and Shanice was an R&B singer whose single “I Love Your Smile” landed her a Grammy nomination and led to a string of Top 100 hits in the '90s. Earning $25,000 per week on his show, Flex took home more income in one month than most American households do in a year.
But when UPN decided to pull his show after a five-season run in 2006, the couple’s main source of income disappeared along with it. Residual checks from reruns and Shanice’s record sales kept them afloat for a while, but within a few years, it was clear they were in trouble. As their debts mounted, they refinanced their mortgage and tapped their retirement savings to cover their expenses, including the mortgage on their LA home.
In 2010, they came home to find a foreclosure notice tacked on their front door. Soon after, they liquidated their assets (from designer watches and wedding rings to their fleet of luxury cars), filed for bankruptcy and moved into a rental home with a handful of extended family members to help split the bills. Little by little, they started to rebuild their finances.
Their story will be chronicled in a new reality series, “Flex and Shanice,” which premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) this month. The show was the brainchild of Shanice, a self-proclaimed reality TV show junkie, but Alexander took some convincing.
“I said if we’re going to do [a reality show], it has to mean something,” he says. “I don’t want to do anything salacious and have us all fighting and turning us against each other.”
In 2013, they enlisted the help of a few drama school students to put together a short film that they used to shop around their show concept to networks. In the end, it was OWN that bit. The network wouldn’t reveal how much the couple is being paid for the series, which has an eight-episode run this year.
We caught up with the couple recently to chat about how they plan on making a financial comeback.
Yahoo Finance: You guys went through a huge financial upheaval. Why rehash all that in a reality show?
Shanice: We’re private people so putting our lives out there is kind of embarrassing. But so many people are coming up to us and saying wow, “Your story is so much like mine. It’s helping me through my hard time.” I think that is the reason why. That is the purpose [of the show].
YF: Where did you guys go wrong financially?
F: By the time I started to make money, I was already set in my ways. I saw my mother and my grandmother work check to check and I thought that’s how you lived. I’m not blaming them but I thought, if I work for it, I can get what I want. I was making $25,000 a week but I wasn’t thinking about taxes. I was spending it like it was $25,000, but it was really more like $17,500.
S: I grew up in the music industry. My mother and my grandmother managed my finances and I got used to having someone else do everything for me. When we got married I was so used to having everybody else doing everything I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on with us financially.
YF: Flex, did you feel pressure to provide as the main breadwinner?
F: We didn’t do anything crazy, like popping bottles and buying Rolls Royces, but we worked hard. If my wife wanted something, I’d go to Burberry and spend eight grand on the Amex card. As a man, I just wanted to be the superhero and say hey, let’s do this, let’s get this.
YF: When did you realize you were in trouble?
F: My show had finished and the money had stopped but the expenses stayed there. Our mortgage was $4,000 to $5,000 a month. We had cars, credit card bills. We refinanced our mortgage to pull money out to keep pushing along.
YF: Asking your family members to move in must have been hard. What’s that been like?
F: We just said, you know what, let’s all band together and ride it out and just help each other. They help with the kids when we go out of town and it all balances out. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about or shy away from. We looked at it like a plus.
YF: How are you managing your finances differently today?
S: If we can’t pay cash for it, we just have to wait on it. We use a debit card as opposed to a credit card. We spend as if we don’t have money now and as if it’s not always going to be there next week. We are constantly working on ways to build our income.
F: You’ll never see a U-HAUL following a hearse. You can’t take stuff with you. We had to downsize and be smart, spend accordingly. I had a collection of Cartier and Rolex watches and all that stuff I got rid of. Our monthly expenses are probably 75% down from where they were before. I got rid of my country club membership. We bought two used cars [with cash]. We pawned our wedding rings.
YF: Do you have any savings now?
S: We have to start all over again. We had to deplete our retirement savings and pay the [early withdrawal] penalties and all that stuff. All we kept were our life insurance policies.
YF: Did your friends treat you differently when they found out about your financial troubles?
F: In Hollywood itself, there are so many people I know personally that are in the industry sleeping in their cars, living with their mothers. They’re dealing with the same things they just wouldn’t come out with it publicly. Hopefully, [our show] will be cathartic for people.
YF: Do you see the show as a way of making a comeback — both career-wise and financially?
F: For me, it’s not about getting back on top or thinking about the top. I just want to enjoy what I’m doing and take care of my family. I’ve always been that way. Now, I’m going to be smart with those things because I know better now.
S: We are in the entertainment industry but we’re not of it. We like staying far away from Hollywood. We aren’t trying to keep up with others.
"Flex and Shanice” airs at 10 p.m. Saturdays on OWN.
More from Mandi: